Social media and employee communications. What’s missing?

About the author

Olha Boiko prepared this article as part of a CIPR Professional PR Diploma assignment while studying with PR Academy.

Photo by geralt on Pixabay
Photo by geralt on Pixabay
Olha Boiko
Olha Boiko

At a time when the audience’s attention has become a commodity, brands are urged to reinvent their communication with social media strategies in the vanguard.

Forced to switch to remote mode in 2020, people barely remember how to hug. They use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to stay connected and communicate with each other digitally more than ever before. In fact, the number of social media users around the world has increased by more than 13% over the past 12 months. 

Considering the call for a personalized and human-to-human approach at a time when the physical distance has only grown, PR & Communications professionals turn to leveraging the power of employee-generated content in their communication efforts. 

The importance of shared content personalization is hidden in plain sight. Let’s say an employee has shared the company’s post on Facebook. We see it on our feed, but do we get involved emotionally as an audience? Hardly. And what if the same news update is accompanied by that employee’s personal statement, a photo or video, and also hints at them feeling proud of it? Obviously, it attracts attention and engagement numbers go up. 

Apart from keeping in contact with friends and family, people use Facebook to get entertainment, get the news, and follow companies. Indeed, positive and engaging employee activity on social media can help spread goodwill organically and make brands sound and look more native, compelling, and humane. 

Do brands focus on the right things when chasing the trust and authenticity that employee-generated content can provide? Remember, their “views are their own”, and employee guidelines should be adjusted accordingly. 

Developing social media guidelines with brand ambassador programs to support them requires a thoughtful approach. Not only does it affect internal brand perception, but it also shows if the company actually lives its core values, or just states them on paper. Understanding the real reasons people create and share corporate content on social media is crucial for company communicators. This knowledge can make you rethink content and communications strategies.  

Why do we actually like and share 

For every action, there is a reason. Today people present themselves in the digital space, modifying their personal brand and image while communicating with others about their stories, views and values. Initially, social media platforms were designed to provide social interaction. However, now they are also used for a wide range of goal-oriented purposes, e.g., career endorsements, improvement of position in social communities through participation, and gaining status or building an image within social circles. 

Thus, the content is king — not just for brands; and the content people create and share on social media relates directly to what they are communicating about offline. Studies of human conversation show that people devote up to 40% of everyday speech to talking about themselves. 

What’s more, surveys of Internet use indicate that this figure doubles for posts on social media networks — people more frequently share updates about their own immediate experiences. Another report claims that 68% of people share posts to give others a better understanding of what they care about and who they are as personalities. In other words, people love talking about themselves, both offline and online. 

Instead, PR people are hoping that people will passionately share corporate updates of the company they work for. But to be authentic, employees need to make a personal decision on things they want to share.

In reality, the majority of employees don’t engage on an organisation’s behalf in public space because this particular news is not strongly connected with them personally. 

As social media platforms become heavily integrated into our personal and professional lives, it is important also to consider how interpersonal communication theories can explain online interactions people are having and their motives for liking and sharing content. Goffman’s theory of strategic self-presentation gives a clue about people’s engagement on social media.

To gain social coins, people present themselves in a way they prefer that may differ from reality. It works on social media platforms, giving people a feeling that the audience meets their intended need.  

Also, Altman and Taylor’s Social Penetration Theory focuses on the element of self-disclosure. Within social media, self-presentation can be continually shared and linked with the personal stories and views of people from one’s network. Sharing the right, appealing type of content gives us social currency, thus improving our position in the social community. As humans, we like it: 62% of people say they feel better about themselves when their posts get positive reactions. 

We use relationships on the web to gratify desires and satisfy needs. If interaction with others on social media helps satisfy a social need, this will impact why and how a user depends on social media. 

The power of our connection to the social media world, and thus its potential benefits for brands, can’t be denied. Comms professionals put employee-generated content on their strategies map, working on informative social media guidelines and brand advocacy programs for employees. But do these guidelines and programs seriously consider the importance of one particular person’s social needs satisfaction, and the value of personalized content that actually impacts employees’ decisions on things people want to share?  

What is behind the guidelines 

Social media guidelines vary from company to company, depending on their needs. These guidelines may depend on the organisational culture, level of desired employee involvement, and stakeholders’ opinion and their attitude to social media platforms. Here, I’m not speaking of social media policies — as they are obligatory and mainly list rules designed to protect company reputation and outline the restrictions and consequences of violation. 

Leaving the “control” issue behind, guidelines are more informative and can be described as a set of instructive principles helping employees make better use of their social media and empowering them to be involved, share, and spread the word about a company in a digital space.

