Many employers, out of genuine concern about their online image, attempt to curb their employee's online discussions about their company. These kinds of policies exist to protect the company from possible lawsuits. Though this might seem to be the best way to control your corporate image, what actually happens is the staff becomes afraid to communicate. It is important instead to empower the staff to be brand advocates.
Advocate for Your Employees
It is up to the company to choose if their employees are advocates or potential targets of censorship. If your company makes an effort to ensure the employees understand what is confidential information and why, then they will be empowered to make the correct decisions themselves. The real potential can be found by giving the employees something to talk about so they are not restrained, but guided.
It is important for any company concerned about its status to have an online reputation management strategy. This allows the company to track and analyze all mentions of its name and any related keywords.
Having permission to do something restricted often flips a switch inside people that makes them want to push the boundaries. That instinct stays a part of people from early childhood. It is important not to push employees too hard to control the brand, or the rebellious nature may escape. There is some loyalty to the brand ingrained in the employees, as the company is a part of their identity. They get up every Monday through Friday to do work for the company that in turn supports their livelihood. When that company tells the employees not to discuss them, it hurts morale and inclusivity in the corporate family. Employees who feel excluded question the company's ideals, and may fear they are being lied to or undervalued.
Beyond the feelings of the individual, it is important to consider interactions at industry events. If an employee's peer mentions an event that took place at the company, and the employee is unaware of it because the company does not allow such communications, the company will look bad. If the same employee is able to respond to all these queries, it will make the company look significantly more organized. Knowledge is power.
Sometimes, employees who are nervous about professional consequences for personal actions will create separate social network and email accounts for their personal and professional lives. If a worker pretends to be someone else for the sake of the company, it could be an indication that their personality does not fit your company's culture. The online presence of all people should be a reflection of their lives, and the company they work for is a part of that. It's important that employees should feel free to express themselves on their personal account.
Second social network accounts will likely be created with a fake name. This makes it significantly more difficult for employers to track and resolve miscommunications. Employees should be aware of what is and is not appropriate to express online, and should not be maintaining separate accounts.
Get Employees to Advocate for You
There are several levels of employee advocates. Some employees will be base-level advocates. Base-level advocates are provided with simple guidelines and information on talking points, but probably will not mention the company much in day-to-day social media activity. Still, the guidelines ensure that employees will know what they are talking about.
The second level is the advocates; employees who desire active participation in brand-oriented discussions online. There are also super advocates, who command social media, creating a community around business-related topics and goals. These people are the ones who deserve the heaviest strategic investments.
If your company has no policy on online activity, search the web for people within the company who are discussing the brand positively. These are most likely your super advocates. Employees can also be surveyed, asked about how they feel about discussing the company online. The negative responses are base-level advocates, the moderate to positive responses are advocates, and the extremely positive responses are super advocates.
After separating employees into the three groups, the next step is segmentation. Everyone should receive information, which gives them the option and opportunity to post about the company, and the proper material to be informed in the event of debates or questions. Advocates and super advocates should receive more information, also suggestions about where discussion would be appropriate on each topic.
The best brand advocates should be assigned a subject to speak on over time. These subjects can differ from person to person, and should be areas of personal interest for them. They need to be individually notified when important corporate announcements are on the way, and given instruction on how they can help get the word out. Super advocates can also be given in-house communication assignments about the subject of their specialization. This will encourage them to do their due diligence and allow others in the company to be aware of important information as well. This will keep employees as focused on current issues as an outside PR agency would be.
Employees are the face of their company, and it makes sense to trust the same people with the company's online reputation as are trusted with success in the office. Empower employees to talk about your company and they will only have good things to say.