People aren’t waiting in line to be “friends” with your brand. According to a survey conducted by WPP agency Geometry Global, 55% of U.S. internet users don’t see any point in friending brands. And even if they did, we all know that organic reach for brands on Facebook is plunging towards zero, and every social network has an incentive to follow suit. After all, why would brands spend on advertising if they can reach their audience for free?
“Friends” that pay for attention are not the types of friends that your customers want. This is why the true power of social marketing now belongs to employees of a brand – not the brand itself. The social media machine of the future has to tap into authentic relationships and social connections because people don’t want to have conversations with brands – they value conversations with people.
Still, turning your workforce into a social media machine is no simple matter. Lack of direction, training or regard for regulatory compliance have landed more than a few brands in hot water. Turning employees into advocates requires strategy and structure. The following principles, field tested by innovative brands like IBM, Dell and Pepsi, will help your employees take on the mantle of social engagement:
Don’t ‘wing’ your social media policy – learn from other brands
The first step of every employee social media program is to draft a policy that establishes a purpose, best practices and boundaries. Think of this document as a declaration of your social culture. To save a lot of time and get better results, look at what other companies write by going to the Social Media Policy Database, a list kept by social expert Chris Boudreaux. Don’t be shy about stealing some ideas and then adding your personal touch.
Set different goals for different departments
One of the most limiting things about branded social media accounts is that they have a hard time representing different departments with different interests, priorities and messages. Employees don’t suffer that problem. Decide and document what you want departments to do. Your sales team will want to focus on boosting leads and sales via thought leadership whereas your HR department is more likely to use social for highlighting your strengths as an employer and attracting talent. Establish departmental goals early so you can begin to strategize about what type of training and content you’ll need to provide. Overall, corporate communications will want employees to share an authentic message while becoming more informed about company initiatives and culture.
Create training and program benchmarks that fit these goals
Executives at your company are all going to wonder, what’s the ROI of a social workforce? What are we actually accomplishing? Set benchmarks now so you can answer that questions later. For instance, you should determine how many employees you want to join the program, and you have to identify the metrics that will reflect their social performance. Sales might track the number of leads generated via social media while HR might want see how many application submissions are generated through social activity. Corporate communications will want to measure how many people are consuming content and track how their audience reacts when they do share.
Train the right people for the right platform
The conventions and purposes of each social media site are distinct, so a one-size-fits-all training program doesn’t make sense. For example, your software engineers or operations team are not going to demonstrate thought leadership by posting selfies on Instagram – Linked and Twitter will be their prime territory, so they need to learn to use those platforms. However, HR might use Instagram to post pictures and videos from a volunteer outing to give potential hires a sense of company culture.
Start with your most social media-savvy employees
To see if your training is effective and useful, pick social savvy employees for your beta group. They will be able to provide constructive feedback that social newbies can’t offer. They can also generate good examples of social sharing for later training, and they can mentor or assist the next group of trainees. After training, ask the beta group to fill out surveys and/or participate in feedback discussions so you know what needs improvement.
Scale to the rest of your workforce – and simplify
Once you’ve tweaked your training program based on the beta group’s feedback, you’re then ready to begin scaling to the rest of your workforce. As you continue training, learn how you can streamline or simplify the process. I know of one major telecom brand that started with a 40 minute introductory webinar and was able to shrink it to seven minutes. Another brand, a Fortune 100 retailer, trains employees with a two-minute video. Over time, most brands experiment with videos, webinars, slideshows, graphics and one-page tip sheets. Try them all and measure the impact with surveys. Employees have different learning styles and are more likely to succeed in training when they have a variety of resources.
Create and reuse your awesome content
No matter how well you train employees, social programs can bomb if you don’t provide outstanding content when it’s go time. Remember, you’re asking employees to represent the brand with personal friends, family members and social connections. They do this because they’re proud of their company, and because social media offers opportunities for recognition and advancement. Invest in producing and reusing content that employees will want to share and tailor content to specific to specific departments and goals. While recruiters and marketers might want to highlight corporate social responsibility, sales needs content that speaks to industry pain points and trends.
A smart employee workforce program acknowledges that departments and individuals need to do social their way. Employees have to post in their own words to get a good response from their audience.
You can start everyone with basic principles, but the best training programs are going to help departments achieve specific goals and empower employees to represent the brand authentically. They need a variety of content to choose from, and they will appreciate the leeway to craft their own comments and introductions when they post. Your social media policy – the foundation of the entire program – will provide the guard rails they need to post without fear.
Turning your brand into everyone’s social “friend” just doesn’t work. Let your brand be a brand, and let your employees do the talking.