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Getting social about business

By Yekemi Otaru - Posted on 25 February 2016

It's widely assumed that social media is ‘a good thing' for business. Nevertheless, some companies have still to fully get on board with a company social media campaign. Here, Strathclyde DBA student Yekemi Otaru examines the benefits of organisations embracing a social business mind-set.

In 2012, I interviewed change agents from companies like IBM, Dell and SAS. These agents had played pivotal roles in the creation and implementation of employee social media advocacy programmes. It was clear from those interviews that companies with a head start on these programmes had an inherent culture of trust, experimentation and collaboration, which made being social a natural extension of the way they previously worked. These organisations gained competitive advantage from employee advocacy because such programmes allowed employees to create and share knowledge online with customers. It allowed employees to own what they know and use it to engage in diverse conversations where themselves and the organisation become thought leaders, nurturing relationships that eventually led to more business, collaboration and partnerships.

Yet, in 2016 many organisations - particularly small businesses - have not embraced a social business mind-set. It is certainly not for lack of evidence that it is a good idea. A recent survey by Social Media Today shows that content shared by employees generates eight times more engagement than content shared through brand channels. The main reasons for some organisations passing on social business and employee advocacy is that they do not see the benefit in it. Based on my previous research, these are some of the benefits that have emerged:

• Increase in brand trust. The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that 52% of consumers believe an “average” employee over the CEO. This implies that rather than taking an executive or overly corporate tone on social channels, customers are more inclined to believe what employees say about their employer's brand.

• Extend global reach. Imagine that your three-person marketing team is solely responsible for sharing content about your brand. Now imagine that you have your 3,000-employee strong organisation sharing content. This could create a significant improvement in brand awareness across the globe. EY for instance went from having an online reach of a million people to over 200 million thanks to their employee advocacy programme. This is an exponential increase in the number of customers reading and engaging with the EY brand.

• Promote thought leadership. Particularly if you are a small business, it can be difficult to get noticed amongst the big brands out there. Employee advocacy is a relatively cheap way of getting enhanced visibility for your expertise and knowledge. The more quality content you create and share, the higher the chances that potential customers will find you when they have a problem you can solve. This content – to be ideal – should not be salesy but focussed on answering frequently asked questions that customers might have. In my recent LinkedIn article, Become a Leader That Makes Change Stick, I write about how Krista Kotrla, Senior VP of Block Imaging International, a US-based medical imaging equipment company, led the digital transformation of the organisation. The company used content to answer common how-to questions, provide information on product comparison and pricing guides. This content ultimately led back to the Block Imaging website and allowed the organisation to guide potential customers through their buying journey, boosting sales as a result.

However, even with the benefits in front of organisations, starting and sustaining an employee advocacy programme will not be an automatic success. Susan Emerick, former Influencer Engagement Practice Lead at IBM and Co-Author of The Most Powerful Brand on Earth, emphasises the need to adhere to “success” standards which are:

• Alignment with business objectives

• Clear definition of how such a programme will impact the business

• Established KPIs that are trackable and quantifiable

In my recent book, The Smart Sceptic’s Guide to Social Media in Organisations, I provide a 3-step framework for driving employee participation in employee social media programmes, which is based on a total of eleven interviews from ten companies and a survey conducted with 38 marketing professionals across the globe. As more organisations consider employee advocacy, they need to be fearless about experimenting and learn from other successful implementations in order to gain the benefits that being a social business can bring. It appears that organisations have little to fear, except perhaps the potential pitfalls that stem from not having aligned objectives for such programmes hardwired to the business’ goals.

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