As an increasingly enthusiastic student of social media, I've challenged my marketing team, and indeed our company, to go "all in" with social. This year we have been all over the major social media sites; we built an ever-expanding internal community of enthusiastic social brand ambassadors; we jumped on Google+ Hangouts On Air; we've set up a comprehensive training curriculum; we frequently engage in deep social buzz "forensics," and we track social buzz signals on an hourly basis.
Yet it occurred to me that all of this is just table stakes. It's not enough to just show up. To break through, you have to humanize the brand and let your employees be the genuine, unfiltered voice that customers truly appreciate.
What does this mean in practice? How does a company allow its employees to be an organic personification of the brand, as opposed to mouthpieces for tightly controlled corporate messaging? How can a large corporation relinquish the tight grip on the brand image that it wants to project in the marketplace, and be assured that employees will effectively carry that responsibility, and help the company achieve its strategic and financial objectives?
I think it all starts with a strategy, a vision and a company DNA that employees truly buy into. Companies are made up of real people with varying backgrounds, experiences and preferences. When people are emotionally invested and aligned with the vision and mission of the company, they can in turn fuel the most effective brand campaign money can't buy.
The power of social media is fully activated only when your employees are honest and passionate advocates of what the company stands for. Once employees truly believe that the company's path is tightly aligned with their own personal values and career aspirations, magic can happen.
Your customers do business with your employees, not with the company's buildings, assets or intellectual property. And as everyone knows, they like to do business with people they like. So, let your people be real. Let them express who they really are. Alleviate their fear of saying something stupid on Twitter, and put the spotlight on all the good they can do by simply allowing them to be transparent, open and human as they represent the company—whether on Twitter, LinkedIn or at their neighbor's cocktail party.
Give them license to be themselves and give them all the tools and support they need to make that happen. Give them valuable content that they can share as a fair-value exchange for their client's time. But also allow them to be honest, transparent and generous with their time and expertise in blogs, online communities, town halls, webinars or whatever other social sharing venue you can make available to them.
There is no marketing campaign in the world that will build highly personal, mutually beneficial relationships and true customer advocacy to match what your own employees can do just by being real.
If you are interested in hearing more about my thoughts and our company's efforts in this area, please visit our Real Voices page and let me know your thoughts in the comments field below.
Nick Panayi is director-global brand and digital marketing for CSC (www.csc.com), a multinational corporation that provides information technology and professional services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.