Today, people are the information channels as never before. Not only every company is a media, but every person can be a media — especially when using social media platforms on full.

Successful colleagues that are active on social media are the brightest brand ambassadors, not just those specifically hired for representing a company in a positive light.

And social media platforms appear to be a very appropriate place for this purpose, as messages are delivered immediately and for free. 

Of course, employers want their employees to be involved, especially those who could be role models for the rest and inspire them to take on new ways to promote their brand. It’s not that easy. LinkedIn research shows that only 3% of employees share content about their company. Meanwhile, this drives a 30% increase in the total engagement a company sees. Also, another report states that employee-shared content generates eight times more engagement. That’s a human-to-human approach in action: people are more likely to engage with content shared or created by someone they know. 

If managed wisely, with both social media guidelines and an employee advocacy program, involved employees can establish themselves as leaders within their industry and promote corporate brands, leveraging their professional expertise and success story. Given how much time people devote to talking about themselves, and how inspiring positive reactions on social media are, this makes sense. 

Also, the audience believes experts more readily — Edelman’s trust barometer research found that company experts are trusted 66% of the time. But without giving these employees a personalized benefit and impactful tool to build their image, it will be hard to get them involved. As noted above, people become engaged when the content is strongly connected to them personally.  

Employees hardly tend to share every employer’s update until it is about them. According to Dr Kevin Ruck, Co-founder at PR Academy, “just as pursuing happiness is not likely to lead to happiness, pursuing advocacy is not likely to lead to authentic advocacy”. On the contrary, when the content is directly relevant to an employees’ background or expertise, the chances to have organic social media shares are much higher. Thereby, if the company wants its employees to generate content and spread goodwill actively, it should take care of the personalized values for them. 

Obviously, a personalized approach is just the first stage. People identify the value their employer provides them when it has a real impact on their career, position in social circles, and thus, status. But how do they show it on social media? Imagine a company’s communications unit has helped an employee to showcase his professional expertise within an earned publication in a reputable media outlet. The team has handled media relations and provided great design visuals to illustrate a particular case and area of expertise. The publication gets tons of views in media, and it’s the right time to share it on social media platforms. 

Many employees still lack guidance when it comes to communicating their personal image on Facebook or LinkedIn. An increased number of people on social media doesn’t mean they know all the hacks of its use for their benefit. Thus, employer guidelines could be a handbook of best practices for those on the team who want to effectively socialize externally. 

Such guidelines should outline behaviour and tactics on social media in a positive way for the company’s brand and employee’s personal brand. It may cover personal PR tactics, helpful tools, and links to knowledge bases. Within the example above, it could help choose the right time slot, add appropriate hashtags, and articulate a post in a way that appeals to the audience, in order not to sell but engage and educate. 

Maximizing the mutual benefits 

Getting the most out of employee and employer collaboration lies at the intersection of smart internal communications, and a personalized approach to staff ambassador programs and social media guidelines. Sustainable corporate culture, together with the company’s core values’ implementation, is the foundation for success here.

Authentic and native advocacy doesn’t happen in an instant, but an organisations’ sincere efforts to provide benefit for their employees’ personal improvement will consistently lead to an organic social media content boost.

Pushing employee-generated content and shares just for a company’s own gain won’t work. Instead, building real and mutually beneficial relations with employees can help drive natural involvement that is trusted by the audience. 

Start with these basics, support your people in their personal and professional development, and treat them well. Let them see how corporate content development and close interaction with a company’s brand pushes their own image forward. Then, endorse those willing to take part in promoting the corporate brand and ensure they have all the tools, mechanisms and guidelines needed. 

Last but not least is the rewarding part of staff brand ambassador program. It all starts with benefits that employees perceive as being for their personal development, but adding prizes, gifts, and perks that praise involvement is important, too. A combination of these approaches creates an environment that helps foster engaged people to feel like a part of the company. 

All in all, organic and native employee-generated content only comes within those organisations that are able and capable of viewing their team members as people first and investing in them as professionals. From the employees’ side, content that leads to positive reactions in social media, plus clear guidelines on how it works for them, is a combination that motivates their activity on social media. 

Social media platforms reflect the offline world where humans interact and achieve self-development. In the new reality we all face, it actually is the ‘real’ world. People communicate about things that matter the most and evoke emotions. Pride, gratitude, and feelings of satisfaction are incorporated into the content that we share and create on our personal pages. And giving employees a tool to succeed and achieve positive reactions with the help of this content, puts employers in a superposition.


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