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How to turn employees into advocates

I grew up in a physical world, and I speak English. The next generation is growing up in a digital world, and they speak social.” – Angela Ahrendts

There’s no question that social is changing the way we tell stories of the companies we represent. Ahrendts’ words, though, are still a great reminder for communicators to re-think strategies in a world where social is increasingly traditional, to help our companies remain relevant.

When it comes to engaging audiences on social, we need as much help as we can get. The audience is vast and growing rapidly. Besides the next generation Ahrendts pointed to, the number of CEOs of the world’s largest companies engaged on social media has doubled compared to 5 years ago, according to Weber Shandwick.

[The writer is Roger Pua, senior director – corporate communications, Asia Pacific at LinkedIn, who is speaking at Marketing magazine’s 3rd annual PR Asia conference, happening 26-27 November in Singapore.]

As communicators think of third-party advocates to help spread the word on social, we may be overlooking a big group of influencers who are right in front of us – our company’s employees.

It was therefore refreshing that one of the key takeaways at CommsConnect Sydney, a recent gathering of more than 50 senior communications leaders, was this nugget of gold – communicators need to ‘let go a little bit’ to empower executives and employees at their companies to tell/amplify stories of their brands and create conversations.

This seemingly bold suggestion may raise eyebrows (I was also skeptical until I joined LinkedIn 3 years ago) even though it is not a new concept. All along, we’ve been working with  third-party advocates to tell our stories because we understand the power of word-of-mouth.

For some communicators, the thought of ‘giving up control’ and entrusting employees to tell stories on social can be hard to grapple with. ‘Really?’ was the response I got when I mooted this with a few of my peers earlier, which isn’t too surprising. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that communicators were custodians/gatekeepers to ensure content and spokespersons are ‘on message’. On social, though, it’s more about having a conversation and humanizing stories so something has to change.

One can make a very strong case that tapping your own employee base to tell stories is more powerful –  after all, employees are a company’s number 1 asset. But beyond that, employees of a company are often regarded as its most trusted influencers, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Consider the huge upside of ‘giving up some control’ to empower employees as story-tellers on social. What you get is an army of loyal influencers who have immense reach and credibility. The risks? Very manageable. Before unleashing employees as story-tellers for the company on social platforms, communicators need to consider the following:

  • Have in place a must-have set of social media guidelines which reflect the company’s values, is concise (a simple list of do’s and don’ts, for example) and is well understood by employees.
  • Encourage employees to represent themselves and the company in the best light on social platforms, starting, for example, with a professional picture on their LinkedIn profile.
  • Create/curate interesting and positive content about the company so employees are armed to share with their social networks and create conversations within a professional context. Just as content is the lifeblood of modern marketing, it’s also key to a communicator’s social strategy.

I hope I’ve made a strong case for communicators thinking about empowering employees to be story-tellers on social.

The writer is Roger Pua, senior director – corporate communications, Asia Pacific at LinkedIn.

Hear more from Pua at Marketing magazine’s 3rd annual PR Asia 2015 conference, happening 26-27 November in Singapore.

To book your seats for the conference contact Carlo Reston at carlor@marketing-interactive.com or +65 6423 0329, +65 9727 0291

For sponsorship opportunities, contact Johnathan Tiang at johnathant@marketing-interactive.com or +65 6423 0329

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