Maybe you run a small business. Maybe you're in charge of marketing for a large company. In either case, you're probably missing out on having your employees talk about your company online, and they are in the best position to generate buzz. Encouraging your employees to blog and use social media can help their professional development and your brand. Follow these 5 steps to foster this self-expression in ways that make your company more visible and esteemed.
1. Let your employees know that they are allowed–and encouraged!–to tag your company. Many people are scared to reference their workplace online for fear that its somehow unprofessional. Well, it certainly can be unprofessional if they are venting about their boss, but why not tag their company when they're bragging about an accomplishment, grateful for flextime, or excited to do community service with their team? Just remind people if there are any topics that are off-limits, such as referencing proprietary ideas or talking about clients by name.
2. Focus on how visibility and brand recognition are good for them. A rising tide lifts all boats, and your employees are associated with your brand through their work, resume, and network. Would you rather work for a company that is well known or someplace that no one has heard of? Obviously being part of a visible brand is good for their career. So let your employees know that tweeting, blogging, and commenting about work is appreciated and mutually beneficial.
3. Do the up-front work. Decide which 2-3 social media sites are the best fit for your business. Of course there's LinkedIn and Facebook, but Instagram makes sense if your business deals with images or branding, Google+ is great for improving search result standing, and Twitter is beloved by techies and promotes engagement. Pinterest is the fastest growing social site ever, and it's third behind only Facebook and Twitter (http://www.zdnet.com/sap-netbase-pinterest-is-fastest-growing-social-site-ever-7000002473/). Once you decide which sites to prioritize, make sure you have up-to-date presences and let your employees know how to tag or link to them. Making sure everyone knows your Twitter hashtag, for instance, means that you (and potential customers) can actually engage with what is being said about your company.
4. Reply to & promote employee generated content. This is the best way to let your employees know that you value their online contributions. Including employee generated content in your digital marketing and PR materials provides a window into your company and rewards stellar producers by promoting their name. In addition, you should read and reply to posts to make sure that the conversation about your brand is generally positive. And if an employee posts something negative? Deal with it in a positive, professional, and public way. This way everyone can see that you deal with criticism constructively, and they'll lend more credence to glowing posts because they’ll realize you’re not just forcing your employees to post fake content. It's scary to have your dirty laundry aired, but if an employee is so unhappy or disgruntled that they're posting negatively online, isn't that something you should know about?
5. Let your employees market for you (if they want). Who doesn’t want to feel like a big shot by getting their friends special deals? The next time you want to do a sale or marketing campaign, see if your employees want to lend a hand. They could post something as simple as “10% off if you mention my name.” The average Facebook user has 245 Facebook friends (http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2013/02/real-friends-vs-facebook-friends/62310/) and the average Twitter user has 208 followers (http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/march-2013-by-the-numbers-a-few-amazing-twitter-stats/), so you could be reaching a lot of potential customers this way. Plus, it’s coming from a trusted friend instead of a paid advertisement.
Remember, you've been hearing for years that brands should have a two-way conversation with customers. (http://mashable.com/2013/05/12/two-way-conversation/) No one is better positioned to get the relationship started than people who work in your company, and doing so is great for their professional development too. It's a win-win!
Margaret Murray is a speaker, consultant, and online instructor based out of Nashville, TN. She has a Doctorate in Organizational Communication and Cultural Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder.