How to empower employees to be brand ambassadors
In one of the most infamous social media gaffes, the insurance giant Aflac fired its widely-recognized spokesman Gilbert Godfrey after he tweeted insensitive comments about the Japanese tsunami in 2011. The rapid growth of social media has created a gray area for employers and employees alike in the space where personal and professional meet, to be certain. But, social media has also presented some of the greatest opportunities for marketing growth since the introduction of the internet. Even so, companies have been slow to relinquish control and absolute authority of their brands on social media. Those that have embraced employees as brand ambassadors, though, have seen mighty returns on their efforts.
A few years ago when Sodexo set out to transform the way it uses social media, no one could have foreseen how successful the initiative would eventually become. Through a series of intentional moves, the company empowered its employees to use social media to extend its brand. In short, Sodexo shifted its social media efforts from strictly marketing to the education and empowerment of employees. Its expanded marketing efforts engaged and mobilized its entire workforce as brand ambassadors. As an example, to find and attract top talent using existing employee connections, Sodexo crafted a targeted social strategy. The company identified employees who were frequent social media users with many connections and tasked them with social job sharing – in other words, employees were asked to use their personal social media accounts to advertise job openings to their collective social connections. In just three years, Sodexo grew their average job opening pageviews per month by over 1,100%.
So how can your company foster a similar online community of connected and engaged employees? To begin, listen and observe. Monitoring the activity of both your company’s social profiles and that of your employees will help you to understand how employees are currently using social media to interact with your brand. From there, you’ll be able to identify employees that are heavy users of social media and which employees are online community influencers. Note what topics and social networks drive the most engagement. Use this initial research to set benchmarks and goals for progress. After you’ve completed the review of your company’s social landscape, you’ll have a clear picture of where the greatest areas of opportunity lie and who to tap for help.
Successfully reframing your employees as brand ambassadors through an intentional social strategy requires creating a culture that empowers and incentivizes employee participation. It’s important to clearly articulate your company’s overall social strategy, but much more important to link its goals and objectives to employee job functions. Employees are much more likely to participate if what you’re asking them to do is seen as complementary, not supplementary to their workload. To encourage informed participation, provide training for your social media brand ambassadors. For example, you could invite a local college professor to present at an internal workshop outlining how to write content specifically for social media. Or, mine existing internal resources by tapping your communications department to lead an introductory corporate digital communications webinar for social brand ambassadors. Creating an informative and sustaining dialogue with your employees will be key in determining whether or not your efforts will be successful.
Once you’ve empowered your employees with the appropriate resources and knowledge, motivate them to participate online. Ask brand ambassadors to follow your company pages, promote company events or initiatives, and share company-posted content. Assign them as group moderators of online communities. Request their contribution as subject matter experts for blog posts. Whatever it is you decide to ask of them, it’s critically important that you regularly engage them. Companies that consistently treat employees as partners in social media by marrying the personal and professional growth of employees stand to gain significant benefits.
Back at Sodexo, a quick glance at the company’s social media profiles reveals a thriving online community driven by employee participation. The Sodexo Facebook page shows a wealth of employee comments and posts, links to employee blogs, and corporate posts highlighting employees. The company’s Twitter account is populated by dedicated hashtags for employees and tweets about employee participation in one of the company’s social initiatives. It’s clear Sodexo’s employees are enjoying the perks that come along with engaging online with their employer. Meanwhile, Sodexo itself is expanding brand awareness, enjoying improved internal communication, increasing sales, and attracting top talent – simply by empowering its own employees to become ambassadors of the brand.