In 2020, brands are waking up to the fact that buyer attitudes are changing. Put simply; people no longer trust brands. Of course, there are exceptions, but nowadays, people are more likely to follow the people who work for an organization than the company itself. In every sense, employees are becoming the face and voice of organizations.

For a while, brands have been trying to combat this decline in trust, namely through the use of social media influencers and product placement. However, as is too often the case, buyers became increasingly savvy to this new form of marketing, following changes in consumer protection law and one too many well-publicized blunders.

In recent months we’ve seen a steep incline in brands conveying important updates and messages through their employees. With the now well-documented pandemic taking full effect, senior management and less-senior staff alike have been taking to social media to assure their client-base, customers, and followers that the business is operating despite the public health emergency.

In 2019, we saw a spike in articles and research that declared a want for transparency and authenticity from brands, as buyers have become increasingly frustrated by those not fulfilling expectations or partaking in one too many dodgy dealings. Think 2018 when the scandal arose surrounding Cambridge Analytica that left Facebook having to answer to more than just the court of public opinion.

The solution is simple but clear: people trust those they know. A study conducted by Olapic found that 76% of people are more likely to trust someone they know over any form of branded content. How are brands using people to communicate if social media influencers didn’t work? The answer is the most untapped resource for companies of all shapes and sizes – their employees.

Here’s how your organization can leverage your employees’ networks to effectively disseminate information, promote and enforce operational transparency, and restore trust to build a truly people-based organization.

Make Some Noise
Encourage your employees to make some noise on social media. When they talk, people listen! (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio)

Leverage Your Employee Influencers

As a business, your employees are some of your most trusted and reputable ambassadors. They are your internal influencers and experts in both your company and the industry within which you operate. Not only this, but your employees will have an average network size of 1,180 people. According to research conducted by LinkedIn, if you total that up your employees will have an average cumulative reach that is more than 10x your corporate accounts. That’s quite the audience! Specialists in strategic communications and engagement, MSL Group, found that brand messages are shared 24 times more frequently when employees shared them—proving that in today’s shifting climate that’s lacking in both certainty and consumer trust, in order to truly amplify your message, your employees should be at the center of your communications.

Why is this important? The logic and theory behind employee influence is something of a no-brainer. Firstly, you have the marketing benefits of amplified reach, increased engagement, maximized social selling, and reduced cost-per-click, among other things. With the studies and statistics mentioned above taken into account, there’s no denying that your content would be able to reach and engage a much broader audience through your employees’ collective sharing.

Look no further than sports nutrition brand, Grenade, for examples of exceptional employee influence, and using employees to lead the charge in company communications. The brand exudes positive company culture, with the company holding what appears to be a fairly relaxed social media policy, as employees frequently share behind-the-scenes content onto LinkedIn and other sites. Often just one influential employee will generate more engagement on their post than the brand itself, which means not to say that Grenade isn’t trusted as a brand. Rather it’s that their employees hold much more influence, especially on a platform like LinkedIn.

Grenade’s power to leverage their employees’ influence was recently demonstrated when they launched their first-ever Easter egg, with employees taking to social media to talk about it before Grenade had officially launched it on their website.

Grenade LinkedIn Engagemen
Grenade pulls in significant engagement on their corporate pages, but the highest performer was a post from one very influential employee! (Sophie Thomas, Ruby McKenzie, and Grenade on LinkedIn)

The second most significant benefit of employee influence is the branding benefits it builds. Employee influence wields both employer branding and company branding benefits. How? Well, actively encouraging your employees to create and share content on behalf of your organization is a fantastic way to empower your workforce. It displays trust in your employees to represent the brand online, while telling them that they are just as much a part of the business as senior management, the board, and all of the above.

Alongside employee empowerment, employee influencers give you a chance to showcase your company culture on social media. Displaying positive company culture via your employees carries with it two main benefits: crowdsourcing authentic company content from your employees, and promoting your employer brand to a sea of potential top candidates.

Your employee influencers give the public a chance to see what life is really like at your company, and they tell the story of the day-to-day goings-on that lead to your successes! Take a look at conversational marketing platform, Drift, for example. Drift has famously stated that they never use stock photography. Everything you see is in house and genuine. From their slide decks and resources to their brand book, what you see is what you get with Drift! Not only do practices like this display full transparency, but it gives a potential candidate a genuine look at what it’s really like to work there.

