Why employees should be at the heart of your social media strategy (and how to make it work)

Social media is a critical channel in any company’s communications strategy. Most larger companies have someone responsible (if not solely then at least in part) for social media marketing and engagement. A modern business needs to have social media plans and guidelines. They should be taking advantage of curation and automation tools. Hopefully, they have design teams at the ready to create rich-media to complement their content.

And yet, so many companies are scared of using their best (and most effective) social media asset – their employees.

Social media is pervasive. 26% of the world is on facebook. Every second, nearly 8,000 tweets are sent. Your customers are on social media, your competitors are on social media and yes, your employees are on social media.

Most employers know that their employees are the best ambassadors for their company. If the people working for your company aren’t engaged, excited, and enthusiastic about your brand, then why would your customers be? So why do so many businesses shy away from allowing their teams the freedom to spread their knowledge and passion on social media?

For the most part, fear.

Fear that their company will join Dove and United Airlines on lists of social media fails. Fear that their employees will somehow be “off message” or share sensitive information. Fear of not being able to control their brand. But here’s the truth…

You are not in control of your brand. Your customers are. Click To Tweet

A company’s brand is based on what people say and think about it. While clever marketing campaigns, huge advertising budgets, and a charismatic CEO may go some way to making up the mind of your customers, it’s actually their experience with your company that matters. Do you solve a problem for the customer? Are you competitively priced? Do you deliver your products or services on time? Experience is the key to any company reputation. Treat your customers right, and your brand value will grow.

So, with that massive objection overturned, let’s look at the reasons why companies should embrace their employees using their personal social media accounts on the business’ behalf.

Helping customers understand the why

For most people, the most credible form of advertising comes from the recommendations of friends and family – those they know and trust. A 2015 Nielsen survey showed that 83% of respondents took action (i.e., bought, read, tried, listened to) as a result of these recommendations.

Your customers don’t want to engage with a corporate mouthpiece – a channel that spouts endless figures and examples of how amazing they are. Your customers want to know what’s behind the curtain. They want to know why you exist. They want to know how the company works, and who makes it that way.

Your employees are believable. They know what goes on in the day to day. They are trusted to speak the truth by the people who know them. Who better to talk about your company?

Before you hand over the reins, however, there are a couple of things to take into consideration.

1. Make sure you know what you want them to do

As with all communications, you need to have a clear objective on what you want to achieve and a strategy on how you’re going to get there. Are you trying to raise awareness about something? What? Your CSR programmes? Your corporate culture? New products? An issue that’s important to you? Are you asking employees to share their experiences of working for your company? Do you want people to get insight into how you do business?

There’s no point in posting on social media for the sake of posting. Similarly, you shouldn’t ask your employees to post with no clear objective.

2. Make sure your employees are on board

Once you’ve established how you want your employees to use their personal social media channels, you need to ensure that they want to. For a lot of people, social media is very personal, it’s where they share their holiday photos, family events, and that time they made the perfect poached egg.

Bear in mind, a lot of people don’t connect with their colleagues, and they don’t talk about work on their personal social networks. Instead, they speak their mind in their own voice.

For employee based social media to work, it needs to be organic. It needs to be something they feel empowered to do, and, more importantly, something they want to do.

3. Provide messaging, guidelines, and tools to help them

If your employees are amenable to posting work-based updates on their social media channels you need to provide support.

Help them understand their audience by providing clear personas on who the company is targeting – that way, they can assess which channel works best for them to share information on.

Give social media training to your teams. Help them understand your objectives, the best ways to engage, and the rules of that engagement. Ensure they know what tone of voice is appropriate for which channel. Help them protect themselves by understanding what information can and can’t be shared (e.g., sharing material information will not only get your company into trouble but also has an impact on the sharer, too)

Allow social media access at work. It is surprising how many companies restrict access to social media on work computers. If you truly want your employees to share news about your company, you shouldn’t expect them to do it on their own time.

You need to trust that access to social media won’t result in swathes of employees spending hours online and neglecting their day to day job. (in fact, some research shows that employees who use social media at work are more productive than their counterparts who don’t.)

4. Lead by example

Who better to set an example on social media engagement than your leaders. If your senior management aren’t already using social media as a tool for thought leadership, get that in place first. They should be sharing their views on topics important to your business, giving insight into what they’re working on, and showing the world what it’s like to work at your company.

Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb uses his twitter feed to discuss everything from marriage equality to housing policy to sharing a recent art project. This approach is echoed by the other members of the Airbnb management team. This kind of engagement shows his employees that blurring the lines between personal and professional can work. And gives them the encouragement to do the same.

In conclusion

Yes, it’s a scary thought – allowing your employees to talk about your company in an unregulated and very public sphere. However, think about it this way – these conversations are going on with or without you. By putting in a little structure and giving your employees the tools they need, you’re steering the conversation, just a little bit.

You’re opening a window into the inner workings of your company and encouraging your customers to engage with you. You’re showing that you’re more than just a corporate entity – you have a human side.

Finally, if you really don’t trust your employees, why did you hire them in the first place?