By Davia Temin and Ian Anderson
We all know employees can be both brand ambassadors and brand detractors. But what we haven’t wrapped our heads around is that they are also our most important co-branding opportunity. This is #1 in our series of “10 More Don’ts of Corporate Social Media,” introduced yesterday.
Corporate co-branding is a marketing staple: Companies co-brand with one another (Apple + Nike; Betty Crocker + Hershey’s; Dell + Intel); for-profits co-brand with non-profits (Nestle + The Girl Scouts; Pampers + UNICEF; American Express, Apple, Converse, etc. + The Global Fund – RED); and all of the above co-brand with movies, music, and sports (Aston Martin + James Bond; PINK + NFL; Apple + U2).
But in this ever-evolving world of social media – where almost everyone is thinking about how to “brand” himself or herself personally over social media – organizations can leverage the trend as their biggest co-branding opportunity of all. In other words, since there is no stopping the personal branding efforts of employees on social media, if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them.
Sheryl Sandberg’s co-brand with Facebook
Take, for example, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. How does the personal brand she used the book to create interact with Facebook’s not-always-so-woman-friendly corporate brand? After all, Sheryl is not only a best-selling author and founder of what amounts to a social movement for young women, she is also the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, as well as the only female member of its board.
Strange bedfellows, if you think about it.
Yet, it is brilliant co-branding. Since we now know that women make up about 58% of Facebook members, Lean In not only serves as a way to draw more women in, but also to make Facebook’s brand more woman-friendly. In fact, the book’s activism may well have provided a much-needed counterpoint to Mark Zuckerberg’s “Social Network” reputation of starting Facebook as a way to rate the girls he saw in the Harvard dining hall.
Not always so successful
Of course corporate brands and their employees’ personal social media activities do not always dovetail so smoothly. Postings made by individual employees have already profoundly embarrassed their organizations, and have sometimes led to dismissal – as in the case of an ill-advised twitter exchange at a Tech conference, a reporter demonstrating stunning insensitivity on Twitter, and Donald Trump’s objectionable tweets on sexual assault in the military.
Every employee’s personal brand is also a corporate brand
This causes organizations to question where their employees’ “brands” end, and their corporate brands begin, since every employee’s tweet, blog, LinkedIn and Facebook entry, and Instagram and Pinterest photo, potentially impacts the company’s reputation.
But it also may cause companies to adopt an unduly restrictive, punitive, or short-sighted policy toward employee social media presence, instead of seeing the possibilities.
Every organization we know of is struggling with these issues: How much control should they wield? How much license should they grant their employees on social media, since it is almost impossible to prohibit participation?
Some organizations still demand to vet every employee communication (you can imagine how well that works). Others have long, involved guidelines for every social media interaction. And yet others try to homogenize their employees’ social media presence by suggesting a “template” for their various profiles. Some simply ask employees to exercise good judgment. Standard practice spans the gamut from authoritarian and restrictive to laissez-faire.
And, while it is imperative that employees heed to high standards of engagement on social media – decency, decorum, intelligence, judgment, etc. – and that organizations protect themselves by ensuring their employees are heeding to such standards, that is the floor, not the ceiling of corporate-employee social media partnership.
In fact, we would like to suggest that organizations consciously FORM a partnership with their employees, in order to create a win/win branding opportunity, just like Sheryl Sandberg did with Facebook.
To that end, we would like to suggest 6 steps for companies to consider in forging that partnership:
Step 1: Set up a clear policy and make sure each employee signs off on it – literally
Most companies already have a policy for employee social media engagement, along with basic guidelines. These rules and guidelines need to be crystal clear, easily accessible, and distributed to every employee on day one.
We suggest wrapping the guidelines and policy into a letter of agreement that outlines not only the rules but the opportunities a social media partnership between employer and employee could encompass. The agreement would be akin to the non-disclosure and non-compete agreements employees often must sign upon entering an organization.
In this case, we suggest asking employees to sign a social media letter of agreement every six months, in order to update it with new policies, and keep the agreement top of mind. Distribute it in hard copy, electronically, on your intranet – and in any other way you can. No one wants the organization or employee to be derailed by late-night slip ups that can occur when policies are forgotten.
Step 2: Make sure the agreement focuses on your corporate brand
Start your guidelines with a recap of your corporate brand statement, vision, values, and voice, as well as how you position the brand on social media.
