Within the past several years, companies have adopted digital employee advocacy as a way to harness the power of their workforce for low-cost, high-impact marketing, sales, and recruiting. But if you are an employee, you may be questioning whether your quest to be loud and proud for your company conflicts with your goal of building your personal brand.
Your Social Networks Are Your Currency
When you first tweeted in 2009, you began to piece together a following that may predate your time at your current job—including those LinkedIn contacts; classmates from your alma mater; and relationships that span the gamut of your professional existence. Your Facebook page is a virtual backyard barbecue that includes, in some cases, people with whom you even went to elementary school. Are they really that excited to hear about your company?
Your networks are your currency. Your social platforms are your real estate. They have value, and your company recognizes this. Do you?
Now, consider again if you have allowed the employee advocacy movement to come into conflict, or worse, overtake your personal brand real estate, and/or currency. It is very easy to do. If you work for a company that you are proud of, it doesn’t take much to inundate your social networks with your company news and never think twice about it.
That digital advocacy platform is just the convenient and gentle nudge you need to deliver your company’s expectations. And after all, it is opt-in; it’s pretty and user-friendly and takes little to no thought to share. No one is forcing you to post. Right?
Employees as Company Influencers
Here are some of the latest predictions for employee advocacy from Everyone Social. Among them, professional use of personal brand handles is surging. That prediction is linked to the idea that the algorithms on popular sites are putting the squeeze on brands, making it tougher for their organic content to be seen unless they fork over a sizeable spend.
Let us also consider the other popular method that brands use to hopscotch the algorithm predicament: influencer marketing. According to recent research, brands are spending billions of dollars with individuals to share their messages, products, and services with their communities, less likely reached by companies because they lack the strength of niche influence that celebrities and even micro influencers wield.
So, companies are beginning to opt for employees as influencers because outside of the cost of the platform itself, employee advocacy is essentially next-gen, mini-micro influencer marketing on a budget.
Ted Rubin, CMO of Photofy and emcee/host of Brand Innovators Summits, says digital employee advocacy—if executed correctly by the brand—can work for the company and the employee.
“If executed correctly by the brand, and it rarely if ever is, the two can work together to great advantage for both the brand and the employee,” said Rubin. “I believe employee advocacy is most often a win for the brand but can be a much bigger long-lasting win, and truly empower employees, if executed to best advantage with employee benefit at the heart.”
The Importance of Personal Branding
Is personal branding really that important? Experts say now, more than ever, positioning oneself digitally for the next opportunity is paramount, whether it is within your current company or somewhere else. It can be as simple as a powerful summary on your LinkedIn page, or as involved as contributing as a thought leader to a respected publication. Even a blog or compelling microblogging or social posts can go a long way.
And this isn’t selfish or self-promotion, despite what some may believe. This is career survival in the digital age.
Building your personal brand is also smart. Consider that with many companies right-sizing for digital transformation, or shifting to meet consumer and customer demands, often that means surplus. In June 2018 alone, many of the most recognizable brands announced layoffs. The trend will likely continue as more automation takes over like artificial intelligence.
John G. Graham Jr., employer brand and digital evangelist, suggests employee advocacy and personal branding can and should co-exist, but employee advocacy extends past social platforms through speaking opportunities and other spokesperson opportunities. He travels the world sharing how it should work.
“The promise that I offer to employees who engage in advocacy efforts on behalf of the company is visibility and exposure of their personal brand to broader audiences,” Graham said. “Yes, the employer brand is gaining visibility and exposure as a secondary benefit but the reality is you’re raising your profile by adding value to your personal networks via relevant content that resonates. It’s really a win-win.”
However, Graham warns about sharing company news on your personal social networks.
“I don’t advocate that employees share company content through their personal profiles, for a few reasons: 1) Your network isn’t that interested in your company if the content you’re sharing isn’t relevant to their own personal interests. 2) It’s viewed as disingenuous and inauthentic. 3) The company has corporate channels that employees can share content from if they choose.”
