More organizations are realizing the value of having employees actively engaged on social media representing the organization. This is true of for-profit companies, non-profit organizations, as well as municipal and other government entities. These brand advocates benefit their organizations in a number of ways from increasing reach, to spotting trends, to responding to community needs. Across the board, the key to achieving success with brand advocates is training. In this article I'll look at why employee engagement is important, why training is critical for employee brand advocates, and the benefits of training beyond community engagement.
Employee Engagement Is Important to Communities, Employees, and Brands
In a post on their blog, Adobe's digital marketing team, which has had great success building internal brand advocacy programs, noted that 85% of social media users think brands should not just post on social media, but interact with their communities. From the employee perspective, Jumpstart:HR estimates that 60% of employees want to share relevant content on social media sites about their employer in order to boost business. From the perspective of the bottom line, a Gallup survey show that companies that have a large number of socially engaged employees have 21% better productivity, and 147% higher earnings per share. In short, the community wants engagement, employees are eager to engage, and organizations see big benefits in productivity and earnings by having engaged employees.
Trust Is Key, and Communities Trust Employees More Than Brands
Trust is a big reason why organizations should make employee engagement on social media a priority. Adobe, again in its blog, noted that "Edelman's Trust Barometer, revealed that the average employee is trusted significantly more than a company's CEO stating that, "The public wants to engage with your employees, not just your social media managers." In fact, Susane Merick, in her article about IBM's employee advocacy programs noted that "Employees rank highest overall as the most trusted influencer to communicate across 4 out of 5 topic categories including: engagement, integrity, product, and services, and operations." The message is clear. Employees are trusted more than other brand sources. To increase trust between brands and their communities, if follows that brands should have employees engage directly with the community on behalf of the brand.
Training Is the Only Way to Guarantee Results
So, it seems clear that communities want and expect employee engagement. There's also strong evidence that brands benefit from it. So how do you do it? Well, the companies who have had success with this have come to one conclusion--training.
Jeannie Meister, in an article published in Forbes, stated that "Companies have found that guidelines are only the first step. What they really need is a formal social media literacy program, which offers a certification so that employees can share their progress and practices both on their employee directory as well as on LinkedIn, Facebook and even their Twitter profile." Adobe clarifies the issue on their blog, "You must find the right balance, because activating employees to share everything will simply generate spam." You wouldn't send your marketing and public relations people out without a plan and without training, why would you do that with brand advocates?
Perhaps Charlene Li is a founder and partner of Altimeter Group, and author of the best-seller "Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead." Perhaps she put it best in a Business Insurance article, "Many business leaders are putting their heads in the sand and hoping nothing bad happens. There is tremendous pressure not to spend time on training because it takes people off the job, and some employers question whether it's possible to teach workers to make appropriate decisions when situations arise that are neither black nor white, but gray. My feeling is that the only way you develop good judgment in people is to train them."
Social Media Training for Employees Use Has Other Benefits
Beyond facilitating awareness and good judgment in social media interactions, training employees has other benefits including mitigating the risk of employee misuse of social media and the issues that come out of that. Maximize Social Business quoted survey results about employee misuse of social media stating that "52.3% of the respondents faced employee misuse of social media" and "71.2% respondents have had to take disciplinary action due to that misuse." They went on to connect the dots saying, "Making the additional investment of training can greatly reduce employee misuse of social media and cut down the business's need to impose discipline on employees."
In fact, employees see training as a benefit. As Gloria Burke, Director of Knowledge & Collaboration at Unisys put it in Jeannie Meister's article, "When you give them that training, you're empowering them to be more confident and effective in what they're sharing," As Ms. Meister put it, "Offering social media training creates a team of advocates who are equipped to represent their employer online. That means they will not only share news about your company but also feel confident they know how to do this in a safe and responsible manner while building their personal brand."
But the benefit of social media training goes beyond risk mitigation. Having properly trained social media brand advocates allows organizations to take full advantage of the fact that more people will be listening on social media. Shel Holtz principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, in a Monster.com article about social media use at work noted that, "Employees can surface complaints or issues raised by members of the online communities in which they participate. They can hear ideas and gather intelligence that will enable the company to solve problems, improve customer satisfaction and adapt nimbly to changing customer needs and desires." Training employees to listen, and respond appropriately can improve customer service, and make an organization more nimble and responsive.
Training Employees to be Brand Advocates Will Drive Benefits to the Bottom Line
For organziations, the benefits of having well trained social media brand advocates don't stop there. Look at the results these brands achieved with their social media brand advocacy training:
- HomeAway.com: HomeAway.com combined anemployee-advocacy training program rigorous content-testing and increased content engagement by 74% year-over-year while driving up social-media referring traffic by almost 100% in their critical June to August period.
- Adobe: In some months, onePhotoshop brand ambassador has generated more revenue than the official Adobe @Photoshop Twitter account.
- Deloitte: Deloitte's Ambassador Corps promoted the @LifeAtDeloitteinitiative and raised awareness significantly among its target audience of prospective recruits, with the number of engaged followers increased by "more than 50 percent" in the preceding 12 months.
The evidence is compelling. Social media communities want employee engagement. Employees want to represent their organizations. Organizations see big benefits from well trained employees acting as brand ambassadors and performing social listening. Employees feel empowered, and are more productive. The brand becomes more trusted, responsive, and nimble. The key to all of these benefits, training. If you're looking for the next big social media trend to jump on, it might be the people sitting around you, just be sure to get them trained!
Over to You
If you have a brand advocacy program, or have a few self-made brand advocates, I'd like to hear about your experiences, good and bad, in the comments.
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