Many managers would like their employees to be active in representing the company on social media, but employees are often less engaged than expected. How can organizations encourage employees to become brand ambassadors?
More than 2 billion people worldwide are users of social media, making it a logical platform for companies seeking to attract potential employees and engage consumers with their brands. In addition to sharing information on brand activities through official social media pages or accounts, organizations also are represented on social media through the private social media activity of employees. In their private lives, employees play multiple roles. They are free to share brand-related information, make comments endorsing the organization’s brand, and display behaviors that are consistent (or at odds) with the brand values and promise. For companies, the social media behavior of employees represents both an opportunity and a risk.
When employees talk privately about their brands or the industries in which their companies operate, their comments often have more credibility with their network of contacts than when they speak about them in professional contexts.1 Depending on the substance of their remarks, this can be a plus or a minus.2 Many companies, including Patagonia Inc., an outdoor clothing and gear company based in Ventura, California; Société Générale, the Paris-based banking and financial services company; and Pernod Ricard, a Paris-based producer of wine and spirits, encourage their employees to become “brand ambassadors” to consumers and job candidates on social networks such as LinkedIn and share the company culture on Facebook and Twitter. Businesses such as L’Oréal, the cosmetics company, have even implemented programs to accompany employees, including top management, on their digital journeys and help them communicate creatively and efficiently on social media.3
However, our research shows that for many companies, the opportunity to use employees as brand ambassadors has been only partially tapped. Although employers expect their employees — especially younger ones — to follow the employer’s brand on social media, share its brand links, recommend its products, and recommend the company to job candidates, we found that on the whole, employees displayed very low brand engagement on social media. (See “About the Research.”) At a European consumer goods company we studied, for example, less than half of the employees followed the employer’s brand on social media. Managers at several companies we studied were surprised to learn that their employees were not following them on Facebook or other popular social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.