Imagine employee advocacy as a shop window to your company culture. It makes what type of culture you have visible to everyone. For better or worse.
A positive culture will support employee advocacy because they both require things like openness, and diversity of opinions and voices.
The sum of these things gives colour to your organisation’s story.
In an open culture, voices will come through as more authentic than in content that’s published in a top-down, media-trained way. You may then find some content doesn’t come out how you’d say things, while others are a lot closer.
It takes courage to allow employees to be this authentic. You have to be able to let go. But in allowing these diverse voices to shine through, you’ll empower your employees and enhance the positive culture you already have.
If your culture is stricter, with more of a top-down approach, it’s a lot harder to do employee advocacy. That’s where change management comes in.
Change Management Comes First
Change management takes time. But it’s an important part of implementing an advocacy programme because leaders need to learn to let go for it to be effective.
Some leaders may not be comfortable letting employees’ authentic voices roam free.
But it’s really as simple as accepting that you have no choice. Even if a company blocks social media on work laptops or phones, employees still go on social media during the working day on their own devices.
Which means that outright banning social media at work isn’t effective.
You can put checklists together, but you’ll never cover all the scenarios.
You can’t stop people from going on social media and talking about things. So why not invest in a positive culture instead, and teach people what to do the right way?
Like Malin Liden from SAP said on this podcast episode, trying to prevent anything that isn’t exactly how you’d say it, and controlling everything, is like pushing a wave back with your hands. You can’t stop the water from going through your fingers no matter how hard you try.
What you can do is turn around and ride on the wave. Sometimes you may fall, but you’ll get up and learn something new as you do so. The more you surf, the better you’ll get.
Over time, your radar will become more sophisticated, and you’ll be better able to detect what to avoid, what’s safe, and what you can or can’t say.
Even if you have some damage here or there, there’ll be more positives than negatives if you support and invest in the right culture.
The Impact Of Culture On Employee Advocacy
If you don’t have a good company culture, now probably isn’t the right time to implement an advocacy programme. You need to sort out your culture first. Advocacy isn’t going to do it for you.
Even in companies with healthy cultures, employees can sometimes worry about what to post on social media, and the repercussions of what they say.
What if they say the wrong thing and it negatively affects the business? What if they get fired? They worry about all the things that could go wrong, so then they don’t post at all.
If you have a controlling culture, running any sort of advocacy programme will be difficult. It’ll put employees in a more uncomfortable position.
Negative company cultures can see advocacy as more of a way to spam audiences with the same piece of content. For instance, asking every employee to push the same corporate message that nobody wanted to read in the first place.
This doesn’t show a range of voices or allow employees to put their own thoughts and feelings front and centre.
You need to start with the groundwork. This is why we’ve seen a lag in employee advocacy recently.
But foundational things, like implementing the right company culture, take time. They’re not a quick fix.
For employee advocacy to work, you have to have a positive company culture – one which embraces openness and diversity – to begin with.
Without this openness and diversity, it’s going to be a lot harder for employees to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings on social media as any sort of advocate.
Getting employees to feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings on social media starts with change. It starts with bringing in new ways of operating which may go against the way things have always been done.
But to embrace employee advocacy, and reap all its benefits, company culture has to change first. It has to be the kind of place where employees really do feel comfortable sharing what they think, even if it goes against what leadership wants.
Bringing in that kind of culture is a big change for everyone. And it takes time.
But the first step towards it is for management to let go and accept that they’ve never been able to control what employees do on social media.
With a positive culture and an employee advocacy programme, businesses can ensure they’ve educated employees to treat social media in the right way, and taught them to talk about the business in a way that reflects its positive culture.