Brand awareness on social media is a task that generally falls squarely into the hands of the Marketing Department in most companies. Often overlooked are employees, who can be great assets for building awareness about a brand on social media. But what are the best ways for a company to optimize employee profiles and encourage them to be company advocates while navigating some of the many pitfalls that could occur in the process?
In a recent USA Manufacturing Chat on Twitter, Host Jennifer Wegman of The Career Marketing Company in Pennsylvania led a discussion about the best ways to optimize employee’s personal social media profiles to build company brand advocacy and how to plan for potential issues that could occur.
Leveraging Social Media Profiles
Wegman began the discussion by asking if participants encouraged their employees to leverage their LinkedIn or other profiles to benefit the company. She was especially curious as to how companies accomplished this if it is something they do regularly. Participants had definitive thoughts on the topic.
Paul Kiesche from Aviate Creative in NJ said, “Yes, but it's not required. We have weekly internal marketing meetings to discuss what everyone can be doing to contribute.”
Rebecca Prox from DSI/Dynamatic in Wisconsin said, “I'm ALWAYS encouraging our employees to use LinkedIn to share our company story. I hit the "recommend to employees" button, I tell them in emails, I talk to them in person. Some do, some don't.”
Kati McDermith from Industry Net in Illinois said, “I am always trying to convince my coworkers to boost their personal brand on LinkedIn especially. Follow and comment on your customers & prospects posts!”
Dan Bigger from Custom Profile in Michigan said, “I don't have employees, but I do it as an ambassador for the company. I take that upon myself to promote the company that I am working for as it not only benefits me but the company as a whole as we grow it all together. It is a team effort.”
Wegman said, “I love that approach, Dan. You are the model I think of as an employee advocate / brand ambassador. What you've accomplished the last few years is astounding. You should be proud.”
Ben Nordman from Obsidian Manufacturing Industries in Illinois said, “Yes, we encourage them to interact with other industry professionals as well as with our own marketing efforts.”
David Crysler from The Crysler Club said, “You absolutely should! People buy from people. Letting your entire team participate in that relationship building activity will no doubt come back to you in increased sales and profitability!”
Chaim Shapiro, a LinkedIn Consultant from NY said, “People DO judge your company by your employees' LinkedIn accounts. It is essential that companies train their employees to represent themselves well.”
He added, “I recommend offering incentives to employees for sharing company content on LinkedIn. But you don't want folks sharing unless they have a professional account.”
Pavel Stepanov from VirtuDesk said, “We do encourage them. Having a LinkedIn profile adds credibility to your business.”
Sam Gupta from ElevatIQ in Canada said, “We typically don't hire people who don't have a decent LinkedIn presence. We are big on thought leadership. So if they are already not a thought leader, they can't be with us.”
FreightPOP in California said, “Yes! We are always sharing recent blog posts and interacting with other posts related to our industry. We also interact with each other's profiles, because it can really help get the ball rolling and get other people involved.”
Ruby Rusine from Social Success Marketing in California said, “Our reply may be seen as biased because, we are social media specialists but we recommend to companies to include their employees in their SM campaigns as brand advocates. That way the campaign appears as user-generated, and therefore natural.”
Val W from Monofrax in NY said, “We're lucky if they like our posts. Most spend little if any time on the platform. We may have to have a training session to encourage participation.”
Chase Bodor from Plastics Plus Technology in California said, “I primarily use my personal account for establishing new connections with industry experts, peers, mentors, etc. The company profile acts as a content distribution channel for the most part. The management team uses LinkedIn sparingly, except for sales.”
Nigel T Packer from PelaTis Online in Wales said, “I often suggest that it is in the interests of the employee to promote the company message as they will be deemed a potential employee by competitors and may get a better offer. This often gets them working on their profiles.”
Wegman replied, “That is the Catch-22, though, isn't it? Companies don't necessarily want their employees poached, especially if they're representing their brand. But you need employee buy in to grow awareness on profile-based sites.”
Packer answered, “Train them so they can leave, treat them so well they don't want to.”
