As part of August’s Employee Advocacy (EA) month, Oracle Social Cloud’s Senior Content Manager Maggie Schneider Huston spoke with Jason Seiden, CEO of Brand Amper, about how to jump start EA.
Maggie Schneider Huston: We’ve done a lot this month on EA, but one theme keeps resurfacing: the disengaged employee. The one who may participate on social media, but won’t touch anything that smells of employee advocacy. How do you motivate the unmotivated?
Jason Seiden: You don’t.
MSH: *laughs* Well, then, what do you do?
JS: The problem with “employee advocacy” starts with the name. It’s a semantic issue that sets up false expectations. The immediate assumption is that I can ask - or make - my employees be advocates. Your employees already have a vested interest in making sure your company is successful, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be advocates.
You have to give them a reason to be advocates. The question is not, “How do we motivate them?” The question is, “What reason have we given our employees to be our advocates?”
You have to give them something. You have to show them that helping the company also helps themselves.
Most importantly, you need to remember that you hired them for a reason and let them be themselves.
MSH: That sounds like you’re entering dangerous territory. What if an employee says something that gets them fired? Or bad-mouths the company?
JS: When fear is driving, it’s not going to work.
MSH: What do you mean?
JS: You have to look at the whole process of engaging employees in a fundamentally new way. The way in which you communicate signals your intent. Fear-based processes are typically top-down, heavy-handed, and full of “legalese.” This shows that you don’t really trust employees and don’t really want advocates - you just want to extend your PR message into their networks. The process actually causes people to check out.
You have to create a process that lets employees feel good about representing themselves - and thus, the company - well.
MSH: How do you do that?
JS: Here’s a good example. Company XYZ is a professional services firm with a lot of female employees, but they weren’t well represented publicly. The message we sent to their women’s group was, “We want to help you put your best foot forward and give you some professional development.” About half of them accepted our offer, went through the training process and started to use our tool. Of those who completed the course, about 50 women indicated that they wanted to share company content with their personal networks. So right there they identified women who wanted to be involved. In addition, many of the personal stories written by the women helped the company understand what employees truly cared about so they could make sure their message spread more organically.
A big part of why this approach works is because it’s not gamed. The temptation to “buy” advocates is very strong - but it’s not a real solution. You don’t learn what’s real. As soon as the incentives go away, so do the posts. We focus on identity instead. People are less willing to game their identity. If they pull the brand into their social identities, that’s a more trustable indicator of what’s working.
MSH: This sounds great… but what if an employee goes hog wild? Won’t their actions reflect on the brand?
JS: First of all, most employees won’t do that because they have a vested interest in making their company look good. They want to attract good coworkers. They want to be recognized. Even if they hate their job, they still want their next employer to respect their current employer. So it doesn’t matter if they’re motivated to be advocates, they’re motivated to take care of themselves.
What’s nice about an employee-centric approach is that if an employee does go rogue, you can address it surgically rather than with all staff emails that no one reads. Also, it gives you a chance to build up positive chatter so that one employee can’t sink the whole ship, because the voice of employee is still overwhelmingly positive. That’s why you’re better off letting your employees run. When you’ve only got a few voices speaking on behalf of the company, the risk of a single representative going rogue is significant. When everyone’s speaking, then the chorus of voices is stronger than any one individual.
MSH: What’s the takeaway?
JS: Embrace the idea of individuals driving your brand. Social media stripped the company of its power over individual voices. Enable your employees to be their best, and your company will benefit.