Employee advocacy is a popular topic in internal communication circles. And rightfully so. It makes a lot of business and marketing sense for companies to encourage employees to use their own social networks to share company news and information. All kinds of data point to the notion that we're more likely to trust information from people like us than companies.
But while employee advocacy is a relevant topic, it can also have an icky feeling. . . depending on how it's handled. If an employer is constantly pushing it on employees but the messages don't fit their network, it could strain the relationship.
In a recent episode of ICology, I interviewed Elizabeth Jurewicz (Liz to you and me) from Rackspace. They've built their employee advocacy program the right way. They started with a very grassroots effort where employees were in control and centered around their culture. They've taken the time to understand what employees like to share and where they like to share it. There's no reason to tell people to share on Twitter if they don't have a Twitter account. Communicators can find out from employees where their social networks exist. Think more "social enablement" and less "employee advocacy." For Rackspace's effort, no technology (currently) is involved other than the social channels employees use personally.
A point that came up in the podcast though is one that's a bit different from what I'm seeing in the large employee advocacy discussion. It's an element of advocacy that I don't see many companies focusing on. And it could be a great building block for an employee advocacy program for a company of any size.
It's social listening.
Employee advocacy should be about conversation. And a conversation should be two More of social media should be a conversation. You talk. I listen. I talk. You listen. Something like that.
So rather than tell employees which messages they should be sharing, encourage them to listen in on their networks. What are people saying about their company? The industry? Their profession? If there are articles that are relevant to the company or their department, communicators should develop a way for employees to share them with relevant audiences. This could be as simple as an email out to a group or something even more sophisticated.
Listening is something we should all be doing more of. And it's a worthwhile effort to encourage employees to search for new content. Let them discover what's being said and shared about the company and competitors. It could maybe even something as benign as an inspirational story. Or a lone data point that's interesting.
But by having them listen, they'll be more prepared to have the conversation companies want them to have.