Employee Advocacy: the ultimate Social Media Strategy

The problem of developing the right approach for a company to be effective on social media is one we’ve touched on several times – if you’ve not already read them, you may want to check out our social media policies, and  Can A Company Ever Be Social? posts. Today we’re going to look at the “holy grail” of business social media implementation: Employee Advocacy.

What is Employee Advocacy?

Simply put, an employee advocacy-based approach means allowing a range of employees to represent the company on social media, as an everyday part of their professional role.  So rather than “containing” social in the marketing / comms / web services department, it’s treated as an integrated communication channel like any other.

Think of it this way: your business recieves phone calls and emails every day on a wide range of topics. In the technical department, people are chatting to technicians in other companies about new developments and ideas. The sales team are talking to customers about how your product or service can help them. Senior executives are discussing current industry issues with their peers. Now imagine all of that conversation being funneled through a single phone number or email address: it’d be a mess, and the amount of valuable discussion would be seriously restricted.

And yet that’s what most businesses currently do with social media.

A big shift

So, a company-wide social media strategy involves a big shift in mindset. Potentially almost every member of staff becomes part of the social media team; but social media is also not treated as a separate discipline, but instead an extension of employees’ existing contact channels.

But it also makes a huge amount of sense: allowing potential customers to connect, on a personal level, with those individuals who are best placed to help or inform them.

What needs to be done

The main challenge for most organisations with this approach is getting signoff from the top, and making a commitment to allowing employees the appropriate site access and freedom. On a practical level, some kind of outline policy is a good idea, as is an internal communications programme ensuring that staff understand the strategy and what’s expected from them.

Basic social media training is also a good idea just to make sure that everyone understands the way that the main platforms actually work – for example, who sees what on Twitter. It’s easy for casual social users to think that they’re aware of all the implications, but it’s best to ensure there won’t be any embarassing mistakes.

Risks and benefits

For most businesses, the gut reaction to using social media in this way is fear – it instinctively feels risky to “open up” the company on social media. But those fears are largely ungrounded – after all, an unguarded email could easily be made as public as a social media post – and significantly outweighed by the benefits. Allowing peer to peer discussion – for example, technical staff talking directly to technical staff at suppliers or potential customers – is far more valuable than providing a single, generic Twitter feed.

In many ways, it’s also simpler for the organisation – provided that they are prepared to trust their staff – than having one or two staff struggling to create a “corporate personality” on a single Twitter account. It needn’t be complicated for individual staff members to hit the right tone either, once they’ve understood the principle that their social media accounts are for use in the context of their professional lives. They should have clear leeway to express their own thoughts and personality in conversations, whilst avoiding any comments or topics which wouldn’t be appropriate for an external email or telephone call.

Who’s doing it well?

IT giant IBM is probably the best known example of a company with a strong social media presence which is really distributed throughout the organisation.

If you’d like to learn more about this approach, there’s an excellent video (with transcript if you prefer it) on their strategy, considerations and challenges here: Employees as Brand Advocates: IBM’s Ethan McCarty.

Facebook cracks down on clickbait headlines

Fed up with seeing those blatant clickbait headlines in your Facebook news feed? You know, the “this cute kitten / starving puppy was attacked/ rescued / cuddled by a baby / chihuahua / alligator. You won’t BELIEVE what happens next!!!” ones (if you’re still not sure, spend a few happy minutes with this clickbait headline generator. If nothing looks familiar, you have super-intellectual friends – well done ;)

Apparently, a few Smart Cookies are making megabucks from these sites; this is how it works. They dredge the internet, and other “viral” type sites like Reddit, for content which ticks the shareability buttons, come up with alluring headlines*, and republish that content onto their own websites with the clickbait titles added. Then, they feed those links into Facebook, often with an initial advertising budget to start pushing them into people’s news feeds as Boosted Posts, and wait for the traffic to start flooding in.

Because of the way Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm works (or has until this week), a clickbait rolling stone headline will gather a very large amount of moss indeed. Or to put it another way, every time one of your friends clicks on one of those articles, it becomes more likely to show up in your feed. If you click too, you’re passing on the joy to your friends. So with that initial investment in a boosted post, the article gets traction throughout Facebook and starts sending lots of traffic back to the original Smart Cookie’s website….which they can then monetise by selling ad space on the basis of all those zillions of page views.

So basically, the Smart Cookies have been exploiting Facebook to deliver traffic to their own sites, for their own reasons.

Strangely enough, Facebook aren’t very keen on this, and have now announced that they intend to knock the whole thing on the head.  For one thing, someone else is cashing in on their customer base; for another, all those lovely clicks are departing Facebook and landing on the Smart Cookies’ websites; and for a third thing, some users possibly find those headlines annoying. We’ll leave it to you guess which of those three things are the official reason for the algorithm change they’ve just announced which will reduce the visibility of these articles…

Here’s the full official release if you’d like to read a slightly less snarky view of the whole story: News Feed FYI: click baiting

 

* alluring in the way that a carrier bag of cheap chocolate is alluring. It’s hard to ignore but will leave you feeling kinda nauseous and grubby if you go there

Why everybody* hates LinkedIn**, and what they could do about it

*Almost everybody. Click-drones in spam-farms and obsessive seekers after vast networks of people who don’t care about them, don’t count.

