Find Thirstier Horses: Engage Employees in Social Advocacy by @mwaxmantoo

Guest post by Chief Marketing Officer at CBIZ, Mark Waxman (@mwaxmantoo)

“Marketing is an attitude, not a department”

One of my favorite quotes (“marketing is an attitude, not a department”) was true when first written by marketing strategist Phil Wexler  many years ago, but never more so than it is today.  In the past, a marketing department would frequently be called upon to serve an organization by providing tools to go to market. “Make us a brochure”, “we need a new website” or  “design a new trade show display” were the demands that set the marketing department in motion.  Today, that dynamic has been flipped on its head, as the employees potential to influence a company’s marketing success can in fact far exceed that of the marketing department itself.  While marketing has traditionally focused their energy on converting prospects, the time has come to put equal focus on converting employees, because in the new social world the employees can actually help serve the marketing department in many ways far better than the other way around.

Lead a Horse to WaterThis is true because today’s consumers demand real voices, not manufactured messages from marketing. Consequently, they trust the voice of an employee far more than the voice of the PR or marketing department…and often, they trust the employee’s voice more than that of the CEO!

By harnessing the social voice of their employees, every organization has the potential to create an army of advocates.  And while this has begun to be acknowledged by the fortune 500 and a few other pioneering companies in social leadership positions, it is the vast majority of organizations, from small to large, that still stand to gain the most from socially empowering their employees.

The challenge, of course, is to set those employee advocates in motion, and in the right direction.

Yes, it can work. For anyone.

While giant technology companies like IBM and Cisco have demonstrated the ability to craft social advocacy programs, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to be in technology or a leading edge industry to make it work. You don’t even have to be large.  The tidal wave is coming – when not just the industry leaders but the rest of the business world begins to tap into the collective power of their employees voices.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink

This is the sad lament of marketing departments everywhere, struggling to motivate employees to act on their behalf.  Sure, the idea of employee advocacy sounds good and makes strategic sense, but its far easier to say than do.  You can teach you employees, show them how, cajole them and motivate them, but sometimes it isn’t enough to get them to act.  Sometimes you really can lead a horse to water, but can’t make them drink. Fortunately, the solution is simple:

Find thirstier horses.

Yes, they are out there. They may not be the ones you first think of.  They are often not your managers, perhaps not your leaders. They may not be the first ones that came to mind. But buried in the cubicles and backrooms of every company are the young, socially aware and active employees looking for an opportunity to grow their career… using a path that they are uniquely qualified to follow!  Find thirsty horses, encourage and reward them, and you are likely to find a surprising phenomenon:  all those other horses that you previously led to water but couldn’t make drink? Guess what? They are going to start getting might thirsty.

Making it Real

While it all sounds exciting, making employee social advocacy a reality is another thing.  It requires a thoughtful, step by step approach. Here’s a simple overview of those key steps:

  1. Set boundaries:   Setting social media guidelines is an absolutely critical first step.  It minimizes your risk, but equally important is the fact that employees are actually much more comfortable operating in an environment where they know the rules.
  2. Advocate:  Begin by, communicating your vision, and in your interest in finding likely and interested participants.  Paint the picture of the possibility!
  3. Start small: Find those thirstier horses, that small group of early adopters that are likely spending their break on their smartphones checking Facebook or posting on Instagram.
  4. Support:  Provide them the resources, tools, training and sharable content they need.  In short, make it easy for them!
  5. Recognize:  Make certain to give plenty of public accolades to the participants for their active participation.  Make them heroes!

Using that process – starting small and then making heroes of your first social advocates – will inevitably lead to more participation by others.  Those horses that you’ve led to water but been unable to make drink?  You might just find that they just got thirsty!

Key Takeaway:  The collective social voice of an organizations employee is often both more credible and more powerful than the voice of the organization itself. By finding and empowering the employees that are most passionate and social media savvy, any organization can begin to build their own internal army of advocates.

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