Twitter followers, LinkedIn profiles, Personal Blogs. Employees are now spending time developing and nurturing personal and professional brands of their own. From communicating about personal interests, or professional expertise, employees are quickly establishing themselves as knowledgeable voices in the online space.
Whether encouraging the employee to promote the brand through their personal profiles, or developing a co-branded approach where the employee is promoted as representing the brand, having an employee with a significant online following can offer leverage to a brand looking to further its reach in the market.
Top 5 Reasons for Leveraging Your Employee’s Online Reach to Grow Your Brand
Does your Sales manager have more LinkedIn connections than your company profile? Does your Marketing Manager have more Twitter followers than your brand? Employees that have developed a strong public identity can offer numerous benefits to a brand if that reach is harnessed to promote the brand and its values.
An employee that has amassed a large online following instantly opens up the possibility of widening the audience reach of the brand online. They have established themselves as an influencer and if they use this power to promote the brand it can impact on brand awareness and image.
An employee that establishes themselves as an online expert in their field can give credence to a brand by tweeting as a representative of that brand. It influences customer perception of the brand, positioning it as leader in the market, and can generate new leads for the business through online conversations.
3. Brand image
Employees can make the best brand champions. If they love what they do, and they love what the brand represents, they are often eager to share their enthusiasm with the world. Employees who vocalize their love for the brand on their social media channels give the brand message a powerful and authentic voice.
4. Relationship Building
Many brands use social media as a tool to build relationships with their customers. Co-branded twitter handles like @ikeasupport_claire help develop a real human connection between the brand and their customers. This touch point connection can be critical in developing a meaningful and lasting relationship with customers.
Co-branded employees who use their personal profiles to promote their company can help attract high caliber like-minded people to the company and increase your valuable talent pool.
Top 5 The Risks To Your Business and Your Brand
Employee’s online activity can be a complement to a company’s own brand image. But there are implications of giving employees license to represent the brand in their personal or co-branded profiles.
1. Clash of Values
For every positive tweet sent by an employee about your brand, there are likely to be several other messages that represent the values of the employee. It is not up to your customer to distinguish which message reflects the brand values and which are solely belonging to the employee. Harnessing employee’s online reach for the benefit of brand must first ensure that the values of the brand and employee are closely aligned.
There is a danger that an employee who feels they are representing the brand communicates sensitive internal information that should not be for public viewing. You need to ensure you have very clear company policy with regard to your social media guidelines and a brand risk management strategy in place.
3. Time and Productivity
Updating social media is a time consuming process. Employees who feel that they are doing the brand a service by promoting work using their personal profiles might also feel entitled to update profiles during work hours, reducing valuable productivity.
4. Internal Resentment
There is a risk that resentment between employees can fester regarding social media use at work. How to you distinguish between the employees that are allowed to update personal profiles during work hours because it benefits the brand, and those who cannot because the value of doing so is not as significant to the brand?
5. Intellectual Property Rights
Possibly the biggest consideration of leveraging co-branded employee profiles is the argument over who holds the ownership rights to the profiles and their followers.
A sales Rep who works for a company for five years may amass a huge number of connections on LinkedIn; connections which are essentially a form of customer lists for the company. If that employee leaves the company who has rights to that profile’s list of contacts?
Noah Kravitz left his former employer PhoneDog in October 2010 on good terms. The company then sued him for $340,000 for the 17,000 followers he kept after he left the position, valuing each follower at $2.50 per month over a period of eight months.
Kravitz told the New York Times that PhoneDog told him he could keep his followers, as long as he continued to Tweet about the company.
A judge in the USA dismissed a lawsuit by a former employee of Edcomm who claimed that the company illegally accessed her LinkedIn account after she left the company; changing her password and preventing her from accessing critical contacts. Even though the account was created under the employee’s own name, the judge’s ruling gives leverage to the argument that social media content created at work belongs to employers.
Although these rulings give some power to companies in relation to intellectual property rights, the matter is still very much in the grey.
Companies need to have very specific social media policies relating to the social media activity of employees in the workplace.
Depending on corporate culture and risk tolerance of your company, you might want to embrace the business benefits of co-branded employees.
Opting for tight limits on work related social media might be the better bet when it comes to controlling your brand and managing risk.
• Does your company have a well developed policy regarding who owns what online?
• How do you distinguish between a personal online activity and one that represents the brand?
• Does your corporate culture support co-branded employees communication?