Can you get your staff to say nice things about you?

Photo: Matus Laslofi on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0))

Photo: Matus Laslofi on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As it is getting more and more difficult to leverage social media for free, many non-profit organizations are turning towards their own employees to spread their message on Facebook and Twitter.

There are many good reasons to do this, the main one being that the Facebook algorithm tends to prioritise posts by people over posts by pages. Here is what that means: Assume that your staff member Bob is Facebook friends with Mary, who has liked your NGO’s official Facebook page. If you post something on your Facebook page and Bob posts something on his personal profile, then Mary is far more likely to see Bob’s post than yours. Besides, Bob is probably friends with many people who are not your Facebook fans, so leveraging his social network makes a lot of sense from a marketing point of view.

In addition, an Edelman study in the commercial sector has shown consistently over the last couple of years that employees of a company rank among the most trusted sources of information – in many cases higher than official spokespeople, senior managers or CEOs.

This process of getting your staff to spread your organization’s message, or to say nice things about you on social media, is called employee advocacy. Here are some thoughts from a non-profit perspective:

  • Employee advocacy needs to be voluntary

The first and most important thing about employee advocacy is that you cannot force your staff to do it. A lot of people keep their social and their professional lives separate and they have every right to do so.

  • You need to empower and trust your staff

Secondly, you need to empower your staff to talk about their work on social media! There are still far too many organizations that tell their employees that only the media team is allowed to talk about the organization on social media. Of course, it is easier to tell new employees “don’t post on social media”, rather than to show them how to do it properly, but that just means that you are neglecting your responsibility to train them properly. I am amazed at how many organization still don’t have meaningful social media staff guidelines. If you are looking for a good place to get started, check out the IFRC’s social media staff guidelines that I wrote eight years ago.

Of course, I realize that an inappropriate post by the field staff of an international organization can have bigger consequences than that of an online shoe shop, but social media is part of the world we are living in and the best ways to mitigate this risk is through training. Besides, if you can’t trust your staff to post on Facebook without getting you kicked out of the country, then you have problems with your hiring practices and management that go far beyond social media.

  • Suggesting what to say

Obviously one of the easiest ways to get your employees to stay on message is by sending them the messages you want them to share. In my experience almost all organizations already do that to some degree, but the process tends to be a little arduous.

In most organizations you are bound to get an email from the media team a few days ahead of the “International Day of [Something]” asking you to post a message to you social media profiles on that day. Normally this means copying and pasting something from email to Facebook or Twitter, which is a pretty clumsy way of doing things. It also means that staff who are mainly checking their email on their phone are less likely to do so, because copying and pasting on mobile is just too annoying.

  • Is there an app for that?

Hootsuite has an interesting idea how to make the process of suggesting content to your employees more seamless. They have developed an app for that.

Amplify allows communications staff who use Hootsuite’s social media dashboard to make selected social media updates available through the Amplify app. Employees can then share these messages directly to their own social media profiles from the app. Here is a video that explains the process:

I’m a little sceptical of this app, but think it could be interesting to try. Making it easier for people to share something is always a good thing. But would your staff actually bother checking Amplify regularly? Wouldn’t it make more sense to make your organization’s Facebook and Twitter profiles more interesting so that staff actively check those for interesting content? Maybe that is too much to ask. On the plus side, you can use Amplify to send push notifications to all users and tell them about particularly important content that you want to be shared widely. That is a really cool feature but could also be pretty annoying if used too often.

In the context of humanitarian organizations I can see Amplify being most useful in the following cases:

  • Humanitarian organizations who provide their staff with smartphones could include Amplify as one of the pre-installed apps, making it slightly more likely that people will use it.
  • I think it could be particularly useful for senior management or social media power users who often see it as part of their professional or personal identity to talk about the organization. Senior management in particular will often not copy and paste your messages from email to social, so giving them a one-click option to share message might be very useful. On the other hand, as discussed above, average employees are often considered more trustworthy than senior management.

What are your experiences with employee advocacy in humanitarian organizations or NGOs? Can you share something that worked or didn’t work? Do you have thoughts on this approach? Please share your thoughts in the comments!