Your employees are already communicating and posting on social media. You’re just not measuring or watching it, says Anne Frost.
Our expert series continues with Anne Frost, Danish Employee Advocacy expert and consultant. Frost runs her company called annefrost.com and works as a leadership advisor and executive coach in digital transformation and communication. Her expertise lies in leveraging Employee Advocacy as a leadership tool to help companies increase knowledge sharing and employee engagement.
Connectivity is a blessing and a curse, and should be treated as such, says Frost.
Could you tell me about your background and how you’ve come to work with Employee Advocacy?
Working with organizational change, it has become clear to me how important management commitment is in the process of digital transformation. It is the case in every change management process, but now most of those revolve around digital. We are not only changing our processes and habits, but we are also changing our tools. Changing the way we think and do things will inevitably create a sense of discomfort or resistance, especially in online communication and social media. Standing in front of the brand or logo can be frightening if you’re not used to it. It triggers fear, like it does in everybody to do something new.
I use my background as an executive coach to train management in being the first and loudest employees out there, when starting an EA project. It helps tremendously to have the C-suite be the light tower that everybody can look to and see. It sends signals a billion times stronger than any playbook or “how to” guide you could ever write (or film).
What do you think are the benefits of Employee Advocacy for the company, and on the other hand the individuals, i.e. the employees involved?
You can talk reach and all the marketing KPIs etc., but to me, the most interesting part is what it does within the company.
Firstly, there’s the knowledge sharing part of it. When you start focusing on what we, as individuals, can say about our product or our work environment, there comes an awareness of how much we know as a company and how important everyone’s knowledge is.
Paul from HR is not going to post a lot of corporate articles on the glue for aircraft wings because he is an expert on recruiting. But if he posts updates on how the company changed the diversity of their workforce in just some three years, he is branding himself as a thought leader, while attracting new talent, supporting marketing and giving his colleagues a piece of content that they can be proud of and share. Even those who are not in the market for wing glue.
Secondly, having a platform like Smarp means having knowledge hub that everybody can tap into. Even if they do not share the content, an employee can walk away from there with new knowledge and knowing his/her colleagues a bit better. Bringing individual personalities into a platform for external communication is brilliant for ensuring more transparency and fewer siloes. But then again, if there is no commitment from management, it’s going to be a long, painful walk that can build strong resistance against new digital workplace initiatives.
How can companies support and motivate their employees to become brand ambassadors?
You should never force it on anybody. Employees should want to share corporate or work-life material with their private networks. You need to remember that the individual owns his/her private profiles, not the company. You do not own their personal profiles and you do not own their souls. But if you want to motivate people to do it because you think it’s a good idea and they tap into the idea as well, what I would like to see compared to many companies I see right now, is that you teach the employees to look for the story and value themselves and start posting it.
Involve the employees in what they would like to talk about. Marketing and communications can help employees produce the content. Passionate people are rarely boring to listen to. Sometimes they just need help in seeing how their nerdish knowledge can be valuable to others.
How does good internal communication support Employee Advocacy, and vice versa?
Apart from what we already talked about, it’s a good way to get a face on your colleagues and experts, if you have a big global organization and people work far away from each other. When you work for a company, you usually want to be proud of it and long for that feeling of being part of something that will change the world, right?
If you have specialists, for example, who help water supply flow easily in Zimbabwe, and you sit at the administration in Rotterdam, you never actually meet these people. But sharing stories from their part of the organization in their words can help build a sense of belonging and meaning for all parties.
How important is it for the management to invest in an open culture that supports knowledge sharing, both internally and externally?
That’s a good question, because it’s a fine line, right? The funny thing is that often we start out by talking about how scared companies are of setting the employee free online and how employees don’t know a thing about communications. And the mental link is that if we have more people communicating, it’s more likely that something will go wrong. But don’t buy into that rubbish. Your employees are already communicating and posting on social media, you’re just not measuring it or watching it. You’re not talking to them about what they’re sharing or helping them build their professional or personal brand. Stop being afraid of it. Not having them communicate online is much worse than the opposite.
Don’t start by being restrictive. Start by setting everybody free and then let’s see what happens. Of course, different businesses have different issues with this, for example legal or culture-wise. But as far as you can go in terms of transparency, I would recommend that you do that. Think about the worst and the best that can happen and then measure what actually happens. It’s rarely as explosive as we imagined. What I think stops Employee Advocacy processes the most is that the ones who should push the button on the program are afraid of a worst-case scenario. And I’m not sure we’ve even seen a worst-case scenario come to life.