It’s an open secret among social media teams at some of the world’s largest companies. One of the fastest ways to tap into a big social media audience is already on the payroll.
A company’s own employees can represent a kind of internal social media army. And when important messages need to be spread far and wide on Twitter and Facebook, more and more companies are asking employees to seed this messaging on their own social media accounts. The multiplying effect can be profound. To offer a simple example, if a firm has 100 employees and each of them has 100 followers, that translates to instant access to 10,000 people.
Nor is this just a numbers game. Word-of-mouth messages from friends and colleagues are generally seen as more trustworthy than social media blasts from corporate accounts. When employees share messages, in other words, companies not only expand their social media reach, they also generate more trust and engagement.
But this rubs a lot of people the wrong way … and understandably so. I’d like to offer a little perspective from the inside. At my company, we use this social media “amplification” strategy regularly. Done correctly, it can dramatically increase the reach of company messages, while also — and this is important — bringing benefits to employees. Done incorrectly, however, campaigns of this sort look false and disingenuous, can generate resentment among employees and may well do more harm than good.
Here’s a look at some key lessons I’ve learned from using this approach at Hootsuite:
1) Employee message sharing absolutely has to be voluntary
It goes without saying that employees can’t — and clearly shouldn’t — be compelled to disseminate company message on their own social media accounts. But I’d even go a step further. For this process to work, employees have to actively want to share. There must be an alignment of interests and benefits flowing in both directions.
For the company, the benefit is obvious — greater reach and a bigger audience. But how do employees stand to benefit? By sharing relevant messages, they can ideally build their own professional social followings, while establishing themselves as experts in their professional sphere. This two-way street is an essential prerequisite of any message amplification strategy.
2) Audience alignment is key
Furthermore, employees need to have a social following that actually cares about the messages being seeded. In other words, the idea here isn’t that your VP of sales is sending updates about quarterly earnings to her high school buddies on Facebook. Ideally, you’re tapping employees who already have a relevant professional network on social media, i.e. an audience to whom the message is actually useful. Their followers shouldn’t look at these messages as anomalous corporate blasts but as actionable, valuable information.
3) Consider some social media basic training
On that note, it’s worth pointing out that the idea of using social media “professionally” remains foreign to many employees. Some basic workplace training can go a long way toward breaking the perception that Twitter and Facebook are time wasters and showing employees how to build and nurture a network of professional followers.
At my company, for instance, every new employee is required to go through social media “basic training” in his or her first few weeks. We are, of course, a social media company and this kind of rigor isn’t necessary in every context. But social media isn’t something that employees should be expected to just intuitively understand.
4) Messages need to be easy to share
When you do have important news to get out via social media, alert employees directly, either via email or another channel. And draft messages beforehand to make it easy for them to share. I’ll offer an example to illustrate.
Recently, a thousand job hopefuls turned up at our headquarters to apply for 100 open positions. In the weeks leading up to the fair, our HR team sent out company-wide emails explicitly asking anyone interested to help spread the word through their own social media networks. These emails contained pre-approved sample Tweets and short shareable blurbs for Facebook about the upcoming event. With just a few clicks, members of our staff were able to share this news.
5) Use this strategy judiciously
Social capital — the trust and respect that users accrue among their followers — is what makes social media such a powerful means of communication. It’s important that employers respect their employees’ social capital at all times. If their audiences are suddenly inundated with company messages, credibility inevitably suffers. And that’s a lose-lose situation for everyone.
With that in mind, use this strategy judiciously and reserve it for messages that do more than just narrowly promote company goals. The best updates for employee sharing are messages that are genuinely interesting or entertaining or that contain practical, usable information.
More than three-quarters of consumers report that social messages directly influence their buying decisions. But businesses without a significant social following can find themselves shouting into a void when they post on Twitter, Facebook and other networks. Encouraging employees to share company messaging — when done properly — can help businesses gain a foothold in the social sphere and extend the reach and impact of messages. Just don’t overdo it.
Grow your social media reach through employee advocacy with Hootsuite Amplify.