Trust your staff to be social

social_media_logosYou can tell a lot about the culture of an organisation by its attitude towards staff and social media. At a recent meeting I was told about a large UK-based services company whose COO had insisted on personally approving every tweet before it was sent.

As well as showing a lack of trust for the team responsible for managing the organisation’s PR/marketing activity, this also demonstrates a total lack of understanding about social media and how it should be used to engage people. Not surprisingly the approval process at the company in question often took hours, if not days, to complete and so when tweets did finally get published they were often out-of-date, no longer relevant or topical and did not, as a result, create engagement. Indeed I wouldn’t be surprised if this practice actually damaged the company’s reputation with anyone who was following its Twitter account.

I’m pleased to report that the practice of approving tweets was changed a few months ago so the social media team are now trusted to tweet without executive review. However, that same company still forbids any of its employees from making reference to the organisation in their personal social media profiles and online activity. And sadly this does not seem to be an isolated case; many companies have policies in place that restrict what their employees can do and say on social media in relation to the organisation for which they work.

What a contrast then to the views of Ted Rubin, Chief Marketing Officer of social media company Collective Bias, when speaking recently at the Association for Data-driven Marketing forum in Sydney. Rubin, who has the most Twitter followers out of all CMOs in the world, explained that companies should be using their employees as advocates instead of seeing them as a threat. Rubin encourages organisations to not just empower their staff to use social media but also to encourage and advise them on how to build up a following. The numbers make sense; for every employee that is successful in developing a social media profile your organisation’s social media activity, campaigns and engagement is boosted without any additional effort. Just think what a difference it would make if 10, 100 or even 1,000 employees were acting as advocates for your brand online.

And some companies are already doing this. In a recent Guardian article Caroline Taylor, vice-president of marketing for IBM UK and Ireland, explained how the company goes beyond marketing and support departments and involves the whole company to get the most out of social media. “We encourage active engagement in social media for all of our employees, based on some simple rules of engagement, published for all to see”, commented Taylor.

And to prove how this works Taylor gave an example about an e-book that was distributed after an event. “The link was sent to around 500 summit participants, half of whom had been participating via a live stream and Twitter. We promoted it on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and IBM blogs. Three months later, 18,000 copies had been downloaded. That amplification is extraordinary and very cost-effective.”

Encouraging and trusting staff to use social media to promote your organisation clearly has benefits in terms of widening the reach of your marketing and PR activity. But it also has internal benefits; it has been demonstrated that people who feel trusted by their employer are better engaged and more loyal with higher levels of motivation and productivity. The converse is also true; people who do not feel trusted will not feel engaged with their employer and this will impact their loyalty, motivation and productivity. When organisations do not trust their staff they use policies and rules to govern what their employees can and cannot do; they seek to control and/or restrict their staff.

By insisting on approving every tweet or forbidding staff from even referring to the company when they use social media an organisation is making a clear statement that it does not trust its staff. As well as creating a negative and controlling culture such companies are also missing a great opportunity to amplify their marketing messages. On the other hand organisations that do encourage and help their employees to use social media will not only see benefits from having highly engaged and motivated employees they will also see much better returns from their social media activity.

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