THE BLOG
10/01/2013 11:42 am ET | Updated Dec 01, 2013

To Engage or Not Engage Employees in Social Media -- That Is The Question

As so many corporations undergo the huge communications upheaval brought on by the digital and social media age, many are struggling with whether they should "allow" their employees to engage in social media. Those that are afraid of what their employees might say often develop strict policies which can lead to a firing for any infraction. All too often, though, this strategy can backfire on them. How often have you heard of an example where an employee posted something negative on Facebook or Twitter, got fired, posted that to the social universe, and started an unstoppable chain reaction? In the end, the company comes out looking back and is sometimes even forced to hire the employee back as a gesture of good will.

Some of this negativity can be traced back to job dissatisfaction or lack of motivation. But what if those employees could become part of the company's social media outreach process? What if they could be trained on social media engagement so they might even become brand ambassadors for the company? Imagine if an engaged employee spotted a negative comment from a customer in the social media world and took it upon himself to respond in a positive manner and advise the customer on how to resolve the problem -- that would be a win-win-win situation for the company, the employee and the customer.

While you certainly don't want employees revealing confidential secrets or bad-mouthing customers, there are those who argue that properly engaged employees can be a boon for brand marketing. Since so many prospects and customers now rely on social media to communicate, brand marketers may soon be forced to bring employees into the communications fold. The most far-thinking companies, though, are getting in the game now and are already reaping the rewards of engaged employees.

Companies thinking about taking this next step can learn from the experiences of these trendsetters by reading The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work by Cheryl Burgess and Mark Burgess, founders of Blue Focus Marketing. The authors state that brands cannot learn to communicate externally until they first learn to communicate internally; however, the benefits of socially involved employees include greater customer satisfaction, enhanced employee morale, and improved brand awareness. Their book includes success stories from companies such as IBM, AT&T, Dell, Cisco, Southwest Airlines, Adobe, Domo, and Acxiom. Each of these companies took a different approach to answering the social business question. Yet in all of them, there was absolute conviction that inspired employees must be at the center of any change they undertook, and that they had to be involved in that change process.

A social employee culture improves communication across an enterprise, helping to reduce silos, promote information and idea sharing, and unlock pockets of hidden expertise. Social employees can lend themselves to this process, engaging coworkers, prospects, and clients with authenticity and integrity. Chapters in the book cover the new normal, brands under pressure, and case studies, and also provide instruction on how to build communities of shared value. Must reading is the discussion of the six most irrational concerns of brands including fear itself, what if I do it wrong, over attention to metrics and ROI, inertia, lack of structure and ambiguity.

It definitely won't be easy to change so many firmly entrenched ideas, but the benefits will far outweigh the initial sense of unease. As many successful companies already know building a social employee culture isn't just a good idea, but a necessity in the 21st century.