Author: Joe Gagliese
Last year Apple attracted unwanted publicity when one of its employees shared security tips with a fellow TikToker who’d lost her iPhone. Interestingly, the employee hadn’t even actually breached her employer’s internal social media policy because Apple—at the time at least—did not specifically bar employees from posting about its technology.
If the world’s largest company can’t prevent this type of public fallout, just imagine how prevalent the risk is for all others right now. Now more than ever a brand's reputation can be put at risk just seconds after an employee, board member, or anyone associated with the company posts offensive or questionable content on social media.
But here’s the rub: Employees on social media are also an incredibly powerful asset for a brand’s reputation. Real-world, relatable people who are closest to the products, services, culture and mission of a company can really help humanize its brand, attracting and building trust with customers and the public through platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok. There’s plenty of data to back this up too. Studies have shown 90 percent of consumers believe brand suggestions from friends, while 70 percent are more inclined to trust the opinions of other consumers over brand advertising.
Furthermore, the reach of happy, engaged employee advocates on social media is staggeringly higher than what brands can achieve with traditional advertising and even organic and paid social media. On average, employees have a collective network 10 times larger than a company’s follower base and their shared content receives 8 times more engagement than that through brand channels. When effectively implemented, employee advocacy has been shown to increase a brand’s overall reach by an astounding 561 percent.
It’s no wonder many company leaders feel torn between drawing healthy lines around worker social media—or encouraging it. The good news is that both are entirely possible. In fact, by incorporating some key best practices, tools and technologies, brands can help ensure that the benefits of having employees on social media far outweigh the risks.
At my own social media technology and services company, we have been doing this for years. After all, we have hundreds of particularly digitally-savvy and innovative employees, including many creators under our roof who live and breathe our brand daily. It’s only natural we encourage them to talk about the amazing work we do with our customers, and share it via their social media networks. Not only does this help create a steady stream of positive awareness for brands, employee social media advocacy has also been proven to benefit recruiting efforts and even drive sales pipeline. And at a time of economic turbulence and a looming recession, it is an extremely cost-effective channel for marketers to add to their toolkit.
Our team has also given us feedback that our support, education and encouragement for their social media presence has helped them in their own professional development. One example of this includes building their digital presence and being able to keep up with leading technologies while on the job. In fact, this approach has proved to be so valuable to us, we’re about to release our own new AI-powered tech platform that will allow other employers to also leverage the power of social media employee advocacy.
It’s also important to note that the benefits of social media employee advocacy are absolutely not limited to technology companies like ours. After all, what would be more authentic and effective than an electronics company’s very own engineers sharing product demos on YouTube, or its customer support team members coming together to make videos for troubleshooting the most common issues with their products?
As employers increasingly realize the benefits of employee social media advocacy, 87 percent of executives believe reputation risk is one of the biggest threats to their companies, according to Deloitte. To allay fears and mitigate risk, brands need to educate and align stakeholders and employees alike on their employee social media policies and guidelines. They can also tap into emerging technologies. While there are no universal rules, employers first and foremost must set the foundation by providing employees with company social media guidelines that are simultaneously not too restrictive and provide helpful suggestions for how they can safely and effectively talk about the company. Rather than micro-monitoring or placing heavy restrictions, brands should encourage online activity in a thoughtful way that will actually grow and increase positive brand awareness.
Social media monitoring and screening solutions like my company’s Viral Nation_Secure platform allow organizations to gain a strong understanding of the online behavior of their employees, including having a clear view of all of their historical online activity before and after they are hired. This technology also ensures visibility over what employees and other parties within the organization have previously and are currently posting to instantly flag risk, investigate and tamp it down before further escalation.
On the flipside, companies can also use this exact screening and monitoring technology to identify the good: Potential employee advocates who already exist. Which employees with strong social media followings are already sharing positive anecdotes about their employer? Once identified, employers can reach out to them offering collaboration opportunities to help them bolster activities. This might be a collaboration with the marketing team for employees to receive assistance in producing quality content including custom images, videos or copy to share.
We live in an era where with a quick Google search, one can find hundreds of examples of employees on social media gone awry. And there are many that are far more cringeworthy and reputationally damaging than Apple’s TikTok slip up. Across every single organization out there right now lurks countless risks from employees on social media—and as younger generations of digital natives enter the workplace, the threat only rises exponentially.
But at the same time, the opportunities are far too good to be ignored. It is entirely possible for employers to outweigh the bad using measures within their control, such as determining the unique risks (and opportunities) to the organization, developing a customized and comprehensive social media policy and adopting technologies created to help.