Now is the time for all the predictions of what next year will bring. Marketers usually focus on the next big channel or media type: will it be the year of Instagram, podcasts or mobile (again)? The mega agency JWT has released a list of 100 trends to watch in 2015. The Content Marketing Institute has released 60 predictions for the coming year. Rather than a marketing tool or a platform, I believe that the focus of marketers in 2015 will be on an audience. It will be the year of the employee, with companies investing in communicating with their employees like never before.
Why the focus on employees now?
Growth, productivity and profitability have long been tied to employee engagement by Gallup and many others. But many businesses have come to realize that their employees are valuable and effective brand ambassadors, with access to an exceptionally wide and varied audience. They are under-leveraged assets in getting the brand message across, and when they do something to promote the company it’s powerful stuff.
This is not about asking employees to shill for the company on Facebook. Rather, it is about creating true employee engagement. It is about creating an environment where employees not only know the company’s mission and values, but also understand where they fit and how they can make an impact. It is about giving them the kind of information that they want to share with others, online and off.
Just think of all of the videos of Southwest flight attendants entertaining passengers. Many have been viewed millions of times online. Yes, they are amusing, or even laugh-out-loud funny, but more importantly, they demonstrate a distinct company personality, and that’s one of the primary reasons that Southwest is one of the world’s most admired companies. True, few businesses can use humor in the same way that Southwest employees do. But any company can provide their own employees with stories and the tools to share them with their social network.
That will exponentially increase the reach of their brand messages — which is especially important now that unpaid company posts on Facebook are seen by fewer than 10 percent of the company’s followers.
How will companies engage & amplify?
There are several steps to engaging employees:
1. Develop consistent and transparent communications.
The vehicle matters less than the frequency and transparency. Meet employees where they are. If they work in multiple locations but are all connected, email or web-based vehicles may be the best choice. If they aren’t connected, print may be most effective. The bottom line is that employees want to hear from their company. They want to feel they are part of something important.
The CEO needs to articulate where the company is going and how it is going to get there. Then, he or she needs to provide consistent updates along the way. While this is important, it is not enough.
Employees also need to understand how the company’s mission and values relate to them and how they can make an impact. The most effective way to accomplish that is by sharing stories of the company’s values in action by employees like them. Those stories provide context, leading to more than just a superficial knowledge of the values; they lead to a deeper understanding of them.
2. Create stories worth sharing.
Companies need to create stories that engage employees on an emotional level and are worthy of sharing. The general rule here is to talk less about the company and its activities and more about its people and their impact.
For example, if you send out the news that your company donated $10,000 to the local homeless shelter, some employees may be impressed by the gesture, but most won’t care enough to pass the word along. Tell the story of all of the additional families the shelter was able to house and feed this year thanks to company or employee donations, and that is something to take pride in and share with others.
This doesn’t just apply to charitable activities. The simple principle works equally well for stories about products and services.
3. Give them the tools to share.
Create a social media policy so employees will know what is expected and what is prohibited. Southwest has one on its blog that is a good starting point. Then, ask them to share selected stories. Make it easy for them.
When we ask Parthenon employees to share something from our blog, we send them an email with links so they can share with one click. The results can be impressive. According to GaggleAMP, just 60 employees sharing a social post can increase reach by 1000 percent. And this kind of amplification isn’t just on Facebook. B2B companies have seen their reach multiply many times via employee sharing on LinkedIn.
I am confident when we look back at 2015, we’ll see that marketers and businesses increased their efforts to engage employees with frequent and effective communications.
Those that do so successfully will see a tremendous ROI in their most valuable asset — their employees.