LinkedIn’s Elevate product for activating employees as a marketing resource is exciting and right up our alley. According to their website “LinkedIn Elevate makes it easy for employees to share unique insights in an authentic way that will help them build their own professional reputations, and reflect well on your brand.”
For years we have preached about the value of employee advocacy, and why the focus must be on the employee, not the employer, in order to be authentic and credible. (Also check out this fabulous post by Aniisu K. Verghese on this topic).
Social Spam, Elevated
However, the more I learn about Elevate from public sources, the more unexited I become. It seems that the product has modeled itself after already less-than-ideal employee advocacy solutions that tap employees simply as a channel to do marketing’s job.
Secondly, it increasingly puts LinkedIn in the critical path as a communications channel between a company and its customers. What’s more, it also puts itself in between a company and its own employees. It’s a classic example of companies pitching tent in somebody else’s backyard. I’ve warned about this before as the groundskeeper is free to change the rules at any time. (LinkedIn just did exactly that, by the way, when they they shut off key APIs that CRM platforms, among others, relied on. Expect them to build/buy a CRM platform themselves soon, eventually making LinkedIn data an all-or-nothing option for marketers).
Third, unless I’m missing something, as a way to build employees’ professional brands (as LinkedIn claims it does), it leaves a lot to be desired. Here’s what I’ve gathered: LinkedIn’s outstanding content recommendation algorithm presents the employee with content of interest to them, combined with a human (company) curated collection of stories worth sharing. So far, so good.
Thereafter the program falls flat on it’s face: With a click, the employee may now share any article of their choosing to LinkedIn and Twitter (and presumably soon, other networks as well). This surely excites many, but why?
Isn’t there enough mindless posts across the social web consisting of nothing more than a headline and link? (Sure it builds traffic, and so does spam). Such sharing does little to build credibility or trust. Quite the opposite: It shows that employees can’t think for themselves.
Your company: a bunch of trained monkeys in suits?
I’m sure Elevate offers employees/advocates the opportunity to change a word or two in the title of the post they share in order to make it “theirs.” Even if this was sufficient to appear authentic and credible, few employees actually will, because it is too easy not to. Employers don’t necessarily care, as their goal is clicks over relevance (which is the story I’ve heard from F100 senior executives who should know better).
When you’re making employee advocacy so easy that a trained monkey can do it, what does that say about the employer’s confidence in their internal talent? What message does it send to customers? Do you really want to be an employer of trained monkeys?
My friend and esteemed colleague, Susan Emerick, a leading employee advocacy practitioner, has been warning about parroting (i.e. mindless repetition of marketing messages) for some time. Yes, there are plenty of apt zoological references to this style of social marketing.
I understand why LinkedIn Elevate (and some of its major competitors) appear an attractive option for companies; marketing remains centrally controlled, and employees are channels into social networks where the brands themselves have limited reach. However, when employees are reduced to a medium, what message are you sending?
Quantity over quality: ignorance or laziness?
Employee advocacy doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to erode the very employee credibility companies seek to capitalize on. Curation can be authentic once employees are provided with opportunities (and training) to provide context to the content they share. For example: How does the recommended content relate to the employees expertise and their customers’ challenges? Tell me and I might just buy from you!
Authentic advocacy may not be as scalable as parroting. Still, busy customers would rather opt for quality over quantity when relying on a company’s employees to filter the signal from the noise.
Still, at the expense of sounding hypocritical, I do admire LinkedIn very much, and their noses are pointed in the right direction. Elevate was developed in record time (hats off), and I hope the next iteration will focus on more authentic communications between a company’s employees and their customers.
However, until that is fully proven, as a marketer and employee, you need to think about what your long term play is, now that LinkedIn is showing theirs.