You’re heading to Barcelona for a long weekend. Will you buy a guide book for suggestions about where to eat? Or will you ask a friend who’s recently been there for a list of her favourite spots?
I try to convince myself I’ve gone back in time when I travel abroad. I cling to the authority of my guidebook, refusing to go online to validate or choose between options. I rely on a paper map and talk to strangers about the best things to do in their city. In reality, these old-fashioned pretences rarely work in my favour. My guidebook frequently guides me to tourist traps. I am lost most of the time, folding my map along different creases so it becomes totally uncooperative. And, although locals will occasionally lead me to a rare nook unknown, we all suffer the same affliction: of being a stranger to our own city.
It’s fortunate for me, then, that I rarely travel alone. My cannier companions arrive armed with friends’ recommendations that have been thoroughly cross-referenced, apps and downloaded maps. There may be fewer spontaneous surprises, but there are fewer bad decisions and dead ends, too.
Behavioural science explains most of us feel safer knowing that a friend has done something and enjoyed it, than we do trusting a stranger to interpret what we might like. Far less risk of a dodgy salad.
In the same way, we are more likely to read content shared by someone we know than we are updates from corporate brands. Social media posts, for example, shared by employees achieve 5x the reach and 8x the engagement compared to content posted by the employer. The potential to improve the success of your company’s content by tapping into these employee networks is huge.
But, where it may be easy to find out which friends have been to Barcelona, it’s far harder to:
- Identify which of your colleagues people are most likely to listen to; and then
- Encourage them to market, sell and advocate on your behalf.
Unexpected individuals often have greater reach than those in positions of authority. For example, in a study of supermarket employees in the US, researchers found the butcher had a greater influence over people’s pensions decisions than more traditional figures like the CEO or HR Director. So, the first step is to identify your stars.
Analyse your social media statistics to see who’s already sharing content successfully. Check your Intranet or other internal messaging platform to find who’s regularly engaged in and influencing the conversation. Have a look at their LinkedIn profiles to learn more about their networks. You may even consider putting a challenge out over email, asking for reactions to a piece of content, to gauge who’s willing to make the time.
Once you know who you’d like to involve, work hard to educate and engage them:
- Be empathetic. Don’t take for granted that your colleagues understand how comms enhances their work. If it’s never been brought to life in front of their eyes, it will remain mysterious. Describe and sell what you do and why it’s important, but listen to their questions and concerns, too. Even where there’s considerable willingness to engage, helping people become comfortable with comms requires step by step support.
- Make it easy: Don’t ask them to do too much, too thinly, too fast. Focus on fairly unobtrusive activities first, like asking them to re-Tweet what they like from your feed, or write a blog on an issue that’s important to them, so you gradually build their trust in what you do while laying the ground-work for more ambitious projects in future.
- Connect visually. Images evoke strong emotional and mental associations, with pictures on Instagram or Twitter often carrying the main message of a campaign. Lean on this trend towards the so-called visual economy, using powerful visual communication to engage colleagues in your efforts.
- Offer praise. To sustain and multiply interest over time, it’s important to measure the impact of employee advocacy and share public examples of team members doing it well.
As an organisation’s biggest potential advocates, your colleagues can help you do your job better, as long as the material they connect with is accessible, authentic and engaging.
Photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash