Why All Your Employees Are the Social Marketers of the Future

Three Steps to Creating a Social Business for Your Company

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Dear social media pioneers: You have set a high bar for social media marketing, but now brands are catching up. Huge companies like Dell, IBM and PepsiCo have started to discover your once seemingly mysterious strategies and insights, and they are teaching them to thousands of their employees.

As it turns out, these socially engaged employees aren't just good -- they rock. They are 27% more likely to feel optimistic about their company's future and 20% more likely to stay at their current company, according to a report from LinkedIn and Altimeter Group. In addition, socially engaged companies are 57% more likely to get increased sales leads and 58% more likely to attract talent.

Social pioneers, you have done well setting the stage, and companies are finally realizing that anyone can be a social rock star, too. So they're raising social armies -- aka social businesses where the ethic of social media creates happier employees who discover their own voice, drive increased engagement and co-own the voice of the brand. They are the social marketers of the future.

Three steps to creating a social business

With time and determination, many early social adopters became respected thought leaders. So how do you inspire an entire workforce to become an enterprise of social leaders and influencers? You need a framework.

Based on my experience turning AT&T into a social business, I believe companies must work through three key steps:

1. Develop social media policies that encourage engagement. Pick a social business champion who will earn the support of leaders from legal, compliance and HR. This group of experts will develop social media policies, which serve as guardrails for their coworkers, answering the following types of questions: How should employees use social? What should they talk about? Who will create original content or identify content to share? How do we address FTC guidelines or other laws? This same group will participate in selecting internal and external social media platforms that fit the company's vision and engagement needs.

2. Establish training for all levels of social acumen. Determine how you will approach social media training, develop a program and invite employees to participate. If time is available to scale slowly, start with a pilot group. This pilot will inform the evolution of your training strategy as employees learn the company's social media policies and get acquainted with your social technologies. Demonstrate how the platforms should be used. For instance, on external social networks, what do employees do with content? Provide practical, hands-on training.

3. Enable and equip employees as advocates. Build a steady flow of content and let your employees begin to share over Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or whichever social networks your team wants to target. Just as you did before, observe what works and what does not work. You will certainly find ways to improve your advocate strategy and training program.

By reducing the complexity of social business into this framework, you'll free up space to figure out the hard part: How do you act on these concepts?

Learn from the pioneers

To get the most out this framework, look at examples from companies that have done it well. There are infinite ways to go through the steps I described, but some techniques work better than others.

IBM, for instance, came up with a clever way to establish social computing guidelines way back in 2006. The company created a blank wiki on its intranet and invited all its bloggers to write the guidelines (aka crowdsourcing). This has stood the test of time with some minor additions to expand from blogging to numerous social media formats.

PepsiCo provides another useful example of tackling a social business framework. According to a 2010 survey, 65% of PepsiCo employees said friends and family asked questions about the company or its products, and more than half said they would like PepsiCo to provide them with content to share across social media channels.

So PepsiCo's communications team built this wish into a social program. They educated employees on what they could or could not share on social media. They realized that about 85% of PEPline, PepsiCo's internal email newsletter, was relevant for a public audience. So they added social icons to this daily email and employees started sharing the articles.

The role of the engaged employee

Advocating for the brand must always remain a choice, because the benefits of social business depend on it. Employees with choice will know what's going on in the company because they will review blogs, infographics, videos and other content before they post. They will only share when they are proud of what's happening in the company. Choice creates a feedback loop in which the desire to share and the response reinforces deeper engagement and more sharing.

You cannot control a force that, by nature, democratizes communication. You can, however, end the monopoly over social media that you may believe social media pioneers have. It's going to happen anyway, with or without your consent. So let your employees do the talking.

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