But social media has empowered another group of people as well, and this group can have an even bigger impact on your brand and your company’s success than your customers.
Wait – what? Who could possibly have a bigger impact than customers? Who are these people? Well, chances are, you already know them fairly well, or at least you should.
They’re your employees.
Thanks to social media, your employees are now more visible, more discoverable, and more influential than ever before.
And I’m not just talking about your designated social media “guru” or community manager. I’m talking about every single one of your employees. Let’s face it: it’s only a matter of time before all of your employees have social media profiles on one or more social media platforms. Your engineers. Your product managers. Your accountants. Your executives. They’ll all be discoverable by means of social media. Many already disclose where they work and what they do professionally on professionally-focused sites like LinkedIn, and as such, now represent a brand touch point for your company. In aggregate, they provide a powerful message about your company: This is who we are. That sounds like the message that most brand campaigns strive to communicate, doesn't it?
Indeed, a brand is a promise of value, and that promise is communicated across a wide array of media and experiences. But when you bring your people into the mix, you’re showing your customers exactly who it is that’s making – and delivering on – that promise. You’re providing a human face for your company and reminding customers that a business is really just a group of people working together to create products and services for other people. This is particularly true for service companies, whose “product” is the intelligence, advice, and experience of their people.
More and more companies are recognizing the importance of showcasing their own people in their marketing. Intel, Best Buy, GE, and Cathay Pacific are just a few other companies who have recently run ad campaigns featuring the talented people who work in their companies.
But social media profiles take this to an entirely new level. Rather than simply featuring your people in your ads, social media profiles allow your customers and partners to see that these are real people, who have worked at real places, who have earned real degrees, with real recommendations, and who are connected to other real people. Maybe your customers will even see that they themselves are connected to your employees.
IBM, a company that has nearly 200,000 employee profiles on LinkedIn, clearly understands the value of bringing their employees into social media:
“We don’t have a corporate blog or a corporate Twitter ID because we want the ‘IBMers’ in aggregate to be the corporate blog and the corporate Twitter ID,” says Adam Christensen, social media communications at IBM Corporation. “We represent our brand online the way it always has been, which is employees first. Our brand is largely shaped by the interactions that they have with customers.”
Now, for other companies, this represents a big change, and raises some questions for which there aren’t clear answers yet. For some companies, this disrupts decades of control over how customers could contact them, where they could direct customers to well-trained salespeople, customer service agents, or communication teams. Now, all of their employees will be accessible by customers. For other companies, there are regulatory issues governing the communication employees have with customers. And, there’s the fact that these social media profiles belong to the employees, not to the company, and some platforms are better suited for displaying one’s professional identity than others.
Finding answers to all of these questions goes well beyond the scope of this post, but for now, I’ll offer some suggestions on how you can start preparing for this change. I should note that, given where I work, I’m more qualified to talk about how to do this on LinkedIn than other platforms, so admittedly I’m going to be a bit parochial here, but hopefully you can put some of these principles to work on whichever platforms work best for you and your company.
Here are 3 steps companies can take to start leveraging this new opportunity:
1. Embrace it and encourage it. Some companies are prohibiting their employees from accessing social media in the workplace. While some may have legal/regulatory reasons for doing so, others do it simply out of fear of productivity loss. That’s short-term thinking, and somewhat humorous – if someone is not doing their job because they’re goofing off on social media, that should surface up naturally in whatever accountability systems a company has in place for evaluating performance. But many companies will recognize this is an unstoppable force, and that they’re better off leveraging the opportunity instead of trying to put their finger in the proverbial dyke. Make it clear to all of your employees that you support them having professional social media profiles. Communicate that you recognize the value in showcasing the talent in your company to potential customers, partners, and future employees.
2. Make it easy. Take a look at some of the profiles of your employees on LinkedIn, and you’ll likely see some inconsistencies in how people are describing your company and what they do there; that means your customers are encountering inconsistent messages too. So provide some boilerplate text that describes your company and how it seeks to serve customers, and encourage your employees to incorporate it into their LinkedIn profiles. Provide some content that helps them describe what they do at the company and perhaps a way to preempt customer inquires e.g. “as an engineer, I may not be the best person to answer your question about your account with us, but here’s a link where you should be able to find what you need.” Encourage them to seek the tone that feels right to them, but encourage them to get the basic points across.
3. Be suggestive. Keeping in mind that the profiles belong to your employees, you’ll want to take a suggestive tone and make it clear that this isn’t a “requirement.” If you’ve hired well, chances are, your employees want your company to be successful. Show them that by presenting their professional profile and being consistent in how they describe the company will only help their business succeed by attracting more customers, important partners, and talented employees - after all, who doesn’t want to do business with or work with great people?
In future posts, we’ll dive deeper into how social media is allowing you put a human face on your company. In the meantime, I hope you find these suggestions helpful.