In the age of social media, the most prominent face of a company may no longer be its homepage, or even its social media accounts. Rather, it is the collective impression left by employees as they expose their professional and personal lives via blogs and social networks.
Sounds scary? It’s not. In fact, this is a very good thing for both the company, its employees and its customers.
Not surprisingly, many corporations have yet to embrace the idea of social employees. They fear brand fragmentation. They fear that employees, who are (most likely) not communications professionals, will misrepresent the brand, causing PR nightmares and driving customers away in their wake.
This is where they are wrong. They are wrong about not trusting their employees (sure, there will be a few bad apples and you need procedures for handling them). They are wrong in their assumption that employees need to be communications professionals. In fact, the further removed employees are from a marketing and PR function, the more customers trust them, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer. Therefore, allowing employees to showcase their subject matter expertise in their own voice is key to social media marketing and sales success.
These companies don’t realize that by humanizing their brand, it becomes more resilient. When or if mistakes are made, it is less likely to be a PR nightmare. Why? People make mistakes, and people are more easily forgiven than companies for making mistakes.
Allowing brands to be represented by employees is good business. It opens up for new ways to connect with customers. Collectively, employees have a far wider reach throughout their social graph than their employers. Ethan McCarthy, a former social media evangelist at IBM, offered this great analogy (which I’m paraphrasing based on this TEDx talk by Mark Burgess): Imagine a baseball and a bag of marbles. The baseball represents the brand’s official marketing channels, and the marbles it’s employees. Both weigh about the same, are about the same shape, and if you put them in a bucket of water, they displace the about same amount of water. However, the marbles have about 300% greater surface area.
This means exponentially more opportunity for the kind of connections, collaborations and brand engagement that drives sales, increases job satisfaction and attract the right job candidates to the company.
IBM gets it. They have trained thousands of employees how to be social brand advocates. The result: Employee engagement on social networks generates new business opportunities 7X more effectively than traditional marketing. That’s a statistic nobody can afford to ignore.
At the end of the day, social business is all about building trust, and people are simply better than corporations at building trust. Dion Hinchcliffe, said that “In social Media, companies don’t have much social capital. People do.”
Bottom line: Companies that fail to embrace their social employees will gradually fade into irrelevance in a market that is moving toward a people- based, trust- based sales and marketing paradigm.
This is an idea whose time has come. Start here.