Companies spend a lot of time and money investing in marketing tactics that can help them achieve a bigger reach with the audiences that care about their products or services. However, there is a very important tactic that is often overlooked by business leaders and marketers – encouraging employees to promote the company on social media is not often commonly considered as a marketing tactic, but it is a very effective method for impacting a larger audience.

Are Your Employees on Social Media?

Did you know that most of your employees are already on social media?

The Pew Research Center found that by the end of 2013 73% of all internet users were on at least one social networking site. As might be expected, adults age 18-29 were the most likely to be on social media, with 90% active on at least one platform. This means, companies already have employees active on social media and ignoring this fact does not solve any problems. Additionally, when Weber Shandwick narrowed their focus to report on the social activities of employees, they found that 88% were using at least one social media platform for personal use.

The Pros and Cons of Employee Representation on Social Media

Weber Shandwick found that half of all employees have already mentioned their employers, their company, the products they create or the services they provide. This means that companies are actually missing out on the opportunity to guide these posts in a positive direction. Any concerns about employees unveiling a bad side to the company are not going to be curbed if no action is taken. The same study found more than one fifth of employees are already posting strictly positive posts about their employers and companies. Only 16% said they had shared criticism or negative comments about their employer online.

Of course, the idea of having unbridled employees on social media can be terrifying to many leaders. After all, companies work hard to create schemes that carefully analyze every statement, Call to Action and visual aid before it is published. Companies know they will be held accountable for what their audience perceives as part of their brand. Employees form branches that stem directly from the company and a bad limb will often provide a large group of viewers with an idea that the whole tree is bad.

But, on the other hand, companies aren’t able to keep their employees off social media. Without empowering employees through education and then encouraging positive posting from their employees, they are left only with those who are posting on their own volition and without any direction. Companies can help themselves by helping guide the voice and direction of content posted by employees on behalf of the company.

The Value of Social Media on a Personal Level

Brands are turning to social media for corporate pages that offer assistance and answer questions from their audience. It only makes sense that those social media plans extend to willing employee participation. Social media offers a personal place where companies can connect with their audiences; but employee advocacy – or empowered employees and subject matter experts – reaches the audience in a whole new way. Employees are able to: (1) connect with their friends and families in a deeply personal way and (2) engage more authentically as a brand representative with peer groups and your target audience.

Creating Policies for Social Media Activity

Of course, creating policies for employee posting is going to be very important. If you want to get off to a strong start, you will have to carefully consider how you can support and empower engagement without curbing enthusiasm. Social media policy shouldn’t be restrictive, but it does need to exist for both the sake of the employers and the employees.

Trusting Employees

Let’s first note that trusting your employees is the first step towards employee advocacy. You will need to get your employees on your side and then allow them the freedom to work on your behalf. Part of trusting your employees will mean not posting on their behalf or controlling their posts. You should never ask an employee for their personal password or access to their personal account.

Consider the Organic Nature of Social Media

Too much policy will push your employee advocacy program into a strange and forced place that won’t go over well with your employees or the audience they are reaching out to impact. You can structure your company culture far better than you can structure the nature of your employee’s posting.

Realize Activity May be Protected

You have to be very careful about what you tell your employees they can or cannot post on their personal pages. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is actively protecting employees’ rights to organize, including certain aspects of their online posting.

Offer Training

Providing training to help employees post correctly and how to disclose affiliations will keep the guardrails up. But it is equally important to educate the employee on the personal value they will realize from being a brand advocate and how it helps the company succeed. The training should be interactive and help them navigate the grey areas through sharing examples and use cases.

When Employees Become Advocates

If you are still wondering about the value of employees becoming advocates for your company, then you should consider the benefits they have access to that your company profile will not.

Reaching a Larger Audience

Perhaps your company has thousands of followers that receive your latest posts, but you are probably still trying to grow those numbers. Each employee has an additional reach to friends and family members that your company doesn’t have access to. This means that yours employee offers thousands potential customers. The audience each employee reaches are likely to be similar to themselves…and probably a good demographic for your company’s services or products. Employee advocacy also provides your talent acquisition teams with a wider reach into the talent pool of upcoming recruits.

Proving Value

Realize that getting your employees on social media should be as valuable to your employees just as it is to you. You need to make it easy for them to post content that they are interested in and shows their professional clout and expertise. As your employees develop their professional social capital, your brand actually looks stronger from the outside. As you strengthen your representatives, your company becomes the embodiment of expertise.

The Strength of Word-of-Mouth

Most people today are far more likely to trust a personal recommendation than an advertisement. Employees posting positive comments about your brand, workplace, products or services are recommendations that carry more weight than paid-for advertisements.

Benefits for Employees

On top of all the benefit employee advocacy does for your own brand reputation and image, your social media marketing tactic can also be a big benefit for your employees. In fact, all policies should be created on behalf of your employees. Consider how you are helping your employees succeed and enjoy their work environment and you will achieve a much more dedicated base of supportive employees.