Employees as Brand Ambassadors: Enthusiasm is Infectious

Posted on March 4, 2011. Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , , , |

One of my Twitter followers recently asked me about the pros and cons of allowing employees to act as brand ambassadors in social media channels such as Twitter. Some of her executives were a little uncertain and wanted to know more about how to manage it properly.

A long time ago, I had the same concerns. I headed PR and was not crazy about expanding my limited list of spokespeople to everyone in the company. I think that’s a familiar feeling for PR pros and executives alike.

But, I had a change of heart. So many of our employees were proud of the products they were building and selling. It was hard to see why we should prevent them from sharing their enthusiasm.  Sure they were critical too, but that criticism had a purpose: to make the products better. Ultimately, I decided that their enthusiasm would be infectious.

Today, I don’t think there’s much question about whether there’s a benefit to having employees engaged as brand ambassadors in social media. Rather, the question, as posed by my follower, is more about how to manage it properly.

What if the employee brand ambassador’s personality becomes bigger than the organization?

I don’t have stats on this, so I’m going to go with a gut feel and one anecdote. I don’t think this is a probable scenario for most companies. The only example I can think of is Robert Scoble and Microsoft. While Robert became a brand on his own, I’m pretty comfortable saying that he didn’t really become bigger than Microsoft. He’s widely credited with giving Microsoft a human face during one of its toughest reputation periods. I think that turned out well for Microsoft.

What guidelines should we give employees? Should we restrict them to tweeting about professional stuff only? Should we allow them to share personal stuff too?

Social media is about people first. One reason that people don’t connect with brands is that they are perceived as impersonal. Big faceless corporations are harder to relate to or get emotional about. But all organizations are run by people. Many of them are interesting both in the office and out. I find it much easier to connect with someone who shares my interest in Neil Young’s music and who is passionate about the latest trends in social media. If they have personality, I will follow them. So, yes, let them share both personal and professional stuff.

However, you still want to do as much as you can to ensure that whatever your brand ambassadors share on social media maintains the integrity of your brand. Here are three ways to ensure that they do that:

  1. Have a social media engagement policy and be sure that your code of conduct policy is incorporated.
  2. Keep PR and internal communications tightly aligned. Communicating internally early (before external messages are delivered) and often is critical.
  3. Make it a regular habit to promote your brand internally, building enthusiasm and pride among employees. Reinforce brand attributes, values and personality through employee events, posters, etc.

My follower asked if I could share articles I’d read and liked about employees as brand ambassadors. Here’s a few that I’ve come across over the last year or so. 

Diane Thieke is marketing director for Dow Jones, based in Princeton, NJ.

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