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Patricia O'Loughlin
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How – and Why – You Should Trust Your Employees with Your Online Branding This Year

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Throwing the reins of your brand’s image to the hands of your staff can be a daunting prospect. Up until now, the delicate tasks of corporate communications and public relations have always fallen to a delegated spokesperson, right?

Well, more and more big-name companies are now embracing the trend of employee social media take-overs. While this may seem an outlandish idea to begin with, it actually makes a lot of sense.

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Your employees know the workings of your company better than anyone

Sure, a spokesperson can pull information and polish it up into a neat little ball of PR perfection, but he or she will never know the intricacies of your business on the same level as those who are actually embedded within the environment on a day-to-day basis. Your employees see your company’s culture first-hand, and can therefore wholeheartedly attest to it. Not only does this give a more realistic view of your business, it also encourages you to establish and maintain a strong company culture, which will in turn improve your overall operations.

They also have a loud collective voice, and a tonne of credibility

These days, brands are shaped from a kaleidoscopic assortment of angles. Traditional adverts, editorials and leaflets are still important, but new versions of publicity are also filtering into many business campaigns – the digital tsunami has brought with it a wave of online reviews, social media posts and blog articles, and it’s paramount to take this into consideration. Employee advocacy is ideal on these channels, as it offers the credibility and gritty authenticity that outsiders ultimately seek.

Journalists want to hear from employees

Funnily enough, journalists are looking for genuine stories. There will always exist a degree of conflict between the public relations realm and journalism, which is why first-hand sources make for compelling stories. While businesses can continue sending out press releases, there’s a high chance of gauging a journo’s interest by also giving your employees a digital megaphone.

…and they’re increasingly turning to social media to find potential story leads

Simply put, social media is the quickest way to generate a bit of online chatter around a topic. It was recently revealed that newspaper reporters in the US now regard social media as a number one tool for sourcing stories, with 50% of journalists prioritising Twitter as “very important” to their reporting strategy, and 20% holding Facebook in the same regard.

Trusting your brand’s online presence with your employees is also ideal for building rapport and making your staff feel valued

Aside from the marketing benefits provided by employee advocacy, adding these avenues into your business can also forge a greater work culture. By giving employees the opportunity to help amplify your business, they will naturally feel more invested in your company. Research has even shown that employees who act as brand ambassadors are more fulfilled in their jobs and demonstrate increased productivity with their work.

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However, it’s important to be pragmatic with who you choose to boost your brand’s digital persona

Don’t just delegate staff members willy-nilly; sit down and come up with a strategy for who you can entrust to co-manage your brand’s online image. Asset Bank suggests segmenting your employees into three levels of advocates:

  1. Base level advocates: employees who will have a low level of input in your social channels.
  2. Regular advocates: employees who will participate in discussions online.
  3. Super advocates: employees who will champion your brand online.

In order to identify which segment team members are best suited to, it’s vital that you undertake the necessary research. You will want to look at factors such as employees’ current role in the company, their level of seniority, and their degree of activity on personal social media accounts. You will also want to prepare some outlines of what will be required of them, and some guidelines they will need to abide by. Allow them to give you their feedback through a basic survey so you can ensure your final decisions are fully informed.

Decide how much control you will give your new brand ambassadors

There’s a reason that it has taken so long for employer advocacy to really gain traction in business: when tonnes of people are talking about your brand, you are naturally making yourself more susceptible to the risks of damaging your reputation. Depending on your company, you can ultimately choose the degree of brand control you give to your employees:

  • Restricted autonomy with approval: employees are required to seek permission before posting anything about your company online.
  • Usage allowed, but with control: employees have the freedom to post when they like; however, they must only use approved resources (most often sourced from the company’s digital asset management system) and abide by a set of brand guidelines.
  • Full autonomy: employees have no limit in what they say online.

Needless to say, each level of control comes with its pros and cons. Restricted autonomy will give you tightened control over your brand, but puts more pressure on the communications team to operate as ‘gatekeepers’ whose approval must be sought before information is posted online. This is time-consuming and detracts from their primary role of advocating your business. Full autonomy, on the other hand, obviously puts your brand at a greater risk of damage, yet also maximises your business’s voice in the online sphere and promotes a culture of authenticity.

As such, it’s important to evaluate the nature of your business; the size of your company; and the need for brand amplification before deciding on the amount of control you want to hand over to your employees.

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Don’t take this new opportunity for brand marketing as leeway to fire your spokesperson altogether

While employee advocacy via social media certainly opens up new and exciting channels for engaging with the public and elevating your image, you’re still going to need that trusty company spokesperson. Not only will he or she be required to handle any PR disaster that happens to erupt, but these in-house communication champions also harness all the expertise to train and educate employees before they take to social platforms.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to the fact that internal and external communication strategies are increasingly intertwining, and businesses need to pay attention to this. With the right approach, you can heartily embrace the employee advocacy trend and carve a pulsating online presence for your brand.

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By Patricia O'Loughlin


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