Employee Advocacy: Word of Mouth in the Digital Age

Many organizations struggle to deal in a positive way with social media. Internally, a lot of the potential of networking in an enterprise social network is still untapped and externally, the use of social media is in many cases limited to the distribution of press releases via the official channels of the organization. In most cases, employees are significantly more experienced in this field than their employer. Digital natives, in particular, inhabit this virtual public space quite naturally as private persons and get involved on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. That is what it is and cannot be avoided or banned. So how should the organization deal with this?

The first natural reflex is to limit and regulate by means of social media guidelines. After all, there are specialists for communication in the organization. However, the much better alternative would be to make active use of the employees’ networks and reach as an organization and to consider and support everyone as a corporate influencer. This word-of-mouth propaganda in the digital age has of course already got a catchy buzzword: It’s called Employee Advocacy. And so I have finally found a name for what I have been doing with a more or less official mission for over seven years now.

One cannot not communicate!

The organization for which someone is working has always been the topic of conversation. Whoever asks at a party the question of what someone is doing for a living will receive the name of the organization in the first or at the latest in the second sentence as an answer. Today, this connection between employees and organization is omnipresent anyway through appropriate links in social media profiles. With more professional networks like LinkedIn and XING, this is a very important piece of information, with Twitter, Facebook and Co. it’s up to everyone to decide for themselves to what extent a relationship with the employer is established or whether they prefer to act as private individuals and even point out explicitly that they express their own opinions (what else?) and not necessarily those of the employer. Through this ubiquitous link between person and organization, every employee becomes a company spokesperson — some with more, some with less reach. To paraphrase Paul Watzlawick: In times of social media, employees cannot — at least implicitly—not communicate about their employer!

Employee Advocacy: The Long Tail of Corporate Communications

The term Long Tail became popular in 2004 with the book of the same name by Chris Anderson. He describes the phenomenon that in the course of digitization, e. g. in the case of music or books, a larger number of niche products emerged than in the past. The democratization of the means of production and distribution allows virtually everyone to bring their titles onto the market at no great cost and make a profit even if demand is low.

Transferring this to corporate communication means that the influence of the employees also follows the same power law: few employees — the corporate influencers and function holders visible to the outside world such as the members of the Executive Board — have a very large reach and a lot of influence, while most employees’ reach is limited to a more or less close circle of acquaintances. Of course, this has always been the case. With social media, however, the communication channels have also been democratized. As a result, it is now possible to use the reach into each individual’s niche more or less free of charge — for brand communication as well as employer branding. Do good and talk about it!

Advantages for Both Employees and Employers

Markets are conversations, said the 1999 Cluetrain Manifesto. And then continues: “Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.” Authenticity and credibility are a crucial factor for sticking out in the overabundance of information in social media. That’s why it makes a big difference who shares something with me. A study by LinkedIn shows that the typical click-through rate for employees is twice as high as for the official corporate channels: “Despite the fact that only 3% of employees share content, they generate 30% of all content engagement for a typical business.”

For the employee, the advantages are in visibility and thus in personal branding. As an expert, it is an opportunity to show passion for his work, his organization or his products. Of course it helps me to write and discuss my thoughts about agile transformation in the blog and on social media. However, it also helps the BMW Group IT in this case, because I hope that I will be able to carry the change credibly to the outside world and thus increase the attractiveness as an employer for programmers, Scrum Master and many others.

Markets are Conversations

Today, employees have a completely new role as representatives of their organization. Of course, the finely chiseled official corporate communication will continue to exist and must continue to exist, but the increasing networking of people means that every employee can make a difference and not just the Executive Board, the selected and well-known corporate influencers or the official company spokespersons. What the employees need, however, are not so much the rather dampening social media guidelines that exist everywhere anyway, but rather encouragement, empowerment and support. And in the meantime, just apply my favorite motto for corporate rebels:”If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission!”

Originally published at fuehrung-erfahren.de on January 19, 2018.

Agile by nature | Rebel without a pause | Working out loud | Author of https://fuehrung-erfahren.de