Social media offers us an ever-changing landscape where almost daily innovations, initiatives and strategies are formulated to help businesses to make the most of this environment.
There is no question that most organisations can benefit from their involvement in the online conversation.
But in the rush to set up Facebook pages, win fan bases and restructure businesses to be more adaptive to the needs of their audiences, how many have forgotten to look inwards at the most under-utilised social marketing assets in the business world, your own staff?
Your employees are likely to have an online social circle and a voice among their extended network. They are also likely to be talking about your company already, which may or may not be a good thing. This, of course, depends what they are saying.
More importantly, the popularity of social networking has provided a platform for their engagement with your potential customers, which has transformed your employees into influencers with more power to affect your business identity than ever before.
This is why employee advocacy absolutely must become an integral part of your brand voice, and also why it is necessary to ensure proper reputation management through maintaining as much control as possible over the message being transmitted.
The million-dollar question is how to control something as transient as a Facebook conversation or as informal as a tweet. And do companies have the right to ask their workforce to moderate their social interactions?
There are ethical and privacy issues to consider in any employee advocacy campaign and great care must/should to be taken to ensure that lines are not crossed. However, there are certainly ways in which companies can positively influence the message their staff are communicating to their social networks.
Improved awareness can go some way towards helping. We all use social media to complain about or extol the virtues of people, products, services and companies, but how often do we consider the effect our words have?
Something as simple as educating your staff about the importance and impact of the conversations they have with others while at and outside work can go some way to improve self-regulation.
Providing the tools, information, support and inspiration your employees need to become powerful brand advocates and thought leaders among their social networks establishes a culture in which your company can use social media more effectively.
They are then free to provide an informal introduction to potential customers, to educate a broader audience on your offerings and to promote your business in an environment where potential buyers can feel more connected to your company.
While most companies continue to pay public relations and marketing firms large sums of money to promote their businesses, manage their reputation and ensure a unified brand voice, very few are tapping into the social media circles of their employees, a vast, inexpensive marketing resource.
One successful employee engagement initiative run by Transport for London (TfL) was the introduction of Social Enterprise tool, Yammer, for use by their Travel Ambassadors (TAs), the bright pink jacketed volunteers who helped out during the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer.
Yammer provided them with a forum for communicating everything from delays to photos of celebrities they spotted.
TAs saw the positive benefit of this form of employee engagement when their suggestions were actually listened to – one such example was the translation of the desire to ‘do it all again’ into TfL asking them to help during the Notting Hill Carnival in August.
The best strategies for your organisation to use to gain employee advocacy can only be established through a crystal clear understanding of your business, its staff and the way they use their social media connections.
But one thing is consistent across all businesses and sectors: winning the confidence and social voices of your staff, while a complex and delicate undertaking, is one of paramount importance in our interconnected world.