Employee Advocacy Gives CEOs A Second Chance To Do Social Right


Although the world is spending more time on social media, there is one demographic that continues to avoid it like the plague: Chief Executive Officers.

It was recently reported that only 8.3% of Fortune 500 CEOs had a Twitter account.  This is the same Twitter that just announced a major partnership with IBM with an eye on the future in which “every significant business decision will have Twitter input.” Despite the increasing importance of social media for business as indicated by this announcement, another report stated that 64% of CEOs aren’t on social media at all.

On the flip side, we’ve seen an uptake in companies (see Google Trends data below) either interested in or adopting employee advocacy programs in which employee are encouraged to share company messages to their friends on their personal social networks.

Employee Advocacy google-trends

 

As you can imagine, the success of such an employee advocacy program will often depend on the understanding of and support from the executive team.  If CEOs haven’t done social media “right” yet, the emergence of the social business as embodied by employee advocacy and other cross-silo collaborative initiatives gives Chief Executive Officers a second chance not only to better understand social media, but more importantly, better leverage social as an essential business tool for the enterprise and reap the rewards that they have been missing out on.

“Every Employee Is A Salesperson.”

How many times have you heard someone say that and think to yourself that such a company simply doesn’t exist?

Studies back up the fact that at most companies, those employees that are actively disengaged are nearly double those that are considered engaged, suggesting that only 13% of employees are engaged “salespeople.”

Despite this fact, social media-savvy companies are embarking on employee advocacy programs.  Employee advocacy as a concept is not new at all; David Cole, then CEO of Honeywell International, said the following several years ago to the company’s 120,000 employees: “Every Honeywell employee is a brand ambassador.  With each customer contact, and whenever we represent Honeywell, we have the opportunity to either strengthen the brand or cause it to lose some of its luster and prestige.”

What has changed since then is that when an employee states that they work at a company in their social network user profile, they are now indirectly representing the way the world views your brand, whether they see that profile on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social network.

Enter The Employee Advocacy In Social Media Movement

It all started when social media began to become a mainstream communications channel used by nearly 90% of American companies with more than 100 employees:

Employee Advocacy -graph

A more recent survey indicates that number might be as high as 97%.

That outward-facing communication, however, has consequences in social media.  People aren’t using social media to be marketed to, and social media as a communications channel is inherently two-way.  As brands begin to market to people, people begin to engage back, for better or for worse.  It is now common for many consumer-facing brands, to have a dedicated customer service channel for social media for this reason.  On the other hand, recruiters can gain visibility into potential candidates through social media, and that same visibility can also be leveraged by the sales department; thus, the birth of social recruiting and social selling initiatives.  Slowly every corporate department is becoming a stakeholder in a company’s social media program.

In parallel with more departments utilizing social media to help them meet varying objectives, more and more of the general public are becoming social media users themselves.  This includes your employees.

Social media marketers have now realized this huge potential: In addition to owned, earned, and paid media, the potential for your employees to share your messaging has seen the emergence of a new fourth type of media called Employed Media.  Considering that there is surprisingly little overlap between the social networks of employees and those of the brand, as well as data that supports the view that employees are trusted more than CEOs, you can see the huge potential that an employee advocacy program can have in spreading a brand’s message in social media.  This is why I like to think of employee advocacy as being the final frontier for social media marketing.

How does a company actually create an employee advocacy program?  Technology has kept pace with the evolution of social business, and now a number of software platforms have emerged to support enterprise-wise employee advocacy efforts.

Finally, through the advent of social media becoming mainstream and the potential inherent in an employee advocacy program, every employee really can be a salesperson now.

The Problem

There’s a big problem, though: Just like any other company-wide initiative, the true success of employee advocacy programs require the support, and participation, of the executive team.   If the CEO won’t share our company’s message on their social media accounts, why should his or her employees?  Furthermore, employee advocacy has the potential to touch every department but will require true executive leadership in order to be implemented company-wide.

Of course, there are a number of savvy enterprises that have already invested in social media centers of excellence and have executive buy-in.  Some CEOs actually have more Twitter followers than their company’s branded accounts.  These are the exceptions to the rule, however, as 99% of global businesses probably haven’t created such a formal center of excellence organization for their social media efforts.

The Opportunity For CEOs

It is clear that social business is a natural evolution for enterprises and not a trend that will simply fade away.  The social networks themselves will always be fighting for customers, so the names might change, but as a new communications channel which truly represents the convergence of information and communication, online social networking is clearly here to stay.

CEOs who have not been participating in social media or ignored utilizing it company-wide as a strategic tool now have a second chance to adopt social media, both personally as well as professionally, at a much more mature stage of development.  With a CEO’s strategic focus, additional resources can be strategically applied to growing social business efforts to leverage the potential that social media has for their company.

The bigger opportunity, though, is that when the top becomes involved in such a program, not only will it encourage more employees to get involved, but you can imagine how indirectly increased employee engagement can have on productivity and profitability from one’s workforce.

That is the potential for CEOs, and if they miss out on another golden opportunity to get social media right this time around, they just might be forced to do so in the future for a different employer.