Ask the Expert: Cheryl Burgess on Authentic Employee Activation

December 19, 2015

Editor's Note: Cheryl Burgess is Co-Founder and CEO of Blue Focus Marketing, and co-authored the best-selling book, The Social Employee. She is also a respected advisor and contributor to various boards and publications.

For insights that can help you achieve B2B marketing success via authentic employee activation, read on to find out what Cheryl has to say about organizational culture, social sharing apps, and what “social” means.

Q&A with Cheryl Burgess, Social Business Strategist & Author

LinkedIn: In your experience, what are the common corporate culture issues that need to be addressed to ensure authentic employee activation can become a reality?

Cheryl: In 2015, when someone says “social,” the assumption is they’re talking about social media. But social media is just one method of social communication among many. As we found when researching The Social Employee, the organizations that are really thriving put humans first, before technology.

There is a famous phrase that supposedly once hung in the Ford Motor Company boardroom: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Businesses that don’t take this idea seriously don’t just risk losing some of their employees; they risk losing their best employees.

So why has culture become increasingly important in the age of social business? First, generational differences are rapidly coming into play. Between the baby boomers nearing retirement, the gen-xers reaching middle age, and the incoming millennial generation, organizations have different learning styles to account for. It’s imperative they build buy-in and trust among each group.

A foundation of trust is essential, because even the nature of change is changing. Employees are being asked to re-conceptualize almost every aspect of job performance – including where they work, how they collaborate, and how they represent their brand. And while all workers understand to some extent what’s going on, they’re skeptical about adopting social tools and processes just for the sake of doing something new. All employees, but especially the incoming millennials, want to know why something is useful. Without this buy-in, adoption becomes costly and time-consuming.

Many organizations struggling with their culture are still taking a top-down, command-and-control approach to culture and management in general. They’re not asking employees to join the conversation, yet they’re expecting these employees to radically change the way they do things. It’s not hard to see why this isn’t working out so well.

LinkedIn: In creating the social employee, which departments need to be involved?

Cheryl: The CMO Council recently shared some interesting study results. Ninety percent of HR and marketing leaders surveyed believe that brand persona is essential for hiring and customer retention. But here’s where things get tricky: Only 37 percent of respondents say they have a well-defined corporate culture, and only 62 percent say they have a formalized brand platform. In other words, the desire to establish thriving internal cultures and train engaged brand ambassadors is there, but something is clearly lacking in the execution.

As we found time and again in The Social Employee, organizational culture can change rapidly by simply inviting your employees into the conversation and giving them a stake in business outcomes. An organization founded on trust values employee feedback and commits to identifying the evangelists and early adopters within their ranks. These individuals are incredibly valuable, as they not only help shape policy around new social tools, but use their own cultural capital to build buy-in among their coworkers.

So it’s not so much a matter of which departments to get involved, but rather which employees to get involved across departments. In the age of social business, marketing is everyone’s job. Whether they’re communicating internally or externally, members of the modern workforce must maintain both their personal brands and their parent brands. Further, the social organization is nimble in reducing or eliminating silos between departments, in order to respond quickly to the always-evolving needs of the digital bazaar.

This doesn’t happen overnight, but it begins by identifying stakeholders and inviting them to help build a social pilot program.

Once your organization is ready to expand its brand platform, it’s important to remember that social engagement is not a one-size-fits-all affair. The rules of engagement are different for different touch points, whether internal or external. HR and marketing leaders must not only help identify the most essential touch points, but also the employees best-suited for them.

LinkedIn: In your eyes, what are the key differentiators that separate companies winning with employee activation from those still trying to get over the proverbial hump?

Cheryl: There is plenty of evidence that shows employees would rather work for less money at a company with a thriving culture and progressive business model than for more money at a company still stuck in command-and-control mode. Platforms like Glassdoor allow employees to share their experiences anonymously. So if your organization still hasn’t begun to embrace social strategies, people will find out pretty quickly.

So in other words, you have to put your money where your mouth is. Don’t wait until you have the perfect plan; just get started. If it’s clear that your employee activation efforts are authentic and in good faith, your employees will be happy to weather a few bumps along the way as you find the social path together.

After you’ve taken these first few steps, you can start worrying about which tools to use. And there are certainly a lot of tools to choose from. At Blue Focus Marketing, we’re big fans of social sharing and its power to create communities of shared interest. So when we saw some of the statistics in LinkedIn’s announcement of Elevate, an exciting new social sharing platform, we certainly felt a little validated in our advocacy:

  • On average, a LinkedIn member who shares six pieces of content gets six profile views and makes two new connections
  • As a result of an employee’s shared content, a company receives six job views, three company views, and one company page follower

This is pretty clear evidence of the win/win social sharing creates for both employee and brand, but even more remarkable is the power of the personal brand. According to LinkedIn’s research, while only 2 percent of employees share company content on LinkedIn, it produces about 20 percent of the overall engagement that content receives. To top it off, the average employee has 10 times more connections than their company has followers.

This shows that employees represent a huge, largely untapped well for an organization’s branding efforts. But if they want employees to share effectively, they need a platform that streamlines the process. That’s why we’re also excited about CultureSphere, a revolutionary social sharing app set to launch July 23.

Like the best social sharing apps, CultureSphere’s simple premise and intuitive interface have the potential to revolutionize social sharing in the workplace by focusing on the production and viral circulation of employee-inspired media. Through this production and sharing process, the most engaging content is proprietarily highlighted, primed, and ready to be shared externally through social channels like LinkedIn.

So with platforms like Elevate and CultureSphere leading the way, it’s never been easier for companies to ramp up their social sharing and employee advocacy efforts to bring the @SocialEmployee Revolution to their doorstep.

Empower your employees to share great content with their networks, and become a socially engaged company. Learn more about LinkedIn Elevate today.

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