Employee advocacy is taking corporate communications by storm.
Encouraging employees to be your organization’s champions could be the perfect answer to journalists increasingly seeking real stories on social media.
Companies like Cisco and Danske Bank are already experimenting with employee social-media takeovers. Don’t sack your spokesperson, but it’s definitely time to give your employees the forum they deserve.
A source for journalists
A national survey of reporters at large and midsize U.S. newspapers revealed how reporters use social media to source stories. More than 20 percent of journalists say that Facebook is “important” or “very important” to their reporting. Fifty percent of journalists hold Twitter in the same regard. They use it to find information, locate sources and conduct background research.
Your organization could continue using its social media accounts to send out boring press releases, but the media doesn’t want that. Journalists want to hear from employees; they’re more authentic and powerful sources of information than a spokesperson or even the CEO.
Employees are trustworthy
According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, employees are considered more credible than a CEO or board of directors. They’re obviously trustworthy sources for topics such as how an organization treats its staff or customers, but also, surprisingly, for financial earning information, operational performance, business practices and crisis handling. Nothing is more effective than the voice of your employees.
Employees also have a loud collective voice. They typically have social media followings 10 times larger than employers. Research by LinkedIn reveals that every six pieces of content shared by a LinkedIn member influences six profile views, two new connections, three company page views, six company job views and one company page follower.
Be aware of the risks
The fact that employees have so much power also carries risks.
Some employee stories have created significant negative buzz for their organizations. Consider the Yelp employee who complained about her low paycheck on Medium, the Taco Bell worker who tweeted pictures of himself urinating on food and the cop who posted Vines while he stole cocaine from the evidence room. This is the kind of attention companies don’t want.
Some organizations, however, understand how to use their employees’ power to their advantage. Great Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), an organization that handles sensitive matters, has even taken initiative.
Dean Royles, ex-chief executive of NHS Employers, offered this pertinent statement: “We trust our employees with patients’ lives. Why wouldn’t we trust them with social media?”
The NHS encourages its employees (and even patients) to communicate on social media. It also provides a comprehensive guide and videos on how to do it .
Launch a social media takeover
Other companies take it one step further by letting their employees take over the corporate social media account.
For example, Cisco recently launched an employee takeover on Snapchat .
“We’ve had a 600 percent follower increase week-over-week since the launch. We’ve seen 70-80 percent rate of story completion (clicking through from start to finish on each story) and our reach continues to grow,” Carmen Shirkey Collins, Cisco’s social media manager, says in a blog post.
Danske Bank, Denmark’s largest bank, uses employee takeovers on Instagram so customers and prospective employees can learn more about the bank’s culture.
Don’t fire your spokesperson
With journalists on the lookout for real stories and organizations increasingly trusting employees to share their experiences, it’s only a matter of time until workers become their organizations’ primary spokespersons.
Does this mean you have to fire your official spokesperson or communications department? No, probably not.
In crises, you will still need a single point of contact with correct, up-to-date information. Employees do go off the rails sometimes.
External and internal communications strategies are aligning, and the company spokesperson is an in-house communication hero who educates employees on how to talk to the press, organizes an external communications strategy and develops social media newsrooms with shareable media. Often, your communication hero will share corporate stories and messages with employees before sharing them with the press.
It comes down to this: Journalists are looking for genuine stories, and they are increasingly seeking them from social media rather than from traditional communication channels. It will only benefit organizations to embrace this trend and encourage employee advocacy.
Frederik Vincx is an innovation advisor for communication teams. He founded Prezly in 2010. A version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Copyright © 2017 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.