** Maybe “hates” is too strong a word, but definitely “finds it yawnsome” / “irritating” / “a chore”…..

 

bored dog

Oh hurray, a LinkedIn notification...

There’s a statistic that we’ve long since lost the source for (Socialnomics?! possibly..) saying that for a third of women in the 18-34 age group, the first thing they do in the morning is check Facebook. They wake up, and immediately reach for the smartphone, thinking  “I must catch up with what my friends have been up to in the eight long hours i’ve been asleep”.

Whatever your views about whether this is a good thing, there’s no denying that it’s a good thing for Facebook. At least for a section of the world, Facebook have got the formula so right that it’s the first thing they think about each day.

Now contrast that with LinkedIn. In a highly unrepresentative poll of people who happened to be nearby when this post was being written, here are the top 3 reasons why people most recently visited LinkedIn:

1. Trying to find something almost legitimately work related to do in order to put off doing something even duller

2. To switch off those darn endless email notifications

3. To update their profile because they’re about to finish a contract / get fired.

Not exactly the stuff of dreams, is it? LinkedIn is in danger of becoming synonymous with irritation: irritation at “having” to maintain a presence there (rather than wanting to because it’s valuable), irritation at declining the 20th auto-worded connection invite from a stranger that month, irritation at the lack of decent discussion in Groups and / or flooding with irrelevant blog links from the “look at MEEE!” types. And that’s before we get on to the endless invitations to experience the thrill of LinkedIn Premium for FREE!

We got a bit excited a while back when LinkedIn showed signs of becoming more than a CV-repository on steroids, but we have to say, the social side is still leaving us cold – and that seems to be the case for most people we speak to.  Very few people admit to finding LinkedIn an enjoyable, effortless way to maintain professional relationships and solve real problems. It should be so much better than it is.

So, below are our suggestions for some simple, and not so simple, ways that this could be changed. What do you think? Would they work for you?

One: Fix the utterly dull and useless LinkedIn Home Page feed.

The Home Page feed is, frankly, deeply unengaging. It’s the stuff that the Facebook News Feed team would call “bottom of the barrel updates” – “someone you’ve never heard of joined a group you’re not interested in“.

One simple thing that would make the Feed instantly useful: Active and popular threads in the groups you belong to should be the #1 item prioritised into the Home Page feed, alongside genuine updates from your contacts. Surely this is the most no brainer suggestion in the history of the world? LinkedIn is struggling for social “stickiness”, but still chooses to ignore the obvious area where it could be helpful.

For the life of me, i can’t understand why this isn’t already the case. Even setting the Home feed filter to “Groups” just brings you a bunch of irrelevant rubbish about how people you’ve never heard of have joined one of your groups, or people you have heard of have joined a group you don’t care about. Just bizarre. At least if you could see, at a glance, where the action is (and isn’t) in the groups you’re a member of, that would be useful.

The “Pulse” news section also needs a lot of work – it’s rarely relevant, and very US biased. Some kind of quality control on the sponsored posts would be great, too – i’ve lost count of the number of times i’ve had posts which are not just dull, but also badly written to the point of unintelligibility. With apologies to the firm in question, this is today’s offering – I didn’t have to look hard for it, just logged on and hey presto! a post apparently written by a random word generator.

Two: Encourage people to be themselves…just a little bit more.

Status updates on Facebook are easy. Sometimes too easy, for the natural oversharers amongst us. LinkedIn updates, less so.

Seen a great article on The Economist or Harvard Business Review? Tick, everyone feels confident about sharing that. Update about challenges you’re facing in your professional life? Er, no.  The thing is though, most of the people who care about the HBR article will already have seen it, and hey, HBR is so much better at being HBR than you are. It’s a “safe” update, but the value to your contacts is low.

But imagine if the culture on LinkedIn changed, so that instead of presenting the fake, shiny, go getting versions of our professional selves, people were a little more candid and authentic. Being brave enough to give people an insight into the not-so-perfect stuff you face at work, admit to challenges and look for support, could turn LinkedIn into a fantastic resource. Yes, some do that on Facebook – but while your Auntie Maud might be great at telling you how talented you are, aren’t the people in your professional network better placed to help you actually solve problems?

Three: Kill off the mindless contact collectors

Certain functions in LinkedIn tend to promote quantity over quality when you’re making connections. For example, you’re theoretically more visible in the internal search engine if you have more connections, and have a higher chance of seeing others’ full profiles (though there’s a loophole for that). This is all wrong.

Imagine how low the chances of your Facebook or Twitter feed being fascinating would be if you just friended or followed a couple of hundred random people who you’d never had a discussion with in your life? Personalisation and relevance is the lifeblood of social media, and connecting indiscriminately kills it.

