In this digital era, I’m often surprised how conventional wisdom continues to emphasize journalists (and now bloggers) as an organization’s primary stakeholders or publics for “earned media.” This is underscored and bolded by the majority of industry publications, plus many PR and marketing practitioners, particularly those with a primarily promotional focus and an over-reliance on news releases as the main salvo in their toolkits.
Conversely, I’m saddened by how little understanding or appreciation there is about one of the most enduring and important publics found at the company’s nucleus: employees. In particular, the lack of value attached to organizationally knowledgeable, seasoned (i.e., older) and loyal employee-stakeholders across all departments. They are often overlooked and/or increasingly disparaged as “not getting it”, especially when it comes to proactive involvement in social media on personal accounts in the public domain, in which they sometimes voluntarily reference their employer.
Are you devoting the “just right” amount of time and attention to the correct stakeholders?
There’s something decidedly ironic when social + media = engagement + information doesn’t have a deliberate focus on the people most closely invested in an organization, day in and day out. This is emphasized when the data from survey after survey reveals that customers and other stakeholders want to have relationships with companies that treat their employees with respect and give credit to internal subject experts (e.g., the annual Edelman Trust Barometer, et al.).
Think about it: when it comes to third-party validation through a limited and diminishing number of media outlets, generally you are competing with hundreds or thousands of organizations for attention and mind share…and any validation first must be persuaded and proven, going through the gatekeepers of those involved with the platform, be it the journalist, editor, publisher, owner or team writers of the blog and so on.
Not to diminish the importance of when this type of earned media is successfully achieved; rather, this is a pragmatic point of view on how often it will happen. To most conventional media, your business just isn’t that interesting or worthy of real estate space.
On the other hand, in-house you have a captive group of stakeholders in your existing employee base, at least financially and physically. Their hearts and minds—and personal values and attention—are another thing.
This conundrum has always been true. Just now, in a social business, the reputation and profile of an organization is perceived through the lens and ears of a lot more increasingly noisy channels and individuals beyond the corporate and traditional media gatekeepers.
Outsourcing or insourcing?
My WN colleague, Courtney Ramirez, earned a lot of attention with her recent post, Should Social Media Be Outsourced? She made a great case for it. I’m taking a different, albeit not necessarily opposing, tact in this Employee Byte (see *crowdsourcing input from my #solopr colleagues).
I’m proposing public relations lead insourcing of organizational social media “reputation, value and relationship building” management efforts, with the buy-in and assistance of self-determined, social-media-active staff from a variety of departments. This group of opinion leaders comprises employees who want to be affiliated with the social business, primarily as a brand champion (not detractor).
Note that in most cases this management will be without official authority in terms of the organization’s leadership and/or HR-determined reporting hierarchy and accountability regarding possible negative outcomes (see Crisis Byte). When it comes to integrated communications and profile in social media, the public relations function must be prepared to accept responsibility for the social business reputation, even when fallout comes from a rogue employee. As always, it’s best to get commitment and approval in advance from leadership and HR before embarking on an insourcing program, even if it’s in an informal capacity.
Four tips for internal communications–keys to successfully insourcing PR and social media
Regarding winning over employees’ hearts and minds, will you, the public-relations-and-social-media lead, make efforts to:
1. Hold recurring training or brainstorming sessions to educate and include employees on the benefits of social media, professionally and personally?
2. Regularly share information about public relations and social media programs to help persuade and influence them, including inviting feedback on initiatives and campaigns?
3. Be influenced, in turn, regarding the core knowledge and understanding employees often bring to the organizational narrative, particularly from a public relations and social media perspective?
4. Give exceptional social-media-savvy employees internal and external credit in some small-but-significant-and-motivating way (preferably not tied to financial incentives)?
Five core benefits that may result
1. The “earned media” personal accounts can bring to the organization.
2. Self-directed monitoring abilities and sharing, regarding the pro and con thoughts and behaviours of work colleagues (particularly newer and/or younger employees who likely don’t possess the same knowledge base about the company), family, friends and business acquaintances, regarding both social business and personal accounts (and general reputation and issues management of the organization).
3. Willing cross-mentoring of seasoned/more-junior employees. Longer-term employees bring business acumen and sense of decorum/understood discretion to the table; junior employees tend to be digital natives, whose DNA is programmed to intuitively “work” the channels—the resulting synergy can be invaluable.
4. Views on the suitability of the channels selected for the social business, including what should be added and what could be dropped or minimized.
5. Suggestions and opinions about the current social business content (marketing) strategy.
When it comes to employees and social media, let’s focus on the positive for a change
In Decorum Byte, I discussed the possibility of HR departments researching negative behaviours in social media before hiring staff. Likewise, I recently read and shared the excellent article, Three Things Every Employer and Employee Need to Know about Social Media. But both focused on the potential negative side of the employee-involvement equation.
