For years, companies have held strict social media policies, cautioning employees against blurring the lines between personal and professional accounts. But guess what? The winds of change are blowing! Today, companies are embracing a new approach, encouraging their employees to become influencers and magnify their personal and professional brands, fostering a positive impact on the company's image.
"It's a very, very subjective area. You cannot have policies around subjective data, social media is subjective." Tanuja Nailwal, Chief of Staff, Loyalytics tells us.
Companies adhered to stringent social media policies, emphasizing the need for discretion and avoiding any mention of the company or its activities. The primary goal was to prevent potential leaks, protect sensitive information, and maintain a polished corporate image. One false step on social media could result in reputation damage or even legal consequences.
However, this approach often came at the cost of stifling employee expression and missing out on valuable opportunities to humanize the brand. In some cases, these policies were so restrictive that employees were afraid to mention their affiliation with the company altogether, even in their personal capacity.
Tanuja says that presently, many organizations, including her current and previous companies, do not have rigid social media policies in writing but adhere to unspoken guidelines. She emphasizes the importance of employee branding from the company's perspective, where individuals' online presence can influence the organization's reputation positively or negatively.
As social media became an integral part of everyday life, companies began to recognize its potential as a powerful marketing tool. Simultaneously, they acknowledged the value of their employees as authentic and relatable brand advocates. Employee influencers offer a unique perspective on the company, bridging the gap between the corporate entity and its audience.
Studies have shown that consumers trust content shared by employees more than that shared by official brand channels. Employee influencers can bring authenticity, passion, and diversity to the company's online presence.
Tanuja highlights two representations of branding:
Personal Branding Benefiting company: employees showcase their expertise and thought leadership on social media, thus indirectly boosting their employer's reputation. For instance, an individual with 50k followers working in a small early-stage firm can be perceived as a smart person, and the company they work for must be impressive.
Company Branding benefiting employees: An employee at a FAANG company who posts content on social media is more credible than others since the company chose to hire them, indicating their intelligence. Here the employee is benefitting from the company’s branding to build their brand.
Urvashi Gormat, a content creator, explains that the strategy of promoting companies through employees as talent influencers only works in organizations with a strong culture. She emphasizes that if a company has a negative culture, expecting employees to be strong advocates is challenging. Companies cannot force their employees to be present on the Internet, though some may naturally choose to do so. For Urvashi, promoting brands is her primary source of income, and when discussing her work, she prefers it to happen organically.
A marketing professional told us "At my previous company, they created an Excel sheet listing all employees and their number of followers across various platforms, which was so toxic."
Cisco, on LinkedIn, is taking a different approach by providing training to its 83,300 employees to become talent influencers. They guide employees on how to use their LinkedIn profiles to attract potential candidates. Cisco believes that employee-created posts are more effective than content curated by the company for branding purposes. Kelly Jones, the Chief People Officer, stated in an interview with Forbes that occasionally, they allow employees to take over the company's social media account for a day, resulting in authentic and non-corporate-generated content.
Companies must approach sensitive topics related to employees' social media presence carefully. Forcing employees to be brand faces, against their will, could backfire. Addressing negative feedback or controversial posts requires a thoughtful approach, considering the subjective nature of social media and individual assumptions. While a startup may not intend to monitor employees' activities outside of work, it's essential to recognize that anything posted in their professional capacity can reflect on the company. If such content goes viral, it could harm the company's image.
In the case of Bombay Shaving Company CEO, Shantanu Deshpande, his LinkedIn post advising freshers to work for 18 hours a day for at least the initial 4-5 years was severely criticized by netizens, leading to a massive backlash.
In the case of Dukaan, the decision to lay off 90% of its support staff after introducing an AI chatbot for customer support was met with criticism from customers and the media. The decision led to a loss of trust in the brand and how it communicates with its employees.
To minimize these risks, companies should establish clear guidelines and protocols for their social media advocacy programs. Employees, including founders, should be educated on responsible social media usage, emphasizing alignment with company values and the avoidance of controversial or offensive content. Additionally, the company must be prepared to handle potential crises swiftly and transparently to safeguard its reputation.
To align employer branding with company goals and values, HR professionals need to consider an employee's overall personality, both in and outside of work. This deeper understanding helps in identifying potential influencers who can effectively represent the company's mission and vision.
At Springworks, we have a volunteer program that encourages employees to grow their professional networks on LinkedIn. We provide occasional tips to motivate them and even have an "Employee Advocate of the Month" award. Participation in this program is completely voluntary and focused on employee convenience. Employees have complete control over what they want to post and when they want to post it.
The trend toward elevating employee influencers has spread across many industries, not just one or two. Microsoft, a major player in technology, is one notable example. Its "Microsoft Life" campaign encourages staff members to post about their experiences on social media using the hashtag #MicrosoftLife. This campaign gave the brand a human face and highlighted the various perspectives within the organization.
Employing the strength of their staff to amplify their brand message, other businesses like Starbucks, Dell, and Adobe have all successfully included employee advocacy in their social media campaigns.
Regardless of a company's stance on employee promotion, employees will talk about their companies on social media, whether the company likes it or not.
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