Employees are a largely untapped resource for social media amplification. This is a point of view reinforced by research like the Edelman Trust Barometer, which estimates that content shared by employees receives eight times the engagement of content shared on brand channels.

The problem with this point of view is that it is a simplification of a somewhat complicated dynamic. While data may support a rich opportunity for employee amplification on social media, there is also a significant hurdle to that opportunity: employees are fearful that employers will negatively perceive their social media creation and consumption. In fact, more than one-third of employees express distrust for their employer, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Activating employees on social media is not as simple as motivating an underused resource. In all likelihood, there is an abundance of fear uncertainty and doubt to overcome in order to earn the opportunity for employee advocacy on social media. And even then, employers must set reasonable expectations based on what platforms employees use, how they use them and the type of advocacy and amplification that you expect.

What follows, are 10 ways that you can empower your employees to be advocates for you on social media, to enable genuine and straightforward ways for your employees to share your messaging and develop reasonable expectations of the audience that you’ll reach together with the type and frequency of amplification that you can expect. The general public trusts your employees far more than they believe any other facet of your organization, so taking the time to foster employee advocacy should be an essential aspect of your social outreach.

1. Be Clear, Consistent, and Supportive in your Social Media Policy

If you Google “employee social media,” you will see a good deal of advice about social media policies. If you read some of these policies from a corporate perspective, they seem reasonable. “Consult HR if you have further questions,” What employees hear is “Do your best for no reward and if all goes wrong you are on your own…” 

Demonstrate clarity and consistency by publishing a strong social media policy. The most important thing that you need to communicate to your employees in a social media policy is what Miles and Mangold call a “demonstration of partnership.”

Most employees come into a company in a non-marketing role and may not understand how their social media can help (or hinder) the company. They may even feel apprehensive about the co-mingling of their personal lives and their work lives. To overcome this, employees need:

  • Understandable guidelines.
  • Management buy-in.
  • Training and guidance.

There are compelling reasons to encourage employee social media use, employees tend to be better informed and they can express themselves in a way that they may not be able to in a work context.

2. Understanding the Egocentricity of Social Media

Humans are inherently egocentric. One of the most prominent places that we exhibit this egocentricity is on social media platforms. Susan Krauss Whitbourne asserts that we post egocentric content on social media platforms that can be easily misinterpreted by other people. In addition, we are often sensitive to an “imaginary audience,” defined as the way that we imagine other people will react to us.

Sharing on social media is all about the person who is doing the sharing. So you need to answer the question – What is in it for me?

Because of our sensitivity to how “imaginary audiences” will react to content, you cannot expect an employee to share or amplify something that they perceive wouldn’t put them in high esteem with their audience. The idea is that employee motivation to post on social media is specific and personal. There are multiple sensitivities that you have to consider when you ask an employee to advocate for your company on social media.

3. Training and Guidance

Employers can be held liable for the actions their employees take within the course and scope of employment. If your employee posts false statements or rumors about a competitor or co-worker on Facebook, you, the employer, might be exposed to potential defamation claims.

Training is where you demonstrate your commitment to social media use, and model transparency by having a dialogue with employees about how to behave when using social media in an advocacy role.

At OOKII we suggest using an outside firm to lead your social media training. An external social media expert usually has more enthusiasm and a better understanding and experience of different social media platforms. Training is where you help your employee advocates to align their messaging with what you want them to share.

4. Tailor Training to the Channels Your Employees Use

There are many different social platforms and myriad reasons that people use each. You’ve likely got a localized population of employees that express specific social preferences, and despite data your potential audience through employee advocacy is the network that they have wherever they have it. You may be able to persuade a Snapchat networker to share something on Facebook, but your message will impact like the sound of one hand clapping.

5. Make Sharing Content Easy

There are many creative ways that you can enable sharing for employee advocates. Remember employees must be able to share your content as easily as possible. In addition to some simple sharing buttons (which almost every platform has and can be embedded on most sites), here are a few best practices:

Create content with sharing in mind. Share job openings and corporate announcements via social media or through a vehicle like an email with social sharing enabled. The corporate statements may not be super popular, but job opportunities allow your employee advocates to be a resource to their network and to provide you with some great new employee advocates.

Be sure to tell your employees which social platforms your company posts most frequently to and encourage employees to follow you on these. One-click sharing is a straightforward way to gain amplification with minimal effort.

6. Appreciate Your Employee Advocates

There is evidence that explicit reward systems or gamified incentives may increase employee advocacy for short-term campaigns. McKinsey found that non-cash incentives such as recognition from immediate managers and leaders were as beneficial as external rewards for employee advocacy.

There is not a lot of hard data on the effectiveness of particular incentives towards employee engagement, however anecdotally there is a lot of evidence to support this form of external motivation.

7. Promote Employee Content

If you study people who are using social media effectively, one tactic that many people and more important accounts use is to retweet or share something that an account with fewer followers posts.

Therefore, one way to show gratitude and appreciation for employee advocacy is to share (retweet, repost, share) social content that your employee advocates share to their networks.

People tend to trust employees more than they believe PR, marketing or corporate leaders. Retweeting or sharing an employee post is akin to sharing an endorsement from a person with more perceived credibility than you.

8. Create Opportunities to Showcase Employees

A proven tactic for blogs is to invite guest contributors from time to time. It’s common to ask the contributors to share their published work on their social channels.

Humans want to be acknowledged and affirmed for the things that they. You can tap into this desire for by incorporating employee contributions in your content marketing or even some “employee of the month” or other recognition award. Your employee will want to share this. Their friends may also want to share this. Employee content is a great way to generate additional enthusiasm and goodwill for employee advocacy.

9. Set Reasonable Expectations

Employees no doubt think about their invisible audiences and how they will be perceived. There is a lot that goes into the decision to be an employee advocate. Employee advocates should be used sparingly. Trust is an essential driver of interaction on social media, and you want your employees to be perceived as genuine and authentic by their audience. You do not want employees to overshare. It dilutes their credibility with their audience.

10. Be Genuine

Employees need to speak in their own voice if you want genuine, positive engagement

When maintaining your employee advocacy program, businesses and leadership need to demonstrate authenticity. From a PR perspective we are trained to stay on message, and often this obstinance is perceived by nearly everyone as disingenuousness. Being regarded as inauthentic when trying to encourage employees to help promote and amplify your company through earned media is pointless.

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