Staff can be your marketing fifth columnists, if you let them

So often this question comes up in discussions about social media marketing strategy: why on earth allow employees to openly represent an organisation online?

The general answer runs something like this: “If you are afraid of what your employees will say about you online, then your problem is not your employees — it’s your organisation.”

There are nuances to this general principle, of course: for example, staff shouldn’t claim to speak for the organisation in any official or legal sense. But, generally speaking, organisations afraid of losing control over unofficial communication will make the situation worse by banning social media use at work.

There is also a very simple, practical argument against organisations wanting to stop staff Facebook or Twitter access.   With more people set to go online via their mobiles than desktops in the near future, your efforts are likely to be futile.  Much better to have an internal social media policy in place instead.

But the strongest reason is this:  allowing staff to use social media won’t result in them talking your organisation down, just the opposite in fact.

Forrester came out with pretty damning research among 5,500+ information workers in North America and Europe. Half of (49%) of information workers were online detractors and only 27% were promoters, for a net score of minus 23%.   Not surprisingly, directors are promoters but staff — including supervisors — are detractors.   So forget the notion of middle management always being loyal!

At the same time, this statistic is worth everything and…nothing.  According to another AdAge article: “In case you’re wondering if you should allow employees onto social networks (and trust me, you can’t stop them), try this fact: workers who use social media are among the most positive of an organisation’s supporters — 48% would strongly recommend a company’s products and services and only 22% were detractors, for a net score of 26% — among the highest of the groups we surveyed.”

This is part of an instinctive reflex to defend your ‘tribe’.  So you might denigrate your boss or your work to friends and family but seeing a stranger criticise them online is totally different!

Letting staff use social media shows that you trust them to act responsibly and don’t treat them like children.    If you treat them like adults, they’ll more often than not respond in kind and become your organisation’s online advocates.

Arguably, the hardest part of leveraging the power of social media is generating an initial burst of activity. More and more often we read powerful case studies of companies who tap their biggest fans to help generate quality word-of-mouth coverage. While there’s no question that customers are one of the most effective assets in social media marketing, organisations of all sizes often overlook their built-in, positive social network — their employees.

Staff who are equipped with information are more likely to be advocates on their company’s behalf. Consequently, it is the responsibility of enlightened marketers to arm their colleagues with the tools and messages to enable effective word-of-mouth communication online.

Here are a few ways to empower your employees to give your word-of-mouth campaign some momentum.

  1. Extend the “all-staff” e-mail. Internal “all-staff” e-mail is the media through which employees hear about all milestones, product updates and announcements. But why stop there? After each important announcement (intended for the outside world, of course), add a drafted tweet or status update — complete with a link to the appropriate news release or landing page. Not only will your well-connected employees share the announcement, their networks will listen — they will be “breaking the news” from the inside.
  2. Develop social-media-friendly content. For instance, is there a company PowerPoint that your sales or business development people use frequently?  If you’re fortunate, the PowerPoint summarises the value of your business in ways your website, blog or your e-mail signature just can’t. Get that presentation uploaded on SlideShare, tag accordingly and get your entire staff to upload the deck to their LinkedIn profiles, via the SlideShare application (you can also use Google Presentation on LinkedIn).
  3. Persuade staff to “like” where they work. The chances are that all your staff is on Facebook: how many of them have actively “liked” your company? Some people may prefer to keep their personal life separate from their professional life but it never hurts to ask. Most likely, most will accept — and several of them may turn into active (and valuable) participants.
  4. Axe the fax and socialise your business cards. Why is a fax number still a standard component of business cards while social media outlets are omitted? Include a link to a blog, a company Twitter account, LinkedIn or Facebook company page and provide potential customers with a meaningful way to interact with your brand. This also applies to your employees’ e-mail signatures. Present your staff with a template — complete with all appropriate social links — and watch your network — and positive digital signature — grow.

Add a little online cheer over the festive period

Leave a comment on a friend’s blog or Digg or StumbleUpon it

Identity systems have made commenting on blogs a little harder than it used to be but it’s still relatively simple. Offer a relevant comment or reaction. It’s a gift thats reciprocal because it links back to your own blog or website.

If you can’t think of a comment, share it through Digg or StumbleUpon.

Like, or comment on, a Facebook status

We often take Facebook Comments for granted but use any spare time over Christmas to show appreciation of your Friends by being generous in your Comments, Likes and praise. Costs virtually nothing.

Thank tweeps for an @ response on Twitter

How many @ responses do we barely acknowledge? Go out of your way to thank someone commenting on your tweets by giving them extra exposure to your Followers. Extol and praise them.

Instead of writing “according to one blogger” write, “according to Jeremy Dent’s excellent SocialMediaCompass blog.” Praise publicly and freely. Correct privately!

And have a great Christmas yourself!