Social media channels are increasingly the main way that many brands connect with their audiences. This is what the modern “brand experience” is all about — it’s an ongoing conversation with your target audience about what’s happening with your company.
Growing that audience is always a challenge. However, there’s a good chance that you have a valuable resource in your company that you’re underusing.
Just look around. It’s your employees.
Employees as social media advocates
While countless organizations assign a person or two to manage their social media activities, there’s value in taking it a step further. By turning everyone in your organization into an online advocate for your business, you can reap greater rewards without spending a dime.
This is because your employees have a huge advantage when using social media — trust. They can tap into the relationships they already have with their audiences, instead of having to grow a following from scratch. As a result, they can share your company’s message in a genuine way while turning their connections into a broader audience of potential customers.
Large companies leading the way
Some of the largest companies in the world are leading the way when it comes to social media advocacy programs.
As a leader in the food and beverage sector, Starbucks has taken social media advocacy to the next level by creating a network of employee advocates. It’s well known that Starbucks refers to its employees as “partners” and emphasizes the idea of collaboration between employees and management. Similarly, their social posts focus not only on their products, but also on their employees and their experiences with the brand. According to the employees themselves: “We’re called partners because this isn’t just a job, it’s our passion. So, go ahead and share it!”
Financial services leader Mastercard also recognizes that its most important asset is its massive workforce. As a result, the company implemented a Mastercard Employee Ambassador Program in which employees are building a brand presence by sharing brand-related news on their personal social media accounts. Employees are also included in many of the company’s media-related decision-making processes.
3 steps to create your own social media advocacy campaign
Of course, small businesses don’t have massive workforces who can revolutionize their social media marketing. But you don’t need to be a Starbucks or Mastercard to turn your employees into advocates for your brand.
Here are three key steps to make it happen.
1. Create a marketing calendar
Your first agenda item is to decide which social platforms to use. Luckily, there’s plenty of research out there showing which demographics prefer Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and other social media platforms.
Once you determine where your target audience lives online, decide how often you want your employees to post on each platform. Then, have the team work together to create a marketing calendar. This can be as simple as a whiteboard calendar on the wall, or as complex as a digital marketing platform shared among your team members — whatever works best for you.
On your calendar, make note of major company events such as product launches, conferences, and executive speeches. You should also keep an eye out for public events or holidays that align with your company’s values or offerings. For example, the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco hosts a number of events on “Pi Day” (March 14) and shares the highlights online.
2. Help your employees know what to say
Although social media is known for short, catchy messages, developing posts can still be a challenge if you don’t know what to say. Your customers will get bored if you push the same ideas over and over again without any variation, so your team needs to get creative to keep everyone’s attention.
Furthermore, it’s not very authentic to have all of your employees tweet the same thing at the same time. Rather, employees will be more engaged in becoming social media advocates if they still have the freedom to decide when and what to share on their individual accounts.
Your best bet is to create a social media policy that provides employees with clear rules about what they can and cannot do on social media (for example, sharing confidential company information). Then, you may want to develop some guidelines to help employees create their posts (for example, what kind of brand voice do you want to use?).
Remember that your employees will want to inject their own personalities into their accounts, and this should be encouraged. By all means, you can brainstorm some creative ways for everyone to engage their audiences — but then sit back and allow your employees to forge their own connections online.
3. Create your own hashtag campaign
Creating a hashtag campaign for your company is a great way to promote events and run contests, as well as engage your audience in conversation.
Reebok is a great example of a company whose workforce is driving a new hashtag campaign. Employees are encouraged to share photos of themselves in their Reebok-branded gear along with the hashtag #FitAssCompany. By taking this genuine approach to social media marketing, rather than a standard paid advertising campaign, the brand has been able to shape their online reputation as authentic, health-driven and relatable.
And while a hashtag campaign may originate with your employees, your target audience may very well start using it too. This allows you to see what your customers think of your brand, as well as share their own ideas for how to improve it.
One such example of customer innovation came out of one of the best online marketing campaigns of late. Since 2014, Coca-Cola has been running their famous #ShareACoke campaign, which offers personalized Coca-Cola bottles to customers so that they can drink their own Coke and share a thoughtful gift with a friend. After years of producing bottles with regular labels, the company listened carefully to customer feedback and switched the labels to stickers in 2018. This allowed customers to extend the memory of their experience beyond a single drink.
Remember: it’s all about connections
Your social media strategy shouldn’t just be a top-down approach from the marketing department. It’s important to remember that your employees bring direct experience with social media into your company, not to mention hundreds or perhaps even thousands of people that could be introduced to your offerings.
Do your best to keep your employees involved in your social media efforts. Give them the tools to collaborate on outreach activities and campaigns and encourage them to share their experiences online. Not only will this strengthen your brand and generate new leads for your business, but it will also keep employees engaged — all for the low price of a little time.