You may have conducted a handful of experiments with a select group of employees and achieved promising results for a potential employee advocacy program. But you’re not sure where you go from there. How do you implement this exciting program you have been researching, analysing and experimenting?

Success comes down to culture.

It was Alli Soule’s job title that caught my attention: Social Media Employee Engagement & Education Specialist at SAS. I was intrigued. There aren’t many companies who would provide such a clear and visible focal point for employee engagement and education around social media participation. I shouldn’t have been surprised. SAS is probably best known for its culture.

Founded by a university professor, James Goodnight while he was at North Carolina State University and now with over 13,000 employees globally, SAS ranks in the Top 5 every year in the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work. It ranked No. 4 in 2015.

In my discussion with Alli in July 2015, it was clear that the culture at SAS has played a huge role in the take-off of social media in the organization. Alli explains that SAS management trusts its employees and believe that they won’t abuse the privileges they have. This has trickled into social media participation. SAS trusts employees to do the right thing.

Lead by example.

When social media took off at SAS, the company made an organised push and hired a social media manager in 2008 to secure a focal point.

Alongside clear guidelines, social media played right into SAS’ core values — transparency, innovation and being customer-driven. Becoming a social business was therefore a natural transformation.

To enable active participation, at least 30% of the core executives at SAS blog regularly, internally and externally including the Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Sales. These leaders lead by example, which has motivated groups of employees to engage in online settings. Alli draws on her mass communication background to ensure that the vision and messages about social media use is clearly communicated across several channels at SAS. There are team blogs, email and online newsletters — forums that provide a flurry of news and tips for employees.

Support participation, make it fun.

Alli likes to keep the news fresh, encouraging entertaining posts linking to random holidays e.g. National Scotch Day and other trending topics. She remarks,

“Some of these seeming ridiculous but humorous posts often draw people back to your social profile and generate new followers”

Alli provides social media engagement training to teams with specific requirements. She spends time correcting and clarifying misconceptions around the use of social media. It can be challenging for her as she doesn’t want to discourage employees or appear to be policing them. Alli and the rest of the team use a delicate balance of praise and correction to keep social media participation on track and within the guidelines.

Keep employees motivated.

Alli works closely with HR to ensure that social media participation, while kept optional, is recognized. In the future, Alli and the team hope to reward socially active employees with access to paid social media tools as well as recognizing a “Social Media Employee of Month.”

As I conclude my discussion with Alli, she offers guidance for posting SAS content versus non-SAS content. She refers to the 4-1-1 rule:

  • Post 4 pieces of non-SAS content
  • Post 1 piece of content created by SAS or the employee
  • Post 1 piece that is fun and entertaining

This is a fluid rule at SAS but gives employees an idea of what will give them the most online engagement. To conclude, Alli and her team at SAS spend a lot of time communicating the vision for social media engagement. They act with a balance of praise and correction. Employees know where to go to ask questions and to receive the required training. It is also important to SAS that employees are recognized for exhibiting the right behaviors. This is how a culture of social sharing might be sustained.

About Yekemi Otaru

Yekemi combines her engineering and business background to offer a unique perspective. She is a well-respected strategic marketer in the oil and gas industry, undertaking senior roles in large multinational companies including Schlumberger and General Electric. As part of her roles, Yekemi has delivered branding, market segmentation and digital strategy, as well as leading employee advocacy programmes.

Yekemi is the author of The Smart Sceptic’s Guide to Social Media in Organisations, a must-read for senior leaders seeking to implement social media advocacy programmes and sustain employee participation. The book provides a 3-step framework, based on her research and includes real life examples from companies like General Electric, Block Imaging International and SAS.

Prior to her career in marketing, she took on engineering roles before completing her MBA (with Distinction) from Henley Business School, UK in 2012. Yekemi now studies part-time for a doctorate degree, examining how firms can achieve positive outcomes in digital innovation projects.

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