Make it clear that each employee must embody those values, both on and off duty, as well as on and off social media. But emphasize as well the opportunity to partner with employees so that they extend the corporate brand and brand values through their own efforts.
Clearly employees cannot speak for the organization on personal social media (unless that is their job) – that way lies reputational disaster. But they can embrace and extend the organization’s voice in each and every social media interaction. So, for example, if integrity and excellence are key attributes of your brand, your employees can seek to emphasize those qualities in all of their activities.
Step 3: Talk to and train employees who plan to use social media
Employees must therefore truly understand the brand and the guidelines, as well as social media use in general. Because social media knowledge is uneven, even among the most digitally literate employees, training – in person, electronically, and by teleconference and webinar – needs to be offered intermittently.
In order to minimize risk, it is essential that everyone understand how to manipulate privacy settings, who they are posting to, and what they allow into the ‘public’ domain.
The social media team – those who are paid to uphold the corporate brand’s online reputation – can be available 24/7 to answer questions when employees are uncertain, or must make a judgment call about a piece of content they’d like to share.
Step 4: Monitor social activity closely, but appropriately
Be clear with your employees that you are watching. It is irresponsible not to keep tabs on everyone’s social activity. This doesn’t entail friending employees on Facebook, following private Instagram accounts, or requesting access to a private Twitter feed. But it does include making sure that anything a news outlet might be able to see, you can see too. Any public information should be subject to monitoring.
This means keeping a close watch on where your brand name is mentioned (many services allow you to keep track of keywords, hashtags, and mentions). Even employees who represent the brand shouldn’t be mentioning their work without permission – doing so could create problems if the employee makes an offhand comment that the organization would rather not be revealed.
Monitoring can help prevent sensitive information from being released either by accident or through poor judgment.
And it can help employees begin to understand that nothing said online is truly anonymous or completely private.
Step 5: Decide on the social media profile of your executive team, and provide them with help to achieve their desired voice
Every organization comes to a different decision about the visibility or lack thereof of its CEO and executive committee on social media.
All CEOs do NOT have to appear on social media, and in fact most should not. Depending upon the industry, and whether the organization has a high public profile, and a strong consumer or customer voice, strategy should dictate who will speak for the organization, and at what levels.
Many CEOs and board members request their own social media consultants to help them understand the medium as well as their personal profiles and activity. Jack Welch speaks about using fresh-out-of college employees to serve as “social media mentors” to his leadership team and even to board members. But these mentors or consultants should always be coordinating their efforts with the “keepers of the corporate brand,” in order to assure that not even the CEO wanders too far from the reservation!
Strategy, discretion, and a less-is-more default are the right starting point for most organizations when thinking about the personal social media presence of their leaders.
Step 6: Leverage your employees appropriately
Employees can be a great asset online. The better connected your employees are, the easier it will be for your brand to attract attention from those connections, and the more influential your brand will be.
Your employees can help act as a brand promotion mechanism – occasionally posting important updates, sharing thought leadership, and accelerating the brand on social media. However, the organization must be clear about what these posts can entail, how they should be presented, when they are presented, who they are presented to, and through which social networks. This is why it is not only important to have guidelines, but people who can help and guide employees on social media every step of the way. Minimize the risk, maximize the co-brand – that should be the mantra of all corporate social media strategists.
Your online brand belongs to everyone
It is disconcerting to lose some control of your brand, but social media loosens the reins regardless of whether your employees are involved. Helping your employees engage strategically on social media can not only protect your organization, but help employees grow, create, and maintain their own online reputations – and yours. Employees are a risk in the world of social media, but you can transform them into a real asset. Imagine if each of your employees had 100 dedicated followers – or even 1,000. Your reach would quickly increase exponentially, and with it, your voice would get stronger and stronger.
How do organizations define themselves online?
How do they create a unique “brand voice,” and what kind of content exists to help brands distinguish themselves on social media and cut through the noise?
Tomorrow, our second “Don’t” will be about using and distinguishing among different kinds of content over social media. Today’s article touched on how to distinguish your brand by recognizing that organizations and their employees are inexorably linked online. Tomorrow’s article will explore building and creating a ‘voice’ for your brand as the first step en route to answering our “Trillion Dollar Question”: How do organizations think about communicating to the public, when the public now communicates back?
The only way to start communicating is by developing a voice of your own, and your employees, with proper co-branding, can help you do just that.