This post was originally published on Michael Brito’s blog Britopian.

I have been spending a lot of time thinking and writing about how social business enables organizations to achieve positive business outcomes. Here are a few previous posts:

I wanted to build on Dion Hinchcliffe’s very comprehensive post about accelerating social business using employee advocates. Dion’s post takes the angle that employee advocacy can help enable social business adoption. I agree; and while this is certainly true in many organizations, the opposite view can also hold true. That is, social business can help enable employee advocacy.  Sometimes it can happen simultaneously depending on how you look at it. Whether it’s the chicken or the egg doesn’t really matter. What matters is that employees of a company are trusted.

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer clearly illustrates that credibility in technical experts in a company, a person like yourself and regular employees are at an all time high right under academia.

Coupling this data with further findings from the study tells an interesting story. 75% of the respondents said that they trust ‘social media’ as a source of information about a company.

So the natural conclusion when looking at these two data points is that empowering employees to serve as external brand ambassadors is good business practice. It certainly doesn’t mean that organizations should just open the flood gates and allow for anyone and everyone to engage externally without adequate training and governance.

Here are a few examples of best practices to help get you started:

  • Don’t Substitute “External” Employee Advocacy With Other Employee Engagement Activities: General (more traditional) employee engagement practices are important and should be a core management focus given today’s competitive business environment and shortage of (and sometimes war for) talent.  General employee engagement will serve as the foundation of advocacy, whether the objectives are to increase company morale, improve productivity or just getting employees excited for the company they work for. Employee engagement is smart business. Surveys and reports, personal experience and intuition say so.
  • Determine Objectives First, Technology Second: Don’t invest in technology and then manipulate your business objectives based on its capabilities. Document your business objectives, share them across the organization and then invest in the right technology that can scale to your requirements. Oh, and don’t forget to partner with the IT organization when determining technology needs. They can be your best friend or worst nightmare.
  • Build Social Media Proficiency Among Employees: It’s not just entry level employees or mid level management that make mistakes on the social web. Senior executives today are getting fired for sharing questionable content online.  Making a significant financial investment in training and certifying employees to use social media intelligently could save the company millions of dollars as well as embarrassment. The important thing to remember about training is to make it actionable and easy for employees who want to participate.
  • Create Collaboration Infrastructure: Ensuring that employees on different teams and in various job functions or geographies have a place to share best practices is smart. Technology will surely be the building blocks of this along with processes and training. It’s also a best practice to allow for employees to build their social media proficiency internally first and then unleash them externally when they feel comfortable. This approach will help them understand the tools, social etiquette and allow for them to make mistakes in a safe environment.
  • Gamify Employees’ Participation In Social Media: Last month, Badgeville announced a key integration that builds on its partnership with Yammer; so that organizations can enhance employee performance by rewarding high-value user behaviors across the enterprise, and showcase them in the Yammer’s real-time activity stream. This is a great example that can increase engagement simply by tapping into the competitive nature in all of us, including employees.
  • Establish Social Media Guidelines And Other Governance Policies: A social media policy should be top of mind if one doesn’t already exist. The policy should be co-created with the legal team, IT, customer support and employees and have language that empowers employees while protecting the organization.
  • Create Crisis Communication & Customer Support Decision Tree (Workflows): Corporate communications can’t be everywhere and all the time.  Employees should understand the severity of crisis communications and be equipped with the tools/processes/workflows that allow them to escalate (or not) various conversations or situations they come across in their daily journey on the social web.
  • Operationalize Content Creation & Distribution: The last thing you want happening is having all 100+ of your global employees either retweeting everything from the corporate twitter handle OR copying/pasting the same exact tweet announcing a product or service. Content must not only be culturally relevant but also be meaningful.  Remember, employees of a company are seen as trustworthy, credible sources of information. That can change easily if all they do is spew marketing messages to their communities.  It’s important to enable employees to share relevant, meaningful content using technology, workflow and process. Both Kapost and Skyword share this and similar capabilities

Dion wrote that Employee advocacy is still a relatively under appreciated component of social business strategy. I agree 100% and it very well could be the most important.

Image credit: Marc Wathieu

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