A random set of impersonal contacts also further reduces the chances of you being candid (and therefore interesting) and getting value back from your network. So LinkedIn are entirely shooting themselves in the foot here. They’d be much better encouraging everyone to choose their most influential / supportive / knowledgeable contacts, however that is done – hell, just limit everyone to 50 and be done with it. Or make search visibility dependent on the proportion of your connections you’ve interacted with in the last 6 months. Whatever – but something needs to change.

Four: Dump the endorsements

It’s obvious why LinkedIn introduced these – some nice bait for people to log in, and a catchy “hot or not” style interface that just keeps you clicking away, spraying endorsements over your connections like champagne on a Formula One podium. But really they just add to the superficial, spammy feel of the site – you know you’ve just endorsed someone you barely know for Brain Surgery despite having no idea whether they’re any good or not. So why would you trust the endorsements on anyone else’s profile? If you really rated someone, you’d take the time to write a proper Recommendation, wouldn’t you.

A little disclaimer…

I should point out here that we’re not suggesting LinkedIn has no value; it does, if only as a public (and therefore more credible and verifiable) source for checking out companies and professionals, and (hopefully) maintaining good connections. There are even some genuinely well run and useful Groups out there, although they are few and far between and LinkedIn does them no favours in surfacing their content to users.

But what we are suggesting is that, for the most part, it’s not lovable. It’s missing that seamless ability to draw you in that the other big social media sites have.

What do you feel about LinkedIn? Could you imagine ever loving it? What improvements would help? Personally, I’m off to do some serious pruning on my Connections as a starting point – I might look like Billy No-Mates by comparison with the Contact Collectors, but at least I won’t keep getting LinkedIn Mails about life insurance from strangers.

What is LinkedIn?: The basics for businesses

figures connectingLast week, Claire presented to members of the Cambridgeshire chamber of commerce on the subject of social media and its implications for HR professionals.

Of all the social media platforms, it was LinkedIn that dominated the discussions, but in our informal chats afterwards it became clear that many of the attending professionals weren’t sure what exactly LinkedIn is, or is for.

They’re not alone

According to Google’s keyword search tool, there were 1.8 million searches in the UK, last month alone, for “what is linkedin”. So, here’s our absolute basics guide to LinkedIn – we’ll follow it up with a second part in the next few weeks, looking at strategies for the more advanced user.

What is linkedin?

So, to start with that question! LinkedIn is a platform to help you connect with people you know in a professional capacity – old or current work colleagues, suppliers, or networking contacts.

If you’re familiar with using Facebook, the easiest analogy is that it’s a “business” version of Facebook.

Beyond the basic functions of keeping in touch with, seeking help or assisting those in your wider professional network, you are also able to see your contacts’ contacts (LinkedIn calls those your “2nd level network”) or even their contacts (your “3rd level network”). If you’re comfortable doing so, you may ask your immediate contacts to introduce you to particular people who are relevant to your business.

In addition, the site hosts tens of thousands of special interest, sector and geographic forums (“groups”) worldwide, has a Q&A function if you’re looking for answers to a specific question, and even allows you to create highly targeted advertising campaigns.

Should we be there?

In May 2011, LinkedIn recieved just under 3.6 million unique visitors from the UK. So yes – LinkedIn is fast becoming a “hygiene factor” for professionals and businesses; potential contacts or customers are highly likely to look you up on the site.

If your business isn’t there, the details are poor, or the key messages are contradictory to the impression you give offline, that can be detrimental to your business.

Getting started

We advise all our business customers that they should have a complete, professional looking Company page on LinkedIN, supported by good personal profiles for at least their senior managers. LinkedIn is another shop window for your business, and one which goes beyond the standard corporatespeak that many fall into on their websites. That way, even if you don’t (yet) plan to use LinkedIn for specific business objectives, it will be working positively for you.

A quality company profile

The Company page should be properly linked to the employee profiles, and copy provided for the appropriate sections on each of your key products and services – if someone has made it as far as your company page, why waste the opportunity to show them what you can offer?

Fine tuning personal profiles

Employee profiles should include a clear, professional head shot, and be reasonably fully completed – not necessarily including every detail of their past working life, but giving a full picture of their skills and experience.

Most importantly, their background information – skills and past employment history – should ideally be phrased in a way which shows the value they add to your existing customers. A personal profile isn’t just the same as a CV!

For both personal and company pages, there are applications within LinkedIn which allow you to significantly enrich the profile, using everything from slide packs to blog posts.

Join the dots

Next, you should try to connect with as many relevant people as possible. One way to do this is to export your personal email database and load it into LinkedIn, which will then show you who you already know on the site. You’ll start to receive invitations to connect, so you might want to give some thought to your personal policy around this, too.

Once you’ve got a credible presence on LinkedIn, you’ve taken the basic opportunity to give yourself and your business a positive representation on the web, away from your corporate website. The next stage is to start using the site strategically – take a look at How to be a star on LinkedIn.

Need to look great fast?

We offer inhouse, private LinkedIn training courses – a few hours up to a full day, depending on what you need!