Social networks are really not much more than networks of people. Maybe some brands or celebrities have hundreds of thousands or millions of followers and yes, that’s an audience, but the rest (especially in the business world) have a few hundred connections, between acquaintances, comrades and a few several others.

People don’t follow someone in order to enter a sweepstakes or earn a Facebook badge, but to advance their professional career. And to that end they follow and connect with people who contribute something. They don’t follow marketing departments that advertise.

What happened is that marketing departments were eager for a scalable, personal, and cheap communication channel and thus adopted the new technology quickly, but they used it in the old fashioned way – as merely one more channel in which to advertise.

And this doesn’t work, or at least, it doesn’t work the same as if we treated it like people’s personal profiles.

  • Basically, corporate social media accounts or profiles have fewer followers (in relation to the accounts of their own employees, for example). What they share has less credibility. It is “discounted” as advertising content because it is corporate.
  • The impact, the interaction you have with a customer, is exponentially lower in a company account, than the one that each of the experts in your subject can have with their connections.

 

Some common errors that can be easily avoided:

  • That the corporate account is the only one that shares the “official version” of the company. I do not mean to imply that there may not exist a community manager or a shared corporate account branded as the company, but limiting the presence to that account is just that, limiting. If it is not allowed or not encouraged that employees share content, they are wasting opportunities. That strategy is not at all optimal.
  • That the person who looks after “the social” is someone junior, or worse, outsourced. I have seen ads that literally were looking for an intern to function as the community manager of the company. They are putting in front of clients someone who doesn’t truly know the heart and mind of the company, nor does he/she have the experience in communicating with clients. To top it off, their motivation is not exactly tied into great pay towards doing the best possible job. They’re interns. And all this with access to say things seen by not just one customer, but all of them. Just wow.
  • On the opposite end of this same spectrum, another common error is the team of prepared pros. You have teams of professionals, prepared experts in their field, who are highly motivated to expand their professional network but you demand they sign a social media policy (“corporate policy”) so “legalistic” in its hopes to cover every detail and possible issue that you simply kill their motivation or ability to be creative.

 

It is true that every company with its customer environment is a world unto itself, but there is a pattern of fear and uncertainty, the FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubts), that produces paralysis and kills employee participation in social networks.

It comes from an error of concept: the “what happens if there is someone who does not like what I say or what if an employee shares something that is not perfectly appropriate 100% of the time for 100% of the situations of all customers”? Death by fear of not pleasing everyone.

It is indeed almost impossible to please everyone at all times, but IT’S OKAY. That someone says something that makes the competition look better or has a point of view that does not rub one person the right way or isn’t the perfect “tone” are subjects that by and large will go unnoticed. You probably have someone with enough professionalism and common sense in your group of employees to adequately communicate with your social network without having to brace yourself for inevitable doom.

What you share on Facebook or WhatsApp with your friends is different than what you might share when you’re on a professional network like LinkedIn for the purposes of improving your professional image.

By and large, the conversations on social media fly under the criteria of acceptable, and if they rarely prove otherwise, it shows at the very least they are humans with faults just like the rest of us. The mistake is rectified and life moves on.

After all, they’re paid precisely to be in front of the client and if you do not see them as capable, give them training but do not duct tape their mouths – that is counterproductive for the company.

I insist on this point because there is a tendency (a very natural one, really) to try to have everything under absolute control, and that leads us to distrust the capacity of employees. It is this mentality that kills one of the key elements of the entire opportunity generation capacity available in social networks which are employees and their own advocacy of a brand, product, or company.

Employee advocacy and the effect power of networks

250% engagement for targeted accounts” reported by Savi using an employee advocacy platform (Savi provides sensor technology and analytics solutions to the Department of Defense and to global enterprises)

It’s important to remember that “viralness”, even though it sounds like nothing more than what happens to an interesting YouTube video, is an economic principle. It is the network effect and it can be systematized.

Getting hundreds of millions of visits to a video requires art and luck (besides being highly unlikely), but exponentially multiplying the exposure of our content precisely towards our target customer is perfectly within reach for any company. It can be done without any new resources, simply with the existing network of employees.

