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Creativity Marketing Transformation

4 Major Employee Advocacy Barriers to Overcome in 2016

A few months ago, I attended a marketing conference that gave me the opportunity to hear a very well-known social marketing leader speak. You may have heard of him—his name is Jay Baer.

Jay stood up in front of a room of a few hundred as he systematically led us through a narrative about the connection between customer service and social media at a well-known sausage brand. I know. Pic or it didn’t happen, right?

Jay Baer on Customer Service

Jay said, “Customer service is one-on-one marketing.” I wholeheartedly agree with this point, and I’d take that one step further and say that social media can make one-on-one marketing both salable and authentic if you can scale it within your organization. Employee advocacy can be more than a simple amplification of your messaging—it can become an authentic marketing and customer service tool, if you can overcome a few hurdles along the way.

As a marketing leader, how do you help your organization think beyond the employee advocacy status quo, and what barriers will you run into along the way that will slow you down or stop you in your tracks?

First, Let’s Acknowledge What the Status Quo Looks Like

What does your status quo even look like? Chances are, you’ve seen some success in early advocacy initiatives. You may be up on a few of your social media channels, and your messaging may be resonating inside your organization.

Progress has been made, but you know you can do more. You know that you have even more compelling stories to share and your organization will be eager to share them right along with you. You also know a social media strategy can provide your organization with more of a personal connection to your customers, but you may not know how to go about achieving this level of success.

Identifying and overcoming your key obstacles will help you realize success. I’d like to share those obstacles with you, as well as how to overcome them.

1. Your Organization Still Discourages Employee-Customer Social Media Interactions

With the possible exception of your marketing or public relations teams, your organization still may discourage, or even outright forbid the use of social media channels to interact with your customers. How can you overcome this obstacle?

  • Expand the Social Media Circle – Start by identifying relatively “safe” members of your organization outside of the traditional teams allowed to interact on social media. Executives and organizational leadership are typically a good place to start. They often know the organization and the customer and run a low risk of saying something that will reflect negatively on the brand.
  • Review and Update Policies – Work with human resources to either develop or review policies around acceptable social media use in the workplace. What are the actual policies on the books regarding use of social media by employees? Providing a framework for your teams will lay the groundwork for expansion and future success.
  • Demonstrate the Value of Social Interactions – The organization that I work for recently participated in a huge, joint exercise with dozens of other organizations in the area to simulate a disaster scenario. This exercise helped us, as a team, realize the power that direct interaction with our community has during events like this. While use of social in a disaster scenario may be an extreme example, the same basic values apply to day-to-day operations as well. Marketing and PR teams challenged with organizational buy-in should seek ways to demonstrate legitimate uses of social media in their industries through real-world examples.

2. Leaders or Prominent Company Figures Have Little Social Presence

Building on a point I made above, the second group of employees that should at least consider establishing a personal presence on social media is your company’s leadership. Often with large brands or well-known local companies, the public wants to know more about those at the top. How do you help ramp leaders up to be successful on social? Here are a few tips:

  • Host Social Media Workshops – Either have someone from marketing or PR run the workshop, or bring a social media coach in to provide best practices training.
  • Start with Co-Creation of Content – Have marketing or PR set up and work with company leaders to produce content and update their social profiles. Be careful with this strategy, though. You want authenticity to prevail here—having someone”take over” a leader’s presence isn’t the solution. Your customers will see through it and trust will erode.
  • Provide Strategic Planning Support – You have a content calendar for your blog, right? Why not come up with a content strategy for your leaders and help them by providing a framework for what they could be sharing and focusing on? This strategy stops short of producing the content for them but keeps their messaging in-line with the overall organizational priorities and other executives with a presence on social.
  • Overcome Their Reluctance – My leaders like numbers. One number I’ve found that convinces them is search queries. Research search engine queries on their name to demonstrate that the public wants to hear from them directly. This will help convince them that a brand presence on social could be supplemented with their presence as well.

By Anthony Delanoix via Unsplash

3. You Can’t Break Your Push-Only Social Strategy

Your brand is at least on social media, but you’re only really using it to push out messages. You know it can be so much more—including a customer service, one-on-one interaction tool, but you can’t figure out how to break out. Here are a few tips:

  • Tell More Stories – Everyone loves stories, and they’re still widely accepted as “marketing,” even from those still stuck in the marketing past. Humanize your social content strategy through more storytelling on social media. If you can still accomplish the goal of talking about how awesome you are, just in a different way, everyone’s happy, right?
  • Video, Video, Video – I’ll start with a few metrics here, because we know leaders like numbers: YouTube is the second most popular search engine; 300 hours of video are uploaded every single minute. And Facebook video is on YouTube’s heels. Your organization has heard this before, so selling the value of video shouldn’t be an issue.
  • Make Employee Rock Stars – An organization is only as good as the sum of its parts. Use social media to showcase employee stories, surfacing even small “wins” where employees advocate for their customers in some way, and you’ll still be able to talk about how awesome your company is (but from a very different and personal perspective).
  • Stop Using Stock – Your customers can see through your stock photos, so stop using stock photography on social media and start building up a library of your own custom photography. Along with office images and genuine photos of employees, partner with a reputable supplier like 500px or Death to the Stock Photo to find authentic photography. Social media is all about authenticity, and showing your actual employees, actual offices, and actual day-to-day can really help build trust.

4. Corporate Communications and Marketing Don’t Socialize

Your internal communication and external marketing teams are both tasked with engaging their respective audiences, but those audiences and messages differ. Could they work together, though? What would that look like?

  • Blur the Lines Between Internal and External – Remember that point I made earlier about storytelling? When you consider this point, the audiences really aren’t all that different. Internal and external audiences both want to hear about your successes. It’s OK to blur the lines between internal communications and external marketing a bit and share stories with both.
  • Friendly Reminder: You Matter – “What could I possibly do to help market our brand?” The answer actually is “a lot,” but only if it’s genuine and natural. Remind team members they’re not only an important part of the brand’s perception in the market, but when positive messages about the brand come from them, they’re often perceived as more trustworthy and authentic.
  • Build Social into Internal Messaging – If you have an intranet site, pull in content from social media on that site and encourage sharing. If you rely on email messages to your internal teams, be sure to include links to your “official” social messages so that they can be read (and shared) by anyone across your brand. Incorporating more social media aspects into your internal corporate communications strategy can really help raise internal awareness and make the connection between marketing and corporate communications.

These are only a few issues that affect the success of employee advocacy in 2016. What is your organization doing to address them?

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