I decided to highlight employees and their potential role in social media and public relations in a positive light because I’m not seeing too much information out there. Internal communications (aimed at all departments) and social media, yes (some programs quite innovative); externally, not so much.
This is despite the possibilities inherent in mobilizing and inspiring a core stakeholder group, which can have an immense and positive impact on your social business. I invite you to read Social Capital Byte: Institutionalizing Parity in B2B Relationships, because many suggestions for spotlighting partners and clients in your social capital space could easily be transferred to employees deserving of official recognition in the digital sphere, no matter what department they work in.
A recent example and more thoughts from peers
Regarding brand championing from a personal account, it was in the last #hbrchat (see the Harvard Business Review’s Storify version) that I noted Justin Mass providing information about his company’s corporate social responsibility program. Justin is a senior learning technologist with Adobe. I suspect he is not mandated to participate in business-related Twitter chats (other than #learnshare, per his Twitter bio) or specifically champion his company’s public relations initiatives. Yet he is doing that, voluntarily. In my various encounters with Justin it’s become quite clear that he is a brand champion of Adobe because he appreciates and believes in his employer and enjoys his job.
This is a perfect example of employee-generated “earned media.”
*Crowdsourcing the insourcing question to (outsourced) Solo PR experts
Davina Brewer: Who is “social” already? Look to other departments for the people you want to be social for the company that fits an initiative’s goals. Plus have ongoing training.
Sandra Florent: Yes. From there you can incorporate those employees by using the tools they already use. Involving [employees] requires finding out what they are talking about on social media and what platforms they use.
Janet Falk: A role of the consultant is to cross-pollinate and make use of subject matter experts across the organization; this is vital.
Mary Deming Barber: Although communications may drive social media, it doesn’t mean it’s always the best department to answer every question.
Kellye Crane: Keeping as many client employees as possible abreast (and sometimes involved) in what you’re doing with social media always helps. Having regular team calls with representatives from each involved department helps ensure things don’t get lost in translation. Surveys and focus group are methods you can use to involve employees. Make sure your client has a good, explicit social media policy (or help to build one).
Fran Stephenson: You can find great subject matter experts when you look beyond the communication team for social media initiatives. Team-coaching calls are a great idea, especially if challenged by geography.
Karen Swim: Absolutely! Break down those silos for greater success! I often do “social media readiness” for organizations before we ever get to the “campaign” stage.
Makasha Dorsey: Yes. In my opinion, most employees impact communication strategies.
Olga Orda: Involving employees makes sense when you need to do a survey of internal organization issues. Poor internal communication equals poor external communication. I’ve found that you can only cover up internal strife for so long!
Daria Steigman: Yes. But while you [the consultant] can guide, someone inside the organization has to champion the process.
Lois Martin: There are great personalities, sources of knowledge and company insight throughout an organization. Sometimes the “communications department” is the most limiting in communication! Communication departments can often be gatekeepers, too. They need to be champions! Those who are engaging social media personally are often the best communicators, versus those “pushing out” posts each day.
Mel Rodriguez: We would involve [employees] to hear their thoughts, which would help us with messaging. They are part of the brand, as well.
(For all responses please see question 3.)
What do you think are the best ways to both cultivate and recognize opinion-leader employees to be proactive brand champions (i.e., practice positive PR2.0 in a non-job-specific capacity) in social media? Do you know of any companies that are already doing this exceptionally well?
Bonus: Assistance in Identifying Your Employee Opinion Leaders
Earlier this year I was invited to a VitalSmarts session with David Maxfield, one of the authors of Influencer. This book is a fascinating exploration of the vital behaviours necessary in maintaining a healthy corporation or defined community, including the key sources of influence and abilities. Although not directly related to social media, Chapters Six and Seven on “social” influence and ability—Harness Peer Pressure: Social Motivation; and Find Strength in Numbers: Social Ability—are useful regarding many of the communication ideas behind this Employee Byte. For example, these extracts on cultivating opinion leaders (who comprise about 13.5 per cent of the population or typical organization):
“If you’re interested in engaging opinion leaders in your own change efforts, the good news is that finding them is quite easy. Because opinion leaders are employees who are most admired and connected to others in the organization, simply ask people to make a list of the employees who they believe are the most influential and respected. Then gather the lists and identify those who are named most frequently—typically ten or more times. These are the opinion leaders. Once you know who they are, enlist them and partner with them in your efforts to institute change….”
“Here’s what it takes to become and remain an opinion leader. People…pay attention to individuals who possess two important qualities. First, these people are viewed as knowledgeable about the issue at hand. They tend to stay connected to their area of expertise, often through a variety of sources. Second, opinion leaders are viewed as trustworthy. They don’t merely know a great deal about a certain area, but they also have other people’s best interest in mind. This means that they aren’t seen as using their knowledge to manipulate or harm, but rather to help. If others believe that you’re missing either of these two qualities, you won’t be very influential.”
Influencer: The Power to Change Anything (from Chapter 6, Harness Peer Pressure: Social Motivation)