Each employee with some exposure to clients can have a LinkedIn and Twitter account of an average environment of 500-1000 contacts. Salespeople typically have more contacts, some perhaps thousands, but we don’t wish to keep these purely to salespeople who generally have more contacts because the networks of technical personnel are, in terms of prescription power, highly invaluable.

In my own experience while working at Cisco, I had technical colleagues who were in charge of the technical aspect of the sales proposal to clients. Among themselves and above all between them and the clients, there was a camaraderie that I always admired. They circulated information and they supported each other with questions as well as shared their experiences.

It was probably one of the strengths not only of Cisco’s technical support, but at the sales level also, perhaps precisely because it was more about educating and consulting by sharing information rather than doing the typical aggressive sales mantra of “always be closing”.

Obviously marketing was already done to create content where we were well positioned, but the point is not only to share our content and do what obviously moves our needle, but to be a source of information and a node where customers can go to inquire about something and move their needle. That fosters an open channel that eventually positions you as a reference point for good information and, boys and girls, that creates a trusting environment where sales happen.

That, in my opinion, is largely the key. Don’t “spoil” that trust contaminating it with advertising content overly packaged with all the perfectly polished corporate images, with a “safe to share” seal, and the whole jazz. Rather, maintain freshness and personalization of what each one considers relevant in each moment, even if that information should contain content or positive comments about your competition. Think long game – not just the opportunity directly in front of you. Think of what these clients will say about you and think about you when you’re not afraid to be confidently honest.

Now, I understand that certain sectors are regulated or that there are reasons for a more restrictive company policy and some effectiveness will be lost, but this essential strategy can still be used to some extent.

  • You can place content grids with the “green light” from marketing (or legal) to freely share.
  • You can even create accepted message templates for each segment, response streams, etc.
  • There may be some cases that require having a disclaimer, but despite that, two of the most regulated sectors in the USA (finance and health) are betting heavy and putting a lot of money and resources on social.

 

To illustrate with a very basic example how the network effect can multiply the scope of your content and therefore of your messages, think about 1 post shared in a corporate account with 5000 connections (a good amount for a corporate account) with a 1% clickthrough rate (which is above normal). You should receive with these numbers about 50 visits.

This can be multiplied by your number of employees and by 2, if in addition to sharing on LinkedIn they also share on Twitter. Thus the network / audience goes from 10 employees of 5,000 total, to 20,000 if we have 100 employees active at 200,000 total.

In addition, employees can share not only the corporate post but also a series of curated content that, without any additional effort, multiplies by 10 the content that could possibly bring visitors in. Not to mention, they’re three times more likely to click on content of another user (peers) than a corporate account. Thus, every 10 employees (20,000) you have to multiply by 10 and then by 3, so the reach is already close to half a million in this example.

The real network effect stems from “engagement”

A percentage of those who receive it will in turn share, give a like or will comment, and that appears in their personal activity, which social networks send to all members of their network. With average comments of 500 to 1000 in number, multiply that for all those who see it, which while it may only be a small portion, even if 5% come through those will be some very interesting numbers.

With a corporate account of 5000 followers, good content that generates some amount of “viralness”, and with 5% engagement, we will have exposure to about 250,000 users. While the accounts of 10 employees with the same ratio of 5% will reach several million .

It is interesting to note that especially in networks like LinkedIn there is what is known as social affinity. This means that the connected network of, for example, an engineer, is formed primarily by similar profiles of other engineers.

Social affinity creates great second round effects, and in turn one of the connections of the original poster then shares it, comments on it or gives it a like, and expands the effect in more rounds.

This is what we were referring to before with a directed effect of viralness. That is to say that viralness can have some degree of predictability within certain segments.

And how do I enable this mechanism in my company?

Employees are naturally creating a network, receiving invitations from professional contacts and clients on LinkedIn and in many cases on Twitter, Google+ or other networks.

It is necessary not only to encourage or incentivize in some form those employees who share and expand your company’s network, but to use that as an example of the kind of employee you value most, as the kind of effort that is considered the right thing to do. It is also vital to facilitate the sharing of content with the tools that enable social selling.

 

We’ll see all of this in more detail in Chapter 3, dedicated to Social Selling ( next).

NEXT: Inbound (II) : Social Selling