Empower Your Brand's Most Potent Social Advocates

The best marketing plan in the world cannot override the fact that employees are the best (and sometimes worst) advocates for a brand. And while a business can control the messaging in its marketing collateral, when it comes to social media, that control disappears. The surrender of control in social outlets to our employees, clients, and prospects is countered by the immeasurable value of employees acting as brand advocates and dispensing authentic messages to the digital world.

Despite the hype and the uncertainty among businesses, social media is ultimately just another communication channel—albeit a widely amplified one. To effectively communicate brand messages on social channels and encourage employees to do the same, brands can take several steps to ensure the internal culture, technology, and processes cultivate an empowering environment for social brand advocates.

1. Create and communicate clear social policies.

Social is constantly evolving. In the past six months alone, Facebook revamped its privacy policies, LinkedIn launched University Pages and improved analytics for company pages, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) clarified rulings on what employees and brands can share via their social accounts—and which social accounts. Social communication policies need to be adaptive, as the market space changes on a regular basis.

Given the rapid development of the space and the high risks of misinformed communications (a tweet could be considered insider trading), brands should take care to educate employees on any relevant regulatory requirements. For example, financial services firms must adhere to compliance guidelines put forth by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the SEC on social behavior that address certain questions. (For example: Does a Facebook "like" qualify as an endorsement or advertisement?) This regulatory education should then be supplemented with social policies to protect corporate reputation. Varying by industry, these may include guidance on communicating with customers, disclosing corporate content, and establishing the degree to which employees represent the company.

2. Provide education on social and collaboration platforms.

Whether delivered through in-person sessions, online tutorials, or collateral material, training procedures will ensure that employees are communicating socially in the most productive and effective manner. Education and training can cover the basics for those who are still dipping their toes into the social pool, while also encouraging more advanced use of social media to drive real business value.

For example, businesses should advise their sales teams on how to combine social with other forms of communication. Sales professionals can build better and deeper relationships with potential customers by leading them from touch point to touch point with compelling content. In addition to using social as a prospecting tool, businesses should provide tips and tricks for employees who wish to build personal brands. When employees are positioned as experts in the industry, it ultimately reflects well on the company.

3. Showcase authenticity.

After establishing clear policies and dispensing comprehensive training, it will be critical to pause, take a step back, and reflect on the inherent authenticity of social business communication—and the fact, once again, that brands cannot control employee messages. They shouldn't want to either. To reach consumers in the social age, content and tone must be authentic. For this reason, a brand should foster a culture in which authenticity is accepted, encouraged, and even showcased for its success. Internally, consider highlighting employees with strong social activity and personas as employees of the month. With gamified tactics such as this, brands can motivate employees to amplify their brand advocacy.

With empowered authenticity, accessible training, and clear corporate guidelines, employees will have the necessary tools to become effective social advocates, and brands will be set up for success in today's communication ecosystem. While some businesses will struggle to loosen the reins on brand messaging, those who embrace the empowerment of their employees will find themselves leagues ahead of their competitors. And as the communication landscape evolves further and faster, businesses will either adapt or be left in the customer's rearview mirror.

Sarah Carter is general manager of social business at Actiance, a unified communications solution provider.

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