Key Takeaways – Your Employees Are Essential

servletI just got back from two days in Dallas at the Social Media Strategies Summit hosted by GSMi.

I had the privilege of speaking on both days; a presentation + workshop  on Tuesday about Content Strategy, and a presentation on Inbound Marketing on Wednesday.  Outside of the time I was presenting I was able to attend the keynotes and the individual sessions.

Typically, Social Media conferences are drenched in references to “the conversation” or “engagement” or vague calls to action about why you shouldn’t miss out on the awesome power of Pinterest.  Unlike many of the “social media conferences” I found this event to be unique because of two topics that emerged as the central themes of the conference:

  1. the importance of your employees;
  2. and the evolution and value of social media measurement and KPIs.

Today I want to briefly go over the first topic of how employees fit in this whole world of Social Media.

The best companies will leverage their employees

Of the vast majority of companies getting involved in social media, only a handful have figured out the secret sauce: the employees are a crucial component of social media success.

Data shows that employees have greater reach, more influence and generate more revenue than the official branded company accounts.  On a related note, as I’ll discuss later on, they are also seen as more trusted by the consumer.

The company that taps into the reach and influence of its employees is better suited to succeed in the social era than the company that either chooses to put the entire job of social media under the care of a small number of individual or those that choose not to participate at all.

Linda Rutherford, VP of Communication and Strategic Outreach for Southwest Airlines gave us a detailed look into how the company uses social tools, not just to communicate externally, but also to appreciate and acknowledge employees internally.  This has helped Southwest to build a unique culture and a highly engaged and loyal workforce.  Southwest’s culture is what creates the unique experience that has become one of the defining reasons that people choose to fly Southwest.  Southwest’s use of social tools internally and externally has had an impact on the real world activities that take place offline.

Trust is essential

Perhaps the most referenced piece of research at the conference was the Edelman Trust Barometer, a report that comes out each year to illustrate the changes in how individuals feel towards entities such as the CEO, thought leaders, employees and peers.  This report showed that trust in the average employees, or “a person like myself” has been steadily rising since 2009 while trust in the companies, advertising and CEOs are either in decline, relatively flat or modest gains.  This trend indicates the need for a social media strategy that involves employees in the process.

This may seem dangerous to a company, but it shouldn’t because…

They are on it anyway

Employees are already using Social Media.  In the same way company branded participation is not a requirement for others to talk about the company, a company policy or endorsement is not necessary for employees to use Social Media.  In that case, if we accept that employees will be using this technology anyway, wouldn’t it make sense to encourage that usage and seek to benefit all parties involved?

How to move forward

It’s time to start thinking about letting go of the reins a little bit.  We are moving towards the collaborative economy where products, services, resources and ideas are shared amongst all stakeholders including customers, and employees.  It is no longer company/winner take all.  If you don’t believe me, then it’s time to listen to the Jeremiah Owyang episode of Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels Podcast.  If we step back and identify where we are going, it’s imperative to take note of how your employees fit it.  Stop resisting, start embracing.

Keep in mind that control of employees is nearly impossible, which is why 15 page, highly restrictive policies are so ineffective.  First of all no one reads it, and secondly, a restrictive policy leads to one of two outcomes, people either do what they want anyway, or they do nothing.

One of the things I really like seeing in the social tools marketplace, is the emergence of  internal tools.  One example to look at is Addvocate which gives employees access to an internal newsfeed of approved content and builds in game mechanics to show which employee is generating the most buzz, attention and reach.

Remember that the concept of “social” doesn’t have to be about external marketing. There was plenty of talk about internal blogs and intranets; I love tools like Socialcast, Yammer and Jive, which give employees the chance to participate in a safe, internal environment.

Moving forward consists of two simple steps to start:

  1. Think about what sort of activity would be mutually beneficial to the company, the employee and the customer
  2. Implement a short and sweet policy with only the most important restrictions and a clear set of examples of encouraged behavior.

 What are you doing to get your employees involved?  Do you have a good story about how your company is embracing it’s people.  Sound off in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you.  This is a conversation worth having.  

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  • marcusnelson

    Thank you Jeff — Really appreciate your inclusion of Addvocate. We absolutely believe the future of social marketing will continue to move toward a collaborative economy as strengthened relationships and goodwill are extended among customers and employees. Any company stands to gain by encouraging & enabling their employee’s social voices — grow brand advocacy, drive sales, solve problems, reduce service costs, and improve brand reputation.

  • Jeff Gibbard

    @marcusnelson:disqus, it’s my pleasure to include it. It’s great software and I know that you and your team will continue to improve it. The collaborative economy is definitely coming, and it’s a much bigger deal than many are willing to give credit. Thankfully that leaves a huge opportunity for those of us that see it coming.