When businesses think of how they can leverage social media they often only think of company pages, profiles and blogs. This is a good start for any business, but fails to take into account the people-centric nature of most social media sites.
While company pages are important, they alone do not have the same power to create relationships as people have. Think about the differences: People “like” pages on Facebook and are “Friends” with other people. On LinkedIn, people can “Follow” companies and are “Connected” to other people. To me these show how powerful the relationship between people can be and how it is a deeper relationship than what people have with companies and/or brands.
Companies' benefits from social media
So the question becomes how can companies benefit from people to people relationships in social media? A few years ago it was still common for companies to have “profiles” instead of pages but this has luckily stopped as it was never allowed and often frowned upon. The better alternative is to have your employees help you by posting, commenting and liking positive things related to your business. While you can’t/shouldn’t force anyone to use their own profiles for the good of your business, many do so voluntarily. By providing social media training companies can educate their employees on safe, acceptable and positive social media use that reflects back on the business. This also gives employees the confidence they need to talk about their employers in social media since the employer has provided instructions on what is acceptable and allowed. Employees should also be aware of the effect listing their employer on their Facebook profile can have; an issue further discussed in my earlier blog Employees as brand ambassadors in social media.
LinkedIn: a professional social network
Probably the best channel for employee to employer endorsement is currently LinkedIn. Employees are more open to talking about their work in this platform as it is a “professional” network while Facebook is more personal. The first thing you see in a LinkedIn profile is the name, title and current employer which, if made correctly, links directly to the company profile and other employees.
There are several ways employees can use LinkedIn to endorse their employers while also building their own personal reputation. The most common ways are status updates and groups. Status updates allow users to post statuses which stay on top of their profile for a fixed period of time or until a new status update is posted. The update is also sent to the users own network and appears in the news feed of everyone they are connected to. This allows the users to keep themselves on the minds of their network without having to communicate to each one of them independently.
Groups, on the other hand, work much like discussion forums. There are several advantages to joining groups: it allows other group members to send you free messages, showcases your interests, and gives you the opportunity to build yourself and your employer a good professional reputation to a large audience. This is where good, relevant, and exciting content is expected. By default, the most active discussions, not the newest, are listed on the top of the group discussion boards. This means that just posting a new discussion topic in a large group does little to help your cause. Instead you must make sure the discussion is about something that other group members are interested in and make it easy to interact with. This can be done by asking questions or other group members’ opinions about a certain issue, article etc.
While companies can post status updates, they can’t participate in group discussions or interact with others as a brand which limits its abilities as an effective communication channel compared to personal profiles. It is therefore good for both the employer and employee that training is provided so that this channel can be used effectively to build visibility, image, and reputation. Also worth mentioning is that LinkedIn is the only major social network that gives its users complete control over what is posted under their profile and/or name. This minimizes risk as no one else can post anything in your profile without you accepting it first (eg. recommendations).
The power of social networks
Companies that keep ignoring the power of social networks will inevitably suffer from this decision. Equally as bad is thinking that social media is not for the workplace and that it is each employee’s personal business what they do on these networks. While somewhat true for Facebook, if privacy settings are set correctly and employee does not mention work related things in their posts/comments, it is close to impossible to completely separate work and personal. For example, if an employee’s name is listed on the company website, their Facebook profile can also be found with a simple Google search and the content that is not protected by privacy settings will also be visible. This can reflect negatively on the employer’s image and even hurt the business. The same applies to other social media platforms such as Twitter and Google+. For LinkedIn it is even more important since the whole site is based around working life and connecting professionals.
Providing employees with an overview of the benefits and risks of social media can be of enormous benefit to a business. It allows the business to leverage its employees’ personal networks and build its own image along the way. It is surprising to me that some businesses still fail to realize the potential and risks involved with their brand in social media. Just with a few hours of intense training a business can transform its employees into a resource and minimize the risks involved with social media use. If you are in need of social media training we are more than willing to help. Contact us and we will see what type of training would be most beneficial in your industry.