This post was authored by Joel Don, a consultant specializing in digital marketing, social media and public relations services for the technology, industrial and biomedical sectors. Joel has served as ISA's contract social media community manager.
The CEO of a global tech manufacturer (that eventually joined the Fortune 500) had the perfect retort to a skeptical business writer. The journalist chided that the company only had 3 percent market share. “Yes, but we have 97 percent to gain.”
There’s a common sentiment among marketers that industrial automation and manufacturing companies have been slow to embrace social media for business, and research tends to back that up. So it’s easy to see why so many feel overwhelmed by the amount of catch up required to get into the game. However, another way to look at a fledgling social business presence is from a position of opportunity: Your company can gradually increment social marketing strategies into your existing sales, marketing and customer service programs. In other words, don’t expect to grab 97 percent at once, grow your social media communities on a percent by percent basis.
The good news is even the smallest of industrial businesses probably already has the necessary resources to help build social communities focused on their brands. Essentially, your employees may be your most valued social media asset.
Leveraging your employees as an extension of your social marketing team represents a vast and mostly untapped marketing resource for any brand. You may have heard of the popularized term employee advocacy, and it simply describes enrolling every person in an organization to serve as company advocates or brand ambassadors as part of their everyday social networking activities. If your employees are already sharing and liking online, it’s time to use them to help amplify your company presence, increase the reach of your digital marketing programs and drive more traffic to your brand. Your social media army is awaiting orders.
I actually prefer another term to advocates or ambassadors. Consider your employees as marketing partners who have a vested interest in the social media success of your company. If they are immersed in communities online, they already bring: 1) trust that you can’t buy; 2) extended communities of friends and associates that would take years to build; and 3) a face for your company or organization that delivers the all-important human factor to a corporate logo. An advocate or ambassador has a mission or an agenda; a partner has skin in the game.
Extending social marketing through employee influence
The best part is this is not a new strategy. You probably already send employees to trade shows, events, conferences and professional meetings. They speak, network with prospects, customers and connectors, and wear name tags that announce and project your brand. Shift that same paradigm to the social networks and you can accomplish even more at a faster clip if you plan your strategy and create a company action plan, set goals, metrics and KPIs and, most important, establish a consistent company-wide commitment to participation, online brand association and proactive company advocacy. Simply: make it part of the job description. As marketing partners, it’s everyone’s job and everyone wins.
It starts with a few changes and updates. The first step is to make sure employees have included their company affiliation in all of their social media account profiles. Online profiles are those sticky name badges, and deliver context to employee social presence. I’ve spoken with industrial automation CEOs who worry about employee missteps online that might reflect poorly on their brands. There was a similar concern when corporate email was introduced in the 1990s. The C-suite fretted that workers with email accounts might easily disclose company secrets or send inappropriate messages, creating corporate liability scenarios. None of that ever happened. The social networks are no different; the same business decorum rules apply to business meetings, email and now social networking.
But it is popular to establish social media guidelines for employees and certainly is a good idea to offer ongoing employee coaching on best practices for projecting and promoting your brand online. Your internal social media marketing specialists or outside social media consultants can help you develop guidelines and help nurture your employee advocates. Quick tip: Don’t turn your guidelines into rules and regulations. You want to encourage employee social media engagement, not make everyone feel they are walking on eggshells.
Employee advocacy will save you money
Here’s why employee advocacy makes good business sense. To overcome filtering algorithms that restrict the reach of your Facebook and LinkedIn company page posts, you may have to open your wallet and “boost” or “sponsor” each update. This can be rather expensive if your goal is to reach all the people who, ironically, already have said with a click they want to see your news in their feeds. Nobody knows the secret algorithms that determine the organic reach of updates, but sharing, liking, commenting and other forms of post engagement certainly can’t hurt. Your employees are also your community, and they can help extend the organic (vs. paid) reach of your pages by commenting, liking and sharing, just like followers. Employees, after all, are fans of your business too.
There’s an associated customer service benefit to employee advocacy. People like buy from people they know and trust. You can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a month on social media automation tools and analytics platforms. There are even pricey employee advocacy platforms that can help ratchet up your employee influence and significantly bolster your social media marketing goals and objectives. Don’t put the cart before the horse. First get everyone on board and engaging with your communities, then look to the tools and platforms that can take you to the next level.
Start small, win big
Start small and weave yours employees into a social media advocacy program. Deploy your social army to extend brand influence, attach the human face to your company and create higher levels of trust, engagement and organic reach. If you are not partnering with your workers to leverage employee advocacy in social media, you’re leaving money on the table when it comes to a vital ingredient of social marketing momentum.
How are you leveraging your employees to extend the reach and influence of your social media marketing programs?