July 25, 2024

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Employees promoting their company on social media

5 min read

Asking staff to do marketing seems a no brainer, but things can get murky when people mix their personal online presence with work

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Would you let your boss examine your social media? For many of us, the answer would be a firm no. What about allowing your manager to tell you what to post?

It may sound dystopian but increasingly workers are willing to post on their employer’s behalf. A number of companies have identified marketing potential in staff’s personal X, LinkedIn or Instagram profiles and, in what are innocuously known as “employee advocacy programs,” are encouraging workers to share positive news about the company.

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“Employees [are] an organization’s best and most authentic influencers,” says Scott Morris, chief marketing officer of software company Sprout Social. “Brands are utilizing advocacy programs to harness the influence of their employees by encouraging them to promote their company, products and wins.”

For employers, such programs are alluring. We listen more to our friends and family than companies, so getting employees to make chirpy posts about products looks like a quick route to more effective promotion — at a fraction of the price of hiring external ad space.

Do-it-yourself marketing can also “increase employee engagement and productivity” says Gartner, by providing staff with a way to consider their stake in the company, and to act on their belief in its work.

When Texas-based software company Simpli.fi launched an employee advocacy program in 2023, Morris says, it benefited from nearly $90,000 in estimated earned media value. Another company that launched a similar scheme, software group Ivanti, “saved $500,000 in annual marketing costs by tapping their employees to reach more customers and foster authentic connections.”

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One member of staff at Ivanti made a company-approved post on LinkedIn highlighting the “exceptional employee experiences” and other benefits it can offer customers. Another wrote about the company’s culture and what it is like to work there.

Employees at Ivanti were incentivized to take part in the scheme, with staff who had the most impact winning up to £500 in award points or Amazon gift cards each quarter.

Whether employees are paid for promoting their company on socials differs from firm to firm, says Jenna Jacobson, associate professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management. “Some companies have formal arrangements [around payment]” she says, generally involving employer-approved posts. In other firms, programs are unpaid.

But that doesn’t mean there is nothing in it for staff: according to Hinge Research Institute, 86 per cent of employees in an advocacy program said it had a positive effect on their careers, for example by expanding their network, or offering a way to keep up with industry trends.

Asking employees to mix their personal online presence with work can get murky, though. Staff posts may not always give the positive marketing boost companies hope for, and requests that staff take work out of the office may be perceived as an intrusion.

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“Employees have a powerful voice but this is also risky for employers,” Jacobson says. Authenticity, she says, is “highly valued on social media” and employee influencers risk being “seen as inauthentic if they are posting too often or are overly enthusiastic.” That can have blowback.

Entrepreneur Ben Askins, who calls out bad bosses to his 741,000 TikTok followers, describes it as “a real red flag when companies think they can treat employees’ personal social accounts as PR arms.” He says he has heard of cases where staff have been threatened with disciplinary action if they refuse to share a company post to their social channels.

Employees may also be obliged to declare their posts as advertising, although the rules on this relatively niche form of marketing remain unclear. The United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority classes influencers as people “paid to promote a product or service on their social media” and payment can take a range of non-monetary forms. Influencers are required to declare such posts, preferably “through ‘#ad’ being prominently displayed.”

All that suggests companies hoping to take advantage of employee advocacy programs must tread carefully, says content creator Jacob Simon.

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“The strength of a portrayal often comes in the proof they have,” he says. “Audiences are smart, and saying ‘we’re doing good’ without saying ‘and here’s how…’ falls short.”

© 2024 The Financial Times Ltd

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