Remember the good old “One Voice Policy” from the last century, when only authorized individuals were allowed to speak on an organization’s behalf? Thanks to the advent of social media, that single voice has been replaced by a chorus – one message, delivered by many voices.
But where do these voices come from, and how to align them? Do we simply equip our workforce with corporate-messaging sound bites and press “Go?” You could try that, but it would be about as inspiring and engaging as it sounds. And yet clients still ask us to help them do this in our day-to-day consulting work.
The way I see it, the basic concept of using employees as ambassadors can be better approached in two equally meaningful ways: Employee Advocacy and Corporate Influencership.
The concept of Employee Advocacy involves encouraging employees to speak about their workplace on a purely voluntary level. The first step in creating this opportunity is to make content available for dissemination—preferably specific to particular platforms and tools, so it can be as plug-and-play as possible. The more relevant the content is to your employees’ experience, the more likely they’ll be to share it.
Beyond that, you need to familiarize your employees with your simple (!) social media guidelines. The trick here is to establish guardrails without stifling authenticity—because people react to people, not to streamlined speech machines that lack personality. The guidelines should include clear messages like “Follow all laws and regulations and do not violate our company’s confidentiality or code of conduct,” but also methods for dealing with critical statements or even personal attacks, such as “Avoid the reflex to answer quickly; look at the message again in two hours.”
When successful, employee advocacy shows the world a reflection of the full spectrum of personalities and topics your company has to offer: from the trainee to the part-time retiree, from the maintenance staff to the C-suite, and from the home headquarters to the most remote field office. The result, according to the publication “Communicating the ROI of Employee Advocacy” by tool provider Smarp, is to attract more and better talent, and encourage longer staff tenure within the company. Our consulting experience confirms these trends.
On the other hand, a Corporate Influencer program specifically supports in-house experts and brings them directly to target audiences online. This approach works particularly well in the B2B environment, and especially on LinkedIn, where every specialist community can—and wants to—find connections with the right experts. In combination with bringing these voices to the trade press, this approach can have a direct influence on sales, with growth as high as 38 percent, according to an analysis by Altimeter (Brand Survey, Q1/2016).
Of course, these corporate influencers can’t do it on their own—beyond initial help, they need at least selective contact with the company’s communications team, and possibly even permanent, ongoing support. But the rewards are worth the investment: Here in Germany, Corporate Influencers enjoy much success, especially on Twitter, which is a key channel for media and opinion makers of all kinds. Particularly successful is a mix of insights on professional and specialist topics with glimpses of the private individual behind the scenes. Fun Fact: As the German trade magazine Pressesprecher reveals, some of the most successful corporate influencers from Germany do not even like to be referred to as such, but this doesn’t make their contribution any less important.
It’s All Connected
At the root of these approaches is a healthy corporate culture. As with all things cultural, it requires a commitment at the highest levels: If the CEO doesn’t actively demonstrate corporate influencership, it will be difficult to activate employees. But even more fundamentally, all employees must recognize that their private opinions on the Web are ALWAYS related to the company they work for. Whether Advocate or Influencer, it is everyone’s responsibility to maintain the reputation of their own digital avatar, because it can always be traced back to the workplace. “Views are my own,” you may claim, but your followers and anyone else who views your posts can and will link your statements to your company. Protecting your own reputation means protecting the reputation of your company.
In simpler terms, my colleague Frederik Tautz has proposed a simple rule of thumb to focus before making a public statement: “WYMAT – Would Your Mom Approve This?”
In the end, maybe we’re all corporate influencers—whether we’ve signed up for it or not.