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How to Enable Employee Brand Ambassadors Through Social Media

Featured on on February 17, 2014

By Lauren Drell

Will B-to-B companies start paying their employees to promote their workplace on Twitter? How about encouraging them to amplify a brand’s Web content or listen to online conversations on LinkedIn? Thanks to social media, some companies have started using their employees as built-in brand ambassadors. Employees are the face of the brand and have a coveted “insider” perspective, but these new employee ambassador initiatives are unchartered territory for many brands—some still struggle with designing effective training programs for their employees so they can effectively listen and push out messages on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social platforms.

Liz Bullock, current CEO and co-founder of the Social Arts & Science Institute (SASI) and former director of social media and community (SMaC) at Dell, consults with organizations on how to empower and train employees in social media to boost internal engagement. An expert in the space, she offers some advice for B-to-B brands looking to build out effective social media training programs.

Q: Dell has often been cited as a brand that sets the bar high when it comes to rooting social media within the organization. You developed and managed Dell’s social training and certification program (SMaC University), an education center where employees can sign up for classes on topics that range from learning how to write blog posts to influencer relationships. Why do you think Dell’s program has been so successful?

A: When we first launched the training program, we focused on certification. We initially wanted to ensure that any employee who was going to use social on behalf of Dell had all the critical information they needed—strategy, brand voice and best practices—but then we quickly recognized that the learning didn’t stop there, and obviously, social moves at a very rapid pace. Our ultimate goal was around changing behaviors and having employees use social more effectively in their daily jobs, whether that was listening to get better insights around their products, their marketing campaign, or the TV spot they just launched. … We did recognize the training materials had to continually evolve, so we did things in regards to that. There were writing classes, giving employees best practices on how you write online. We would do classes on blogging [or] classes on influencer relationships. We would do classes on how to just listen because there’s a large percent of employees who might not ever engage in a social conversation with a customer, but being able to listen to social conversations and getting those insights and bringing them back into the business is extremely powerful. We definitely continued to evolve the training program and the training classes to ensure that Dell employees were getting all the latest and greatest information, so we could make sure they were growing with social, better serving our customers and making that change in behavior.

Q: According to a study conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, entitled “B2B Content Marketing 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends–North America,” 73% of content marketers in B-to-B are creating more content than they were one year ago. Of that content, do you think we’ll see an increase in the amount that’s being generated by a brand’s employees?

A: It depends on where the organization is. From what I’ve seen—because historically, organizations were saying, ‘You can’t do anything on social,’—I think it’s going through phases. First, employees—once they have that permission, that training, that guidance—will start to get online, but it’s going to be like riding a bike. There’s going to be some practice before they actually go out there and start publishing content, and not every single employee will start creating their own content.

Q: In order to make an employee advocacy program effective, what do you think are the one or two most important things for B-to-B brands to keep in mind?

A: The leadership piece I cannot emphasize enough and the reason why I say that is because if you think about employees, when they go in and do their job day in day out, they’re looking for their manager’s support, their manager’s approval. Most companies have performance plans—your bonus or your increase in salary is influenced by your manager—so if your leadership team is not bought off on social and the adoption of social, you’re going to have a really, really tough time with employee advocacy. I think that is so critical and it would be my No. 1 thing. The second piece is creating this social culture. Yes, you could do training programs and you can encourage employees, but I think also giving them places where they can practice [social media] in a safe way and rewarding employees that are doing it [is vital]. Recognition is really, really important.”