2018: The Year of Unleashing Employees-As-Media

We're social creatures. We seek friends and kinship and meaningful interactions even if they're casual in nature and lack immediate benefit. Businesses are almost―but not quite―like us when it comes to being human. Sure, they can be fun and launch some great campaigns, but those are almost always with a profit motive in mind. The same goes for social media, where they need to translate "likes" and "follows" into customer actions and profits.

This creates a unique crossroads for today's marketers. They stand at the intersection of our social nature, business reality and today's digital transformation. For many organizations, social media is now considered a "must-have" marketing tool. Yet many haven't capitalized on its full potential. They don't utilize a critical emerging force: their own employees. This is unfortunate because employees are knowledgeable about their organization―and the solutions it provides―and have unique perspectives they can share among industry peers. Employees, in short, provide a strategic marketing resource for an organization. Marketers would be wise to marry growing social media and employee programs to strategic business objectives and the digital path to purchase.

Employees in the New Media Mix

I believe employee advocacy is today's biggest untapped marketing opportunity. I call it Participation Marketing in my upcoming book, with the caveat that employees must be authentic and not robotic when engaging externally with customers, the media and influencers. Truth is, employees are impactful, authentic and influential in the digital ecosystem especially in B2B environments. For example, the tech sector's B2B decision makers are the "most-marketed-to" group online today. Yes, they filter out sales calls and advertising, but they pay attention to content shared by peer engineers and IT leaders at vendor companies.

The 1:9:90 model for social participation and influence fits what I see in employee advocacy today. It's a helpful way to think about how employees participate in social media programs and how content spreads into the marketplace:

The 1 percent: These are the top influencers, the opinion leaders and the content creators. They essentially move the market when they speak, write, tweet or publish just about anything. They're journalists, academics, and the people you work alongside.

Imagine an engineer at your company creates a guide revising the modern technology stack. Let's say this includes trends in the workplace and analyses on the technology platforms your organization uses. She posts it on the company blog and shares it on Facebook and LinkedIn.

The 9 percent: Industry enthusiasts who share, comment and recommend on social networks. The majority of your employees fit into this category.

Internal salespeople, technical consultants and industry peers read the guide, comment on it, provide their own unique perspective and then share it with their social connections.

The 90 percent: The majority of social media users are quiet, but they learn and consume content daily. The bulk of the market and their purchase behavior will tell how compelling your story has been. They rely heavily on word-of-mouth and they Google everything before making a purchase decision.

The rest of the market, the 90 percent, decide to download the guide based on the perspective of the 1 percent and 9 percent. They may refer to Google to get additional perspectives or ask their work colleagues.

Now, let's say this guide is successful and your company offers a tool featured in it. Suddenly, you've a load of new prospects. Or, let's say your marketing team partnered with the influencer who wrote this guide and you are doing a lead share. Boom! Suddenly the potential for a slew of new leads is on the table.

At IBM, they've embraced the concept and have been doing this for years. Employees are empowered to create and share company-related content and engage with colleagues, peers, the media and influencers in whichever social platform they choose. Search Twitter and you'll see the thousands of active communities, ideas and conversations with customers and partners under the #IBMer and #ProudIBMer hashtags.

Employee advocacy makes business sense

Yes, an increase in friends, fans and followers is great. And nothing beats a PowerPoint slide showcasing exponential increases in likes, comments, shares and clicks. But, vanity metrics only take you so far. The harsh reality is that CMOs and other c-suite executives are holding their marketing and PR teams accountable for quantifying their spend and investment in social media programs.

You can deliver business impact by focusing on content developed by influential sources (like employees) and meeting decision makers at the right place in their buyer's journey. Here are some key business drivers that showcase employees' contribution in social marketing programs:

  • Brand awareness: It's a soft metric removed from sales, but necessary before any deal can be made. It's also well understood. Engaging on social media is a cost-effective means to meet brand awareness objectives.
  • Customer education: Let's say prospects seek information about your organization and what it can offer during the purchase process. A stellar social media program can steer them in the right direction and either help close the sale or maintain loyalty.
  • Word-of-(digital)-mouth marketing: Social media and online reviews are amplifying the power of word-of-mouth marketing. More than 80 percent of Americans seek recommendations when making a purchase of any kind. It's not difficult to measure volume, sentiment, traffic and referrals from these sources to capture and optimize their impact.
  • Search engine visibility: Content posted to social channels can improve search rankings through keyword focus, links and engagement level. Videos and images can also make you easier to find. The B2B purchase process always begins with an unbranded keyword search―matching what your customers are searching is table stakes.
  • Sales: A strategic "social selling" campaign is a very valuable concept. Still, it requires sales teams to leverage personal social channels in an authentic way with content that delivers value. Couple great content with a clear call to action, trackable links and a streamlined landing page can be a powerful way to close a deal.

It's clear that employee advocacy programs deliver value externally, but that's just scratching the surface. There are internal benefits of employee engagement which result in a motivated workforce that can truly deliver on the Holy Grail―digital transformation.

Michael Brito is EVP at Zeno Group and based in Silicon Valley. He's also an adjunct professor, TEDx speaker and the author of 3 best-selling books on social business transformation. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter . Michael's new book, Participation Marketing , is available in March 2018.



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