Social media has become, for many people, a key aspect of their daily lived experience. As time has gone on, this once novel concept has become so ingrained in our society that many of us use social media as an extension of our public life, as we have quickly become aware that no social platform is a truly private one. 

For employers, the ubiquitous nature of social media offers both issues and opportunities. Having a team of savvy social media users opens up a potentially worthwhile source of employee advocacy, but from a HR perspective social media can become a complicated thing to manage. 

The Brand Perspective

For a variety of businesses – and although not confined to these areas, especially those who operate within the creative, entertainment, travel or marketing industries – the social media presence of their employees can be an unexpected boon. It isn’t unusual for people to have gathered an engaged social media audience over their adult life, and most especially if they have an enthusiastic interest in a particular niche – which can be particularly powerful if it aligns with your brand. 

As businesses hunt for influencers to promote their products, they may overlook that they have already formed relationships with a team of people who are micro (or even macro) influencers in their own right. If you run a creative company, it could be that your funny, artistic and talented employees entertain an audience of thousands over Twitter, or as a travel brand, you could really benefit from engaging the budding travel blogger who happens to sit in your office every day. 

Employee advocacy is defined, in simple terms, as the promotion of an organisation by its staff members, generating positive exposure through awareness raising and direct recommendations. One simple way to encourage employee advocacy (while also increasing sales) is to offer an employee discount, but encouraging the next step where they discuss this purchase online can be extremely rewarding. 

The areas in which employee advocacy can lead to worthwhile gains for your business are widespread, and feature: 

  • Recruitment: When an employee is enthusiastic about their job and the company they work for, they spread the message that your business is a desirable place to work, increasing the “human capital” of your organisation. 
  • Sales: Through the cultivation of a positive perception of your brand and the power of good recommendations, employee advocacy can increase growth and sales. 
  • Brand Reputation and Authenticity: When an employee shares a company article on LinkedIn or rhapsodises over a new product on Instagram, their advocacy tends to be perceived as more authentic and trustworthy than many other marketing channels, improving brand reputation. 

Some ways you can inspire employees to engage in brand advocacy over digital channels include: 

  • Be a Great Employer: It goes without saying, but if you want an employee to talk positively about your company, you need to offer a positive place to work. 
  • Create Shareable Assets: Making a bank of shareable social assets that employees have access to increases your chances of (semi) organic employee advocacy, because you ensure they only have to engage in minimal extra work in order to discuss your company online. 
  • Offer Exclusive Benefits: If you’d like a blogger on your team to write an article about your company, make sure they have something to write about by offering them something exclusive and desirable – just like you would any other influencer. You can also give your staff discount codes to share on socials, offered particularly to their friends, family and followers. 
  • Promote Their Work: While it’s important that your employee’s personal brand and your business aligns for this to work, anyone who has gained a notable social following is usually interested in growing their audience. By promoting their blog, tweets, LinkedIn articles or Instagram posts while they promote your brand, you can both experience a mutually beneficial boost. 

The HR Perspective

Unfortunately, the impact of an employee’s social media activity isn’t necessarily always a positive one. Whether it’s talking inappropriately about the company, being rude or abusive to their colleagues or engaging in discriminatory behaviour online, it’s possible for people to cross boundaries on their social media accounts in ways that impact heavily on their professional life. 

It isn’t the place of an employer to encroach into the private lives of their team, but that isn’t to say that aspects of their public, online life don’t come under an employer’s purview. For example, consistently using highly offensive or bigoted language is of course unacceptable in a moral sense, but it could also could reflect extremely badly on your business. 

For many companies, setting out a social media policy to help avoid any unpleasant eventualities and offer some legal protection can be an essential move. A social media policy can lay down the ground rules for social media use by employees, such as making a clear distinction between the use of such platforms for personal or professional purposes. It might also set limits on what employees are allowed to say on social media when representing or talking about the company.

This policy will vary according to your business or organisation, and may be stricter if you work in certain industries (for example, in legal or health services). However, it is vital to bear in mind that an employee’s right to express themselves and conduct a private life is legally protected, and it is important that any social media policy you draw up is both reasonable and achievable for your staff members. 

It’s a fine balance, but with a coherent social media policy and means through which you encourage social sharing, you can make the most of employee advocacy in a way that’s right for your business. 
This post was written by the team at Gooey Digital, a digital marketing agency in Kent who collaborate with businesses to create impactful social media strategies.