Host, Wegman said, “B2B companies, such as manufacturers rely a lot on LinkedIn to generate leads, but the marketing team can only do so much. Since it is a profile-driven site, there are easy ways employees can become brand advocates without a ton of oversight necessary.”
She added, “Offering LinkedIn profile optimization as a benefit to employees of the company is one way to ensure quality and brand consistency, as is providing shareable base content on your company page.”
Shapiro shared some parameters for optimizing LinkedIn profiles. He said, “An optimized LinkedIn Profile SHOULD have:
1) A professional Headshot Photo
2) A "Vanity" URL in FnameLname
3) A Background Image that is on brand
4) A Headline that makes it clear what you can provide for people
5) Optimized Skills
6) 3-5 Recommendations
7) Your Employment synced with your company's LinkedIn page
8) A detailed "About" (Summary) Section
9) Featured Rich Media Content that is on-brand.”
The discussion then turned to possible concerns around encouraging employees to become brand advocates on LinkedIn. Host Wegman encouraged participants to share the concerns they might have.
VirtuDesk answered, “Yes. Linkedin optimization and sharing.
Crysler said, “It can be hard to let go as an owner or leader of any business. That said, the faster you can get comfortable with it and provide systems to support your team, the faster you'll start to see results within your business.”
Rusine said, “I think a guideline or a social media policy would be helpful for “anxious” owners.”
Packer responded, “Recommendations are the gold standard of a good profile Chaim. If someone has taken the time to write a few words about you it says a lot about the service / work you did for them. Not enough people pan for this gold.”
JD from Cleveland Deburring in Ohio said, “I would be concerned that if they're profile is centered around my company and they make a questionable post, my company could suffer the repercussions.”
Wegman said, “That was the No. 1 answer I was expecting, to be honest! When employees act as brand advocates on profile-driven sites, that creates boundary confusion and concerns about brand reputation.”
Kiesche said, “Not too many concerns. If an employee becomes controversial, vulgar or something like that, it can be bad, but we have trust that they will be professional.”
Prox said, “My only concern is that they don't know what they're doing. Val had a great idea to hold a training session.”
Wegman answered, “A training session would be HUGE for helping your employees understand Linkedin and how you want your company represented there.”
Nordman said, “With the correct training on the company's end, not particularly. The whole purpose of LinkedIn is to professionally network. If an employee is not acting professionally on the site, then that falls back on training.”
He added, “Gone are the days that separate a company from their employees online, especially on LinkedIn. They represent the company and training them to understand that first is key.”
FreightPOP said, “It all comes down to trust. Brand advocates must behave in a way that aligns with their brand's ideals, and any rogue behavior can reflect negatively on the brand. But the inverse is also true. Great comments and insights can be a fantastic boost for your brand.”
Kirsten Austin from DCSC Inc in Missouri said, “Yes, just make sure it is an employee you've built trust with. No one wants to have to worry about watching everything that goes on in Social Media Land. It's challenging enough already.”
Bigger said, “I don't personally. The more employees that are engaged in this way just shows how much they are invested. It is not only good for the company but as team bonding and a way you can see who is joining the team concept.”
Packer responded, “Quite so Dan. The company image and brand value is determined by the engagement of the team on LinkedIn. It can look bad if only a few are engaged and many of the profiles are dormant and unused."
He added, “Training is essential as it helps the employee know what to do. If everyone is rowing in the same direction then the company benefits. Have you considered making awards each month for the best post or response to a company message?”
Wegman responded, “That is the Catch-22, though, isn't it? Companies don't necessarily want their employees poached, especially if they're representing their brand. But you need employee buy-in to grow awareness on profile-based sites.”
Rusine said, “Any concern can be allayed by “educating” the employees about social media. Ours is as simple as what topics not to participate in or post about.”
Bodor said, “I think there should be established rules of (social) engagement. Not that everyone's efforts should be/ feel canned. But there should be an overall company strategy that everyone who wants to be an advocate can understand and follow.”
