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STUDY: Employees May Be the Best Brand Advocates

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See, stock photos never lie

Who can best defend a brand’s reputation on social? According to a newly published Weber Shandwick study, the answer may come from within.

The study, conducted in collaboration with KRC Research (full PDF here), concerns trends in “employee activism”, or the ability of those within an organization to become its most prominent defenders.

An online survey of 2,300 employees in 15 different markets around the world found that:

  • 50% of respondents have shared something relating to their employers on social
  • 33% of the sample did so on their own without encouragement from their bosses

And yet:

  • Only 39% say they’ve shared “praise or positive comments”
  • 14% have shared something they now regret

The root of the problem lies in a lack of both job security and effective communications from the top down.

  • 84% of respondents have experienced a big workplace change recently, be it an executive shakeup (45%) or mass layoffs (22%)
  • Yet, while more than half have defended their own employer to a third party…
  • Only 17% give high ratings to communications received from leadership. Even managers only get a 31% approval rating

So most employees are ready to stand up for the companies that employ them, but they receive very little in the way of guidance and encouragement. That doesn’t mean pre-written tweets; it means feedback involving the value of the work they do.

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Of course we all know that savvy PR folk would never badmouth their own employers on social. Our clients, however, don’t have that certainty.

The problem, as we see it, is that outsiders won’t place as much trust in an employee praising the company where he or she works. Not only are negative stories juicier, they’re also more believable by default, because they go against the idea that companies urge all hires to behave like upbeat automatons, sharing only positive opinions.

Employee activism can go the other way, too. The most recent example concerns Mozilla and its new CEO’s own past anti-gay marriage activism. The story broke, at least in part, due to Mozilla employees’ tweets expressing their disapproval of their new boss.

No one wants a client to go through that.

Weber created an infographic classifying the existing and potential activists:

employees-rising-workforce-activism-spectrum

The challenge uncovered by this survey and the many types listed above is not a new one: it involves the responsibility of company leaders to make employees at every level feel like they’re not just key pushers and desk-fillers. It’s one of the most difficult aspects of running a business.

In order to breed more legitimate “employee activists”, a company must give them a reason to speak positively about the place they work–and not just in the anonymous comments on a Glassdoor page.

Leaders won’t accomplish that with generic company-wide memos; it will take more personalized interactions and reassurances–verbal and otherwise–that one’s place in an organization is both secure and valuable.

Good luck with that.

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