With Facebook logging its first billion-user day and LinkedIn closing in on 400 million members, many savvy companies are realizing that their most credible marketing resource – their own employees – are quite literally staring them in the face.
That’s why they’re adopting employee and business partner advocacy programs to tap into the social networks of their own people to spread messages at a grassroots level. But making these programs work isn’t necessarily cheap or simple. Here are some do’s and don’ts to consider if you’re thinking of launching an employee/partner advocacy initiative for your own business.
Do have a social media policy. This document should outline what is and isn’t acceptable for employees to discuss online, as well as guidelines for attribution and disclosure. Any employee who represents your company (and that can be as simple as listing an employer in a LinkedIn profile) should be required to sign this policy.
Chris Boudreaux, co-author of The Most Powerful Brand on Earth, has assembled an outstanding database of social media policies at SocialMediaGovernance.com. A good example to follow is the IBM Social Computing Guidelines. Policies should accentuate the positive. Focus on the benefits of constructive engagement more than on penalties for missteps.
Don’t dictate messages but do offer suggestions. It’s perfectly okay to provide sample tweets and hashtags, but avoid enforcing rigid rules on how people share information. Messages are more genuine when expressed in the language of the people sharing them.
Social sharing hubs like Telligent, Postano, Dynamic Signal and GaggleAMP make it easy to post content for people to share, but a simple webpage on your intranet will suffice. The closer you can get to cut-and-paste simplicity, the better results you’ll see.
Do use trackable links. Link-shortening services like Bit.ly and Ow.ly make it possible for you to track the click-through performance of links that you share. Google’s URL Builder does the same thing, and all marketing automation tools have similar functionality. Use them to identify the messages that your colleagues are sharing most effectively.
Don’t force people to participate. Many people are uncomfortable using social networks or don’t want to play the role of company marketer. Respect their wishes. People who are forced to use social media do it badly or may even try to undermine the process. Don’t tempt fate.
Do reward participation but don’t use cash. Promote and celebrate the people who eagerly embrace the advocacy program. Recognize them in internal communications, complement them to their managers retweet and share their content to build their social followings. Point systems and leader boards are okay, but be sure to build in a quality component to recognize originality as well as output. While some companies use financial rewards, I believe that sends the wrong message. People should share because they want to, not because there’s a bonus in it for them.
Do provide ongoing education. Host monthly lunch-and-learns, share links to useful articles and promote the tactics that are working best for your people. Provide a smooth on-ramp for hesitant employees to learn the basics. Promote your high achievers by inviting them to lead educational sessions.
Do test and iterate. Offer several choices of suggested messages and use different tracking links for each. Look for topics, language and attitude that resonates with your audience. Do more of what works.
Do you have an employee or partner advocacy program in place? What’s working for you?