Host, Wegman said, “A big concern I hear about is quality control. How do you ensure your employees are representing the brand the way you want them to without micromanaging them?”
She added, “Update your social media policy of “do’s” and “don’t s” to include clear guidelines for those who wish to act as advocates on what would be most helpful for them to do on social media for the company.”
Social Media Policies
This led to the next discussion point which was whether companies have a social media policy in place. Host Wegman asked, in addition to “Do’s and Don’ts”, if the policies in place provide clear guidelines that encourage employees to be advocates for you on LinkedIn.” Participants checked in with their thoughts on social media policies.
Val W said, “I've been told we have a social media policy, but I haven't seen it.”
Prox answered, “Yes we have a policy and our guidelines don't specifically call out brand advocacy. The policy is more of a list of do's and don'ts."
She added, “Our policy states that we shouldn't name a client unless there is written permission from the client. And we don't mention the other two at all. I think a review of our policy is in order.”
Wegman responded, “But what if it was more than just "do's and don'ts"? How could you encourage participation through guidelines for the "do's"?”
Kiesche said, “It's good to explain the value of the contribution and show how it's appreciated and valued in the company. We provide light, non-restrictive guidelines, some rough topics, concepts and examples for posting.”
Crysler said, “Start by making sure they have time to understand what participation means. Give them examples, make sure they have time available to post/engage, make marketing assets available or show them how to create the assets they need.”
Rusine said, “...or better yet create the assets for sharing that way they don’t have to use up too much work time to create content on their own. That saves the company time too if you add up all of the hours employees use to create content.”
Wegman said, “Creating assets is always good and ensures the most brand consistency, assuming the marketing staff has the latitude and resources to do so.”
JD said, “No we do not have a policy. But in fairness, I'm pretty much the only person on social media representing the company.”
Wegman said, “If there is one person, there's one person. It makes it easier in a lot of ways. But your time is limited, so your reach will always be limited by it. (At least organically)”
Stepanov said, “Yes. All interactions via social media must be professional at all times as employees become your brand advocates. They must uphold the integrity of the company especially on LinkedIn.”
Nordman said, “Yes, we do have a policy. We have one for anyone that interacts with our content marketing and our own employees. We don't necessarily specify LinkedIn but there's a general understanding that they are acting as a member of Obsidian wherever they are on socials.”
Crysler said, “Love this and yes you should definitely have a guideline in place. I like to make this an extension of a company’s brand guidelines. This will help anyone better understand your brand and how best to represent it.”
Kiesche said, “ We do not have a policy specific to social media. We have a general communications and internet conduct policy that covers some of it and addresses concerns.”
Wegman questioned, “Do you believe you need to go deeper there specifically around social?”
Kiesche answered, “Eventually yes, I do think it's a good idea. Although your troublemakers probably won't pay attention anyhow. It at least reduces your liability, and you can point to it as a reason for termination.”
Wegman said, “Liability is a major consideration, especially in this charged climate. Having clear guidelines helps everyone in the long run.”
VirtuDesk said, “Yes, we do have a policy. Think before you post!”
Bigger said, “ We do not have a policy or at least not one that I have seen. Do's- promote and talk about the company in an educational/internal light, share insight. Help others and comment on others posts as a brand ambassador. Don'ts- being critical, stand offish or vulgar.”
He added, The team has many active employees on LinkedIn. We all help to share and comment on company activities. It is nice to see the ones that are not as active as I am still participating in it.”
Packer said, “I have delivered company wide training on LinkedIn so everyone knows the requirements and limitations of the company policies. Everyone starts on the same page.”
Host Wegman said, “Some examples of things guidelines could include are:
- Share the content we post on our page with or w/o explanation
- Celebrating a milestone or anniversary? Post about it.
- Non-disclosure agreements apply in these situations ….
- Never name a client by name, but you can share x, y, z about a project”
Easier Brand Advocacy on LinkedIn
Wegman then asked participants what they thought the number one thing is that can be done to make employee brand advocacy on LinkedIn easier at their respective companies. Chat participants had thoughts.
