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Employee amplification: Social strategy for austere times (and beyond)

Johannesburg, 02 Sep 2021
Mike Saunders, CEO, Digitlab.
Mike Saunders, CEO, Digitlab.

What is the most intrinsic part of a successful sale? Human-to-human contact. Unless a person already knows exactly what they want, where to get it and what they are willing to pay, a successful sale is about human centricity. This represents quite a challenge in our current context, where social distancing and digital channels have usurped more traditional ways of touching base with customers.

But even if those weren't factors, the potential to reach substantially more people in a meaningful way is so much greater today – if you can pull it off. And according to Mike Saunders, CEO of Digitlab and author of the book Humancentric, this is possible through social media and employee amplification.

"What I'm starting to see is that the people who are succeeding are the ones taking hold of their online networks and committing to them, as opposed to just relying on their brand pages to complete the social experience."

Merging social and employees

Many managers and executives grow nervous when one mentions words such as 'social media' and 'employee' in one sentence. Is social media not that world of frivolous distraction, fake news and filled with wrecks of brand promotions gone awry?

"Social media has a dark side to it, that is true," says Saunders. "But we shouldn't allow these mistakes to distract us from the bigger picture. We should focus our questions on why social media, good or bad, is so successful? Why do people keep going back to it and using it? It's because social media can help us create personal connections. It's embedded in its DNA. If you can use that characteristic correctly, it becomes very powerful."

One such use is employee amplification, which leverages employees' personal social media networks to promote their workplaces and brands. Again, that might seem alarming. As companies have learned, associating a face on social media with their brands can be dangerous. Instead, they play it safe – using brand profiles and paying for reach by advertising those profiles.

It’s not a flawed approach, but it has its limits. The cost of advertising on social networks is rising and becoming more competitive from the buyer's side. It can't be the only strategy for social, especially since it's the most common one. It falls short on truly exploiting social media's capacity for personal connections.

This is where employee amplification is a much more powerful and relevant opportunity.

The case for employee amplification

Many companies already use employee amplification without realising it. The most common example is a recruitment drive: Post on your social network how great your workplace is, and hopefully it will attract like-minded talent. According to a 2016 Global Talent Trends Report compiled by LinkedIn, the top challenge for potential employees is not knowing enough about their prospective workplace.

It works: In Digitlab's experience, employer brands can boost candidate numbers three to four times through an employee amplification strategy.

The question Saunders now asks is: How can employee advocates increase leads and sales? People are more naturally inclined to brag about their excellent workplaces. Harvesting leads and chasing sales online may seem less organic, especially if you hold the view that social media is mainly about brand promotion.

Yet understanding how social media appeals to its audiences is the key to better results for brands. Saunders explains: “The value that social media brings to the end-user – your customer – is that it links directly to the people in their network, the way you can present yourself to that network and the tools available to communicate to that network.”

Social media is a powerful hack for business to grasp. When communicating as a business, the benefits of the social network are limited unless you pay for access, profiling and content. In a personal profile, social networks cannot lock this value away. In fact, they work harder to make sure that personally shared content reaches more people, creating more engagement and conversation. This provides a more meaningful experience for the individual.

In short, personal content in social media platforms gets more attention than content shared via brand or business channels. The sheer weight of personal content on social media works can get an exponential return on investment because you get a natural, unpaid distribution of content.

Supporting employees to socialise your brands

That last point is the crux: Instead of pushing the brand through social media, ask how you can support individuals in your organisation to bring your brands along with their social interactions. It requires an amplification strategy, as well as cultivating and supporting people within the organisation.

Simple examples include encouraging sharing pictures from team building, CSI volunteers or special events. Another example is having creative assets on hand that employees can grab and share: Fun infographics or short video clips related to products, services or even the sector you operate in. If such assets have meaning to employees, they are more likely to share them.

Beyond giving employees access to creative assets they may share voluntarily, you should establish more a strategic approach around your business communications plan.

Take a page from the lessons Digitlab has learnt in profiling executives to build credibility and trust for organisations. In larger organisations, there are many stakeholders to communicate to. Financial directors can speak to company results, the CEO to the overall strategic direction, the HR director to culture. In each case they carry specific niche conversations that relate to their network and their role in the business.

Remember that not everyone is good at everything – some people on your employee advocacy programme may need coaching and others may work through proxies. The crucial step is to have the tactical support in place to identify and cultivate the social touchpoints within your organisation.

"If you've got a thousand employees, it'd be great if they shared your content,” says Saunders. “But it's the five, 10, 50 or 70 people who have the respect and trust of your industry that carry the most weight to building your business. These people are key to sharing the content, because their voices are more transparent and authentic and their network is more specific to their role. You want to focus on building out the reputations of your key individuals online. And then alongside that, you want to have some sort of strategy that inspires your entire employee base to share content that you're comfortable with."

Employee amplification works – Digitlab has proved this. Its power can be put to work behind new business leads and acquisitions – if harnessed through a cohesive support strategy and quality content that drives the communication strategy to all stakeholders.

"The whole social economy used to be a playground, but it's now a lifeground," says Saunders. "It's where your career happens, it's where your home happens. When business professionals start to understand that dynamic, it provides a powerful way to reach people. Enter employee advocacy – with the right strategy and support, that can be low risk, organic and very influential.