As companies start to dip their toes into the social media waters, we have seen them implement a couple of different approaches. Some companies start with a small group of employees who are identified as brand ambassadors or official representatives of the company in social media networks. Other companies, such as Zappos and Best Buy, have given their entire employee base access to platforms for participating in social media, thereby making all the employees spokespeople of the company.
The Creative Underground has an excellent blog post on using your employees as brand ambassadors… and while it was written more from the perspective of empowering all your employees to be brand ambassadors, I think it rings true for either approach to social media.
That’s right. Instead of just one or two people being social media representatives of the company in the Twitterverse and elsewhere, what if all of them were? I know. Your first thought probably is: “Ha. Good one. We’d never get anything done.” Hear me out. There are rules to this concept working in practice, not just in theory.
1) Cover your you-know-what.
Namely, adopt a Social Media Policy. I’m talking about a formalized document that establishes some guidelines on ethics and privacy. While you may already have a corporate communications policy of this sort, it’s very smart to be clear that social media is part of that policy too. I could write a blog post on this very subject alone but Sharlyn Lauby, president of Internal Talent Management, already wrote an insightful post that covers it: http://mashable.com/2009/04/27/social-media-policy/
2) Train them.
This is a step that can separate the purely compliance-minded from the folks who see this as an opportunity to turn employees into communicators. This isn’t a stage made up purely of “Here’s what you can say, here’s what you can’t say” dialogue. While you may speak to that, training also describes being able to show employees how you’re opening up the doors to them as representatives of the company and letting their voices be heard in a very centralized area (more on this in the next step).
3) Give them a centralized area all their own.
Now that you’ve set some parameters – and your employees understand those parameters – put a dedicated page on your site that allows them to post, share links, communicate with themselves and the outside world, etc. Want an excellent example of how this is done effectively? Zappos has 198 employees Twittering from one area of their site, including the CEO, who has more followers on Twitter than anyone else in the company. That’s an important point in itself – it’s easier to reinforce a culture of openness and transparency if management is actively participating in the same social media tactics as its employees and not just monitoring their posts.
4) Sure, you need to monitor – but reward influencers too.
Let’s say you’ve got people Twittering aboard a main area of your site and while some of it isn’t offensive (you know what to do if it is), it may not be the most useful stuff in the world to know either. Yet maybe there are other employees tweeting about useful company products, taking a position on an industry development, sharing useful article links and more. As those people are doing that, they’re building influence for themselves and for the company by association. How do you know they’re influential? In the case of Twitter, take a look at a nifty tool called Twitalyzer and you’ll get a clear picture of how it encompasses the total package of an employee’s tweeting influence, including how many links they post, how many Retweets they make, how often they tweet and how many times that person has been referenced on Twitter.
I’m not a big fan of trying to force people to blog, post and chat about nothing but the company because that just isn’t natural. People need to be allowed to wander off the ranch and post some fun, non-offensive things that give the company personality. But do set up a reward system that shows you appreciate the quality of their communication. That doesn’t even have to be monetary but can be a seat at a newly formed and exclusive Social Media Committee, for example (one that encourages creative ways of communicating in the social media universe, not merely about compliance). Want to show you’re not all business? Reward the funniest Tweet of the Month too.
I didn’t say this is for everybody. Many companies are only comfortable with 1 or 2 individuals being their official representatives, which is fine. But if you want to open the door up much wider for turn more employees into company ambassadors of your brand in the social media universe, it can work. And when it does work, you don’t just have talk among your own walls but interaction that can be meaningful with the people who may buy your product or service. Those people can build upon a positive conversation that revolves around your brand.