Prox said, “The No. 1 thing in my mind is to stress its importance to our employees. “
Wegman said, “Setting a clear strategy and roadmap to get there and explaining to EE's how they can help with that and how it will benefit them can go a long way.”
Crysler said, “Give them the time and the marketing assets/resources they need to execute.”
Kiesche said, “Maybe don't be too restrictive or discouraging. Possibly provide examples that are genuine to what an employee cares about contributing and not just promotions and sales for the company. Let them post about their experience, expertise, knowledge, & culture.”
Bigger said, “Teach them how. It is much easier if you show people and get some of the questions out of the way. That way they do not get discouraged and quit before they really get started.”
Nordman said, “Explain the benefits of it to start. We had a training session early this year, providing information and examples as to why it is so important to businesses.”
Bodor said, “The number one thing is to create with them. Involve them in the process of creating and curating content, be the person who moves the ball on creating behind the scenes and publishing, make it a challenge for them, and help them fall in love with the process.”
Host Wegman said, “Make sure the bulk of your content is evergreen and shareable. Make it easy to share by providing branded content templates for milestones, project wins, or other big events that employees can easily fill in.”
She added, “You can do other stuff depending on your company goals, but this is the one that will bring you the biggest bang for your buck over time because it takes the guesswork out of the process and helps ensure brand style compliance.”
What Not To Do
Wegman then asked what participants thought were big things not to do that should be included with company guidelines for employee brand advocacy on LinkedIn and social media.
Participants had some thoughts on this discussion point.
Nordman said, “I guess it's not really a "not to do" but just keep in mind you're an employee that represents the company wherever you are and whatever you're doing. An increasing number of companies are looking at social media before even hiring.”
Wegman said, “Social media influences hiring decisions throughout the career. But establishing clear boundaries is important. What part of my social is for the company and what part is for me? What happens if I post professionally, but not the way company wants me to?”
JD said, “Same as in the workplace. No sex, politics, or religion and in these trying times, no Covid19 opinions. Only talk about work and positive workplace topics.”
Bigger said, “Staying away from hot topics such as religion, politics. Arguments or critical comments- overly negative. Company confidentiality.”
FreightPOP said, “Brand advocates should refrain from any kind of negativity and be cautious about interacting with controversial content. Also, being too "sales-y" can have a negative impact as well! You want to be a source of quality information, not a walking sales pitch!”
Prox said, “Our biggest no-no is using customer names without permission. It's very easy to do! We trust that everyone will use proper language and stay away from hate, and they do.”
Bodor said, “Don't break community guidelines and T&C's for one. You don't want to be the company that has multiple employees with banned accounts.”
Wegman said, “Some things that shouldn’t be done include:
- Tagging all the employees who work there in posts
- Making up vanity hashtags that won’t help your company get reach
- Engaging in controversial topics (politics, religion, etc.) or hate speech”
She added, “I ran into all three of these issues at my former company.
She went on to explained what vanity hashtags are, “Hashtags like #ilovecasters and #usamfghour are vanity tags, but it serves a purpose because people will look for it. No one will search for #imsosccc. Ever. If you rely on organic reach, use hashtags people search for not ones that make your company feel good.”
Wegman then concluded the chat by asking participants to share their biggest takeaway from the chat.
Prox said, “Our social media policy section needs to be updated, which is now on my to-do list.”
McDermith said, “I think I learned a lot about how to optimize my LinkedIn profile but more so, I have taken some insights and tips to get the sales staff using LinkedIn more often. Maybe I am not the only Brand Ambassador for MNI! Maybe we have 100!”
Wegman said, “The whole point of today's chat was to get you thinking about your company social policies and whether they encourage employees to engage by providing clear engagement guidelines vs. just "don't do this" lists.”
Employees who want to act as advocates on social media for the company where they work should be encouraged. This can be done by providing information for them as well as tools and other templates to make sharing easy and well within company guidelines.
By optimizing employee profiles and educating them on the best ways to act as company advocates on social media, employees can become the most effective brand advocates a company could ever have.
Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on Twitter using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.