How Employees Can Control Their Personal Brands
So can this assumption that employees’ social platforms are fair game for a company hurt your chances of actually leveraging what is actually yours for a career advantage? Does it create a culture of expectation from peers and even superiors that if you aren’t sharing company news, you are not all in for the company? Can it cause colleagues or bosses to criticize posts that are solely about your career interests, thoughts, and aspirations? Do these company initiatives create unreal expectations for their employees to leverage their social capital for nothing in return?
Dare we ask, is this exploitation?
Graham says that employees can and should take control of their social handles, social equity, social media currency, communities, and networks and that can also benefit your company. He says employer brands should provide shareable digital content that will add value to the employee and their personal networks. Otherwise, companies risk jeopardizing the very trust their employees have established with their own social networks.
“Leveraging the employee network as a means of extending company content reach and engagement, in my opinion only benefits the company at the potential risk of the employee networks being turned off by corporate exploitation,” he said. “Instead, companies should seek to curate value-add content that their employees can share so as to be more credible and valuable to their networks.”
He added, “Doing so ensures that if and when their employees share company-related content, their networks are more apt to engage with it because they’ve proven themselves trustworthy and a reliable source of content worth engaging with in the past.”
Companies: Be Thoughtful about Employees’ Social Networks
Rubin shared advice on how brands can provide content that actually engages your employee’s social communities instead of turning them off with commercialism.
Set some formal guidelines, but stay fluid. Rubin says that if companies clamp down too hard on employees they may simply back away from participating. Train them, then crowdsource.
“Offer in-house social training, led by your best in-house (but only if you really have them) and local experts,” said Rubin “Consider offering incentive programs. It can be something as simple as public recognition, but reward those employees who provide the most relevant ideas and responses on how best to empower them to build and leverage their personal brands.”
Remember that your employees are your company’s best resource. Rubin says to make the most of employee passion and individuality.
“Provide content that helps them become experts, leaders, and go-to resources, he said. “They’re already social, so start thinking of how you can empower your employees to have their own voice, and you will discover many can, and will, become your company’s most active and valuable social advocates.”
Employees: Take Control of Your Social Capital
So now that you know you are one of your company’s most valued influencers, it is time to act like it. Here are three steps that I’ve learned since 2007 when most of these social platforms launched; running a small business that leveraged its employees as ambassadors online and even leveraging employee advocacy as part of communications plans for some familiar brands. They might help you navigate this brave new world of corporate employee advocacy while managing and growing your personal brand in the digital space.
Tip the scales in your own favor. Your company is great. They are doing wonderful things in the community. Awesome. They also have a marketing spend that dwarfs your own. In fact, you likely don’t have one. Engage the 80:20 rule if you just can’t help sharing about your company, or feel the pressure to from colleagues, dare I say, bosses. That 80% is for you. Spend time crafting a deliberate approach to delivering rich and useful content for your community that will benefit them. If a social share from your company aligns with your passions and brand and provided useful content, for example, tips and advice on career and leadership, share it; but do not alienate your community members who’d rather hear more about what they can relate to…most often, that is your ideas and useful shares that have meaning to you and by extension, them.
Have an informed point of view. This doesn’t mean the opinionated posts that aren’t grounded in data that have become the norm on Facebook. This is about your informed, research-driven and seasoned worldview when it comes to your industry and your business. Focus your content and shares on this sweet spot. Again, if company content aligns then share that too, but in moderation.
Guard your social real estate. It is precious. Don’t just give it away. Understand that it is the one place you have to add your unique value, tell your story, and tell it well. Have a deliberate approach that focuses on no more than three broad topic areas that align with your brand and execute against it methodically. Spend some time thinking about your purpose, and it will be apparent to your networks, recruiters, and prospects. Your job is a part of that story, but be careful not to make it the headline.