Drift Company Culture
Drift operates with full transparency when it comes to their imagery, insisting on only using in-house photography (photo from the Drift blog)

It’s no secret that one of the biggest challenges facing marketing teams in 2020 is creating this level of company content at scale. Most companies rely on their social media community manager or agency partners to take pictures and videos, but they can’t be everywhere at once. Employee content creation tools like Lens by DSMN8 give your employees a platform to capture and upload those special moments from within your organization, then submit them for company use. Even managing the transferral of usage rights from within the app itself.

No doubt, as a business, you will already have employees who are on social media and actively advocating for your organization, though you may not know it yet. In fact, a study from Weber Shandwick found that of those surveyed, 39% of employees had spoken positively about their employer on social media. Whether by sharing your content or posting content they’ve created, your employees are already posting about your company on social media; the key is to leverage and encourage this activity. Encouragement can come in the simplest of forms. It could be a like or a comment on their post, or simply dropping them an email to say that their efforts are recognized!

If you’re having trouble finding your employee influencers, a helpful tip would be to search your company name and company-related hashtags on social media.

Of course, the most effective way to leverage your employees’ efforts and amplify your content would be to centralize this activity within an employee influencer platform. Using a formal program, you can invite your employees to participate and even incentivize the processes of content sharing and content creation with leaderboards and rewards. Select platforms even offer internal communications features, allowing senior leadership to broadcast video updates straight to employees’ feeds! After all, one of the toughest parts of any CEO’s job is consistent communication.

On Social Media
Getting senior leadership active on social media is a fantastic way to disseminate important company updates and information (Photo from Canva)

Senior Leadership Must be Active on Social Media

In the current world of business, senior leadership, namely C-Suite staff, are just as much a part of a brand’s identity as its products and services, and thus are an invaluable resource for disseminating company information. Often the reason for this is that, when they join a business, they bring with them their own unique personal brand and their own followers. Making their presence on social media more important than ever.

In the past, it was unheard of for leaders to be present in the day-to-day running of a business, and most employees were likely unfamiliar with them outside of work. The best they could hope for was messages passed down from one leader to the next, who passed it on to middle management, who passed it on to other managers, and so on.

We now live in the age of the social CEO. It is not uncommon now, in fact, it is almost the norm for a company’s employees to be connected with senior management on social media. It can be very easy for senior management of a larger company to appear disconnected from the workforce. By being active on social media, they can put themselves right in front of their employees to communicate in a way that is both personal and accessible, while giving them the power to control the brand’s narrative and communicate with their audience in an instant.

A shining example of an effective social CEO is Alan Barratt. Alan Barratt is the CEO of the previously mentioned sports nutrition brand, Grenade. Barratt regularly features in company content and has a huge presence on social media, even hosting the brand’s popular ‘Pull the Pin’ podcast. When leaders are active on social media, they offer people the chance to connect with them and the business on a human level, putting them on the wavelength of followers and employees alike—giving them the perfect platform to distribute important company information and updates.

Alan Barratt Social CEO
Barratt’s presence on social media has been brilliantly effective in relaying company information during the COVID-19 pandemic (Alan Barratt on Linkedin)

Why is it important? Well, it’s rather simple – a good leader is not just one who leads the business forward, but one who leads its employees in the same direction. In order for senior management to get people to buy into the brand and the brand’s vision, they must get people (whether employees, potential buyers, or clients) to believe in them. How is this done? In a word, transparency. Communication and authenticity are key ways to exercise operational transparency, getting people behind your brand, and your employees are the best people to do this.

What we’re seeing in 2020 is what separates employee advocacy from employee influence. The difference is that while an employee advocate will share your company content, an employee influencer will have a demonstrated investment in the brand, and will want to see it prosper come rain or shine.

Transparency and trust are both key qualities that businesses and consumers are looking for in brands right now. As consumer trust weakens, people are seeking out reputable brands with whom they can establish lasting relationships with. People trust people, and people buy from people. Your employees need to be at the center of your communications if you’re to take your brand to the next level.

To help disseminate important information in these uncertain times, my company, DSMN8, is offering a free 30-day trial of all of its solutions, so click here to arrange your free demo. Are you ready to put your employees at the center of your brand’s communications?