To engage your employees, lift the social media gag order

It’s time to stop policing and start empowering your team to be your organization’s best brand ambassadors.

We all see the news stories.

Yet another goofball employee tweets proprietary information or hate-speech rants on his Facebook page, and legal action ensues.

Often, the employee gets in trouble, the organization suffers bad PR, and perhaps, pays a fine. We share the article’s URL with our internal teams, like well-intentioned fear-mongers.

“See?” we say. “This is what happens when you don’t have a social media policy in place. This is what happens when you don’t restrict staff access to social media and let them express themselves online.”

And yet, here are things we know about social media sharing and brand advocacy:

  • You’re 80 percent more likely to believe a recommendation from someone in your personal network (friends, family) as opposed to brand messaging.
  • Most organizations aren’t equipped to produce the amount of high-quality content required of social Web consumers. Thoughtful curation is one of the most sustainable and effective ways to be seen and heard in today’s crowded digital marketplace.
  • Despite your best attempts to “control” it, employees are talking about your brand online—the good, the bad and the selfies. Such behavior is increasing as new generations of digital natives enter the workforce with increased expectations of workplace satisfaction.

I frequently work with teams struggling through one of two internal phases:

1. Crafting policy. When you can get a free minute, you’re painstakingly drafting or revising corporate social media policy to include guidelines for internal/employee use. It often feels like you’re just one “bad employee tweet” away from a lawsuit, so you’re hustling and worried. You’re not sure the guidelines you’ve drafted are comprehensive, and stakeholder buy-in and legal review are making this a long and painful process.

2. Socializing. You spend your days teaching new employees about the dangers of posting selfies or pro-Trump Twitter updates on the clock, which could be construed as representative of your brand. You’ve done such a good job of scaring employees away from social media that you’d be hard pressed to find them posting anything at all. Your leadership considers this gag order a sign of social governance success.

I do empathize. My team monitors hundreds of mentions of our brand each month, and not all of them are positive.

Sometimes the commentary is hard to hear; sometimes it’s not even true. We have social media crisis response processes in place and close relationships with our HR, legal and media relations teams to manage internal issues that might crop up online.

We’re no strangers to employees’ acting badly online, and I’m no stranger to 5 p.m. calls with nurse managers, asking for counsel about a delicate staff issue that’s manifested itself on someone’s Facebook page.

Yet, I know we can do better.

Where are we going?

Just think of the insights you’re missing—ones that could make internal work processes and external customer experiences better. Think of the rich brand stories you’ll never know about because your front-line storytellers are too scared to share even the good stuff.

Just like (or perhaps more than) your customers, your employees’ social media engagement keeps you honest. Employees can echo and strengthen your company culture, or they can call BS.

Do your leaders live your brand values, or just stick them on billboards? Are your managers walking the walk, and don’t you want to know about it if they aren’t?

Your employees breathe life into your brand. The authenticity of their shared experiences will have more impact on your bottom line than any update you publish on a LinkedIn Company Page.

Empowering staffers to engage safely and effectively is not only the most sustainable business strategy, but it’s the right thing to do.

Get your policies in place. Share them across your organization. Lift the gag order.

Instead of spending your days sharing scary stories, develop the training and tools that employees need to promote your organization online.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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