Dell, LinkedIn, Hitachi and Accretive Solutions reveal their employee brand advocacy programs

In a world where it’s no longer practical to ban employees from social media, more companies are trying instead to embrace that channel and turn employees into brand advocates.

At Hub Convene yesterday, employee advocacy platform Dynamic Signal hosted a panel discussion with four key executives from Dell, LinkedIn, Hitachi Data Systems and Accretive Solutions on how companies can leverage their employees to digitally build the brand through their own networks.

Hosted by Dynamic Signal CMO Ajay Ramachandran, the panel included Christopher Swann, head of internal communications at LinkedIn, Sharon Crost, social media manager at Hitachi Data Systems, Bryan Jones, VP North America marketing at Dell and Rich Moran, CEO of Accretive Solutions.

Jones provided some fascinating insights into the culture at Dell. He revealed how CEO Michael Dell was personally very active on social media, and strongly encouraged all his employees to do the same, going so far as to keep tabs on his 293 VPs and sending them personal notes if they aren’t as active. ” Michael will send an email to a VP saying, ‘Hey I haven’t seen you on [social] for a while, do you need any help?'” said Jones. “When you get that message, the you’ve really got to get on it.” He added that employees couldn’t receive a top rating on their reviews without being active on social.

Jones also talked about the formalized training Dell provided all its employees for using social media to represent the brand. To date, nearly 20,000 employees have been certified by Dell’s Social Media and Community University (SMAC-U) training program. This enables them not just to interact with customers within their area of expertise on social media, it also gives them the confidence to freely advocate the brand and its work to their networks.

“We just have five major guidelines all centered around one concept,” said Jones. “And that’s ‘Don’t do dumb things.”

Jones also stressed that employees have to want to advocate the brand, and not feel compelled share every piece of content in a forced manner. “I’m not interested in the artificial pushing of content or forming a connection,” said Jones. “Customers recognize when it’s not authentic, and that can be even more damaging to the brand.”

For Sharon Crost at Hitachi, making social media sound like volunteer work was one of the first mistakes she made at the company. “We tried implementing a ‘Social Media Club’ for employees, but we realized that if it didn’t sound like part of their job, people weren’t going to do it.” said Crost. Since then, she said the company had instituted social media programs training programs with guidance, mentorship and placing employees into different categories of social media advocates. For example, one employee could focus on community management, while another on customer service. 

Crost said it wasn’t money or external rewards that motivated employees to be social ambassadors for the brand, it was happiness and the sense that they were helping their own careers.

At LinkedIn, Chris Swann said authenticity and transparency were a big part of the social sharing culture, and the company didn’t place too many restrictions on its young employee workforce on how to operate, since social sharing is such an intrinsic part of the company. “For us, it’s never been ‘don’t do it’ but ‘here’s how to do it,'” said Swann.

As the CEO of financial services firm Accretive Solutions, Rich Moran said it was up to him personally establish the example for how employees should share on social media. As a LinkedIn Influencer, he’s the primary content creator at the company and it serves as a “barometer” of what the rest of the employees can do.

Much like Jones and Swann, he also agreed with leaving employees unrestricted and trusting their judgement. “I have this theory that the more you restrict employees on social, the more their phones are likely to end up in the company toilet,” said Moran, referring to the employee practice of checking their phones in the bathroom instead of at their work stations.

Moran added that for him employee advocacy isn’t just a nice thing to have, it’s crucial for his company. “We don’t have a formalized direct sales team,” said Moran. “That’s why I need everyone in the company to sell.”

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