Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 | 9 min read
“What if I say something wrong?”
Back in 2014, this was probably the #1 concern I heard from employees when starting to talk about employee advocacy. No matter how prepared I was to deliver my initial 30-minute presentation, I was always met with the dreaded “What if?” questions.
“What if I hurt my reputation?”
“What if my employees mess up?”
“What if we just don’t have time?”
After holding many of these sessions and seeing little to no results, I realized we had to shift our approach.
As the Social Enablement Strategist at Rackspace, I knew how beneficial employee advocacy could be for our company. (Ciceron reported that 47% of consumers say employees are the most-trusted source for company information.) But I still didn’t have employees convinced.
I recognized the need to show employees that advocacy isn’t just about posting social media updates. It’s about integrating social media into their day-to-day workflow.
Most importantly, it’s about making social outreach a natural, go-to solution for engaging customers and reaching business objectives.
With the right risk mitigation strategies and time management tools, advocacy wouldn’t be seen as just another task to tack onto employees’ busy work schedules; it would be a way to grow their careers and even bolster their reputations.
After a year-and-a-half of research, planning, and optimizing, our Social Enablement Program now consists of three training classes and a core group of 45 brand ambassadors. Our curriculum is also supplemented by e-learning documents, videos, and one-on-one meetings with team leaders.
As a result of these efforts, Rackspace has already doubled its organic outreach on LinkedIn, with over 73% of trained employees having updated and optimized their profiles.
Here’s how I did it.
Starting with compliance was crucial. It’s an aspect of the business that all employees need to understand, which is why it needs to be the base of any strong advocacy program.
Compliance not only establishes the guidelines for the initiative, but it helps mitigate fears that both employees and managers might have about advocacy (i.e. that someone will say the wrong thing on social media and it will turn into a PR nightmare).
Our compliance strategy included elements of our social policy as well as documents outlining Rackspace’s core values. I also provided concrete examples of how these policies and values can be applied on social media.
This helped ensure that employees didn’t feel the guidelines were too abstract and that they had a firm understanding of how to use them in real-life scenarios.
We already knew Rackers were doing amazing work on social media. Since they’d had experience being advocates, it was important for me to meet with them and pick their brains.
Before the training process was even laid out, I invited about 15 of them to lunch. We thanked them for their work in building engaged communities and developing strong followings. In turn, they provided invaluable feedback about their challenges, the resources they needed, and the goals they’d set for themselves. In these initial conversations, I noticed some common themes start to emerge.
For one, many ambassadors needed support from management, so we knew we had to make that a priority when building the program. Our ambassadors create content, engage in meaningful conversations, and help build awareness for the incredible culture and innovation happening here at Rackspace. It’s important that leadership recognize these contributions and how they improve our business.
Our program is now officially called Rackspace Social Ambassadors, and it’s grown to 45 members. These ambassadors are passionate and dedicated Rackers who have a strong presence in our social community. To make sure they’re getting the most out of their advocacy, I work closely with them by providing one-on-one coaching, goal setting, and content strategy.
Social Ambassadors such as Alan Bush (@alanbush) and Drew Cox (@DrewCoxSA), who co-host our weekly Cloud Office Hours Live, Todd Klindt (@ToddKlindt), Distinguished Architect, and Mike Bainbridge (@Hosting_Mike), our Chief Digital Technologist, are great examples of the power of employee advocacy.
Our brand ambassadors were a tremendous help in building awareness for our training program, especially since they worked in many different departments. From there, we found a few executives who were excited about exploring social, and we brought them on board.
Finally, we built out our training program, which consists of three main classes:
In this foundational course, employees learned about how social media can impact the business. We chose to start here because we needed employees to understand our social strategy and how it applies to their role. Our goal was to inspire them to prioritize advocacy within their day-to-day routine.
Otherwise, it would’ve felt like we were just asking them to tack something onto their schedules.
Once advocates understood the rules of engagement from the first course, we were ready to activate them on LinkedIn. We knew this would be our second class because many employees requested help improving their LinkedIn profiles.
We found that by starting with Social Advocacy gave employees the context and motivation they needed to follow through on updating their LinkedIn profiles. By making these incentives clear, we were able to produce almost identical finish rates for both the first and second classes.
It was important for us to keep in mind that advocacy isn’t just about getting employees to share content. While shares are crucial to content distribution, employees can use social media to better understand and connect with their clients.
That’s why, for this final course, we talk employees through our three core strategies:
From there, we helped employees figure out which strategies made the most sense for their role and how they can build a sustainable social strategy. For example, some employees want to blog but aren’t sure about the right platform or how to allot time for writing.
By listening, engaging in meaningful conversation, and learning from other industry leaders, employees can make the most of their time and effort when it comes to creating online content.
At Rackspace, we know you can’t understand the impact of a program without first deciding how you’re going to measure performance. With that in mind, we’ve been diligent about defining our metrics.
For the first year, we looked at how many employees were going through the training process. This helped us gauge the adoption rate and see if we needed to make it easier or more appealing or employees to join in.
As we move into the next phase of our program, we’ll look at new ways to measure overall success.
For instance, we are now measuring engagement 30 days after the class. Employees report whether they have updated their profiles, incorporated any new social skills, or driven business success due to social engagement. This is a great way for us to see what parts of the training had the most impact, and adjust the curriculum accordingly.
Let’s say an employee goes through our entire advocacy program. …What now? Do they just wait for further instructions? Do they sit back and relax and pat themselves on the back? Of course not. Employee advocacy is an ongoing process.
The end goal is for social to be such a big part of employees’ days that it’s embedded in the way they do business.
For instance, when an employee sees the same business challenge from multiple customers, the employee thinks, “Could I do a blog post about this?” Or if a customer isn’t responsive via email, they might check in via social media and comment on one of their threads.
Simply put, at Rackspace, high-level success = pure integration. Social media won’t solve every problem, but it’s crucial for employees see it as a completely natural option when they try to crack challenges and meet their objectives.