Company Branding: Engage Employees As Brand Advocates
By: Matt Charney, Monster Social Media Engagement Manager
Andy Warhol was right. In the age of social media, everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame; or at least, they think they do.
There’s a good chance you’ve got at least a few “stars” in your customer base — they’re a select group of online influencers who have the power to make or break a brand, employer or otherwise.
How many such influencers are out there? Forrester Research recently found that 16% of all online Americans are mass influencers. And what is their impact? The company estimates that, taken together, this small group has an outsized market impact who are responsible for 80% of the brand impressions in “online social settings.”
The next logical question is: How can you engage this group as brand advocates for your company?
Josh Bernoff, Senior Vice President of Idea Development at Forrester Research and co-author of the upcoming book, Empowered (Harvard Business Press 2010), says you’ve got to support, encourage and empower them.
HR and Empowerment: A New Model of Employee Engagement
According to Bernoff, reaching out to these customers must happen with a speed and agility that most companies lack. As he puts it in Empowered, "you must empower your employees to solve customer problems." That means significant changes in the roles of many departments, HR included. “HR must run the company in a way where people feel empowered to be proactive and have the resources to collaborate and innovate independently,” Bernoff says. “The conversation about your brand’s already happening; your employees can’t sit around and wait for a directive.”
Bernoff’s research suggests that the best way for HR to handle how employees represent the company’s brand comes down to encouragement through policies.
“The premise a lot of companies are operating under right now is that they can actually control social media usage,” Bernoff says. “But you can’t stop your employees from using technological channels, and if they do, they by default represent the company. That’s where having a policy comes in. By setting a policy, you’re clearly letting people know what’s expected of them, as well as what’s permitted and what’s not when interacting with social technologies.”
He suggests that your social media policy be simple, clear and direct with three principles adopted from Kodak and other companies whose successful global policies are “so simple that any company can adopt them.”
The 3 Principles of Successful Social Media Policies
1) People should put their name on everything they do.
“Your company policy should be that employees are allowed to talk about the company, but they need to identify themselves,” Bernoff says. This encourages full transparency, and accountability, for employees engaging in social media while creating important safeguards for the company.
2) Social Should Be An Extension of Existing Employee Policies
New policies should extend, rather than recreate, the codes of business and ethical conduct your business already has in place. “Your employees should remember that they’re employees,” Bernoff says. “For example, at most public companies it’s against the rules to make any statements about material financial disclosures. This isn’t a social media question, it’s a policy issue.”
3) Own Up To Your Mistakes
“If you make a comment that’s inaccurate,” says Bernoff, “no matter where or which employee is commenting, you’ve got to make sure that you’re in a position to fix them by adding additional commentary or clarification. Mistakes happen, but the great thing about social is they can be fixed.”
When employees follow these three principles, research suggests, most of the qualms about empowering employees to be company advocates tend to recede. “It really boils down to one question,” Bernoff suggests. “Do you trust your employees?”
The answer, he suggests, sends a powerful message to current and potential employees about company culture. The strongest employer brands are often those whose employee’s personal brands are prominently showcased in social media.
“This represents a cultural shift for many companies,” says Bernoff, “If you create an environment where innovation is encouraged, your company will become more innovative. The benefit you’ll get from allowing employees to publicize their innovations and connect with customers is more valuable than the risks of trying to protect your brand.”