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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Extending your reach through employees

I’m fascinated by the idea of ‘Employee Activism,’ and it has been a talking point in the business media in recent times. 

I read about an interesting study by the PR and Marketing Communications agency Weber Shandwick. They surveyed 2,300 employees over 15 global markets, finding that 1 in 5 workers are ‘employee activists’; people who will publicly defend and advocate for their employer. They also found a further 33% were on their way to adapting to these pro-employer traits.

Weber Shandwick Workforce Activism Spectrum™

The other day, another graduate student joked with me proudly that they had been ‘institutionalised’ by their company. I could strongly relate to this notion, as I also share a positive sentiment and a long tenure within my own ‘institution’!

In the last couple of years I’ve witnessed my own organisation prioritise and subsequently embed some new values and culture throughout the business. This is a successful paradigm shift from 5 years or so ago when organisational culture was defined by a dusty ‘commitments’ poster pinned to the office wall. The workforce has actually been mobilised to live out the values. It’s been successful because the culture was put at the top of the company agenda; made real by an innovative and engaging ‘internal brand’ platform.

So what do a highly engaged staff of activists look like? Well, it’s mainly expressed through social media. They may, of their own freewill, post pictures and videos about their company on Facebook. Or perhaps they generate favourable online discussion about their employer. Of the companies surveyed, one third encourages their employees to do this – especially in relation to sharing company news, campaigns and information.

This of course poses a great threat to organisations dabbling in employee generated social media. By placing part of your brand communications messaging in the hands of employees, there is a gamble with co-destruction. 16% of the survey sample indicated they had shared negative and critical comments about their employer, and 14% posted comment about their employer that they regret.

Sometimes the risk isn’t just an employee who has had a bad day at the office. The activists themselves can do harm to your brand. For instance, employees leaving favourable reviews on user-generated content websites can also be damaging by harming brand credibility.

Travel site, TripAdvisor has been put under scrutiny in relation to the authenticity of reviews on the site. They have previously been criticised for posting unconfirmed and anonymous reviews about restaurants, hotels and attractions that could have potentially been posted by ‘employee activists’. But is it unethical for an employee of a restaurant to favourably review a meal they enjoyed when dining at work? This is a grey area, but there is certainly some degree of fake reviews on these types of websites that originate from employees.

Organisations need to get on the front foot and educate their people on how to use social media whilst protecting the brand. Tools like PeopleLinx are popping up to help employees become skilled social marketers. Training and granting your employees access to social media tools will attract an army of brand advocates. "People don't buy from brands; they buy from people they know and trust," comments PeopleLinx CMO Michael Idinopulos.

www.peoplelinx.com

The scary part is that the study also revealed less than half of those surveyed could adequately describe the company’s business activities, and even fewer could articulate the company’s goals.

So, if you are going to encourage the team to engage in company-related social chit-chat, you would want to make sure they are on message and you would also want to ensure there is no unrest within the ranks.

This is an interesting strategic marketing issue of the moment. It represents tremendous opportunities on one hand; and catastrophic threats on the other. If you’d like to get a snapshot of the study without reading the report, check out the infographic. 

Aaron Rowden
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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