BMW North America’s Social Business Strategy A Quick Win with Employee Advocacy 2 of 3

BMW North America’s Social Business Strategy: A Quick Win with Employee Advocacy


This is part two in our blog series focused on Employee Communications

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at Salesforce Connections, the digital marketing event of the year. I wanted to share some of the highlights of the panel and hope that these insights help others in their Employee Advocacy journey.

Keynote Panelist Speaker:
Andrew Cutler, Executive and Internal Communications Manager, BMW North America

The following are comments from the Salesforce Connections panel discussion.

How did the rise of social media transform BMW North America into a social business?

“Social business is about companies evolving operations to mirror the world around them and BMW is one of the early adopters of social business. Early on, BMW’s Corporate Communications realized that social media was creating a massive shift in the external world, and that internal operations needed to respond to that shift. We’re not talking about activating in the social space; we’re talking about how the company needed to align itself with the risks and rewards of the new realities,” began Andrew Cutler, Executive and Internal Communications Manager, BMW NA.

“After much research on everything from guidelines, to education, to platforms, to workflow, we looked at how we could drive social media engagement throughout the organization and that got us thinking about Employee Advocacy on social,” continued Mr. Cutler.

Why did BMW NA decide to involve employees to amplify its corporate and brand messaging?

“BMW is a very successful automobile company with brands and products that we know our customers are very passionate about (BMW, MINI, BMW MOTORRAD and Rolls Royce). We also know that our associates are equally passionate about what they do in support of these brands and products,” Mr. Cutler noted. “Employee Advocacy is about harnessing and empowering that passion and amplifying the employees’ desire to talk about the company. It allows BMW to ensure that a consistent story and a consistent message is emanating out across the organization. In the days of social media, we all know that we can’t control the conversation but we can influence it. For BMW NA, Employee Advocacy is how we better influence the conversation through our associates and their communities.”

“We know employees are already on social having conversations. They’re passionate employees and want access to the latest BMW Group information. They are already some of our best ambassadors, and we want to make sure that they feel part of the buzz and are in on the action,” he emphasized.

However, previously no one has ever trained employees how to manage advocacy; what the policies are; and how to work with the platforms that will make it simple and help them do it right. That’s what this program is about and how BMW NA has successfully addressed Employee Advocacy on social.

How has this changed how BMW NA communicated with employees?

[bctt tweet=”#EmployeeAdvocacy allows BMW to ensure a consistent story + consistent message is emanating across the company.”]

“You’ve got to communicate transparently with employees,’” Mr. Cutler pointed out. “It’s the responsibility of internal communications to share company news with employees and empower them to not only be more intelligent about our business, but advocate for it. It’s important that we should be pushing forward in that direction. It’s great to share a breaking news story with employees on this platform that they can then share immediately, way before the daily news summary gets to their desk.”

The BMW team sees a real opportunity to use this platform to become a part of how employees receive communications every day. And it works both ways; employees can even submit their own stories to be shared through the platform with others.

How did you start your Employee Advocacy program?

[bctt tweet=”#EmployeeAdvocacy has been a meaningful strategy from beginning to foundation to expansion.”]

BMW held a series of both focus groups and online surveys.  The program was based on findings that would meet employees’ needs.

BMW NA started with a hand selected group of 150 corporate workers called the BMW Group Insiders. BMW NA wanted to focus on the right people who were already engaged in the process and want to socially share. The vision is ultimately to invite as many people that want to be insiders and want to opt in to have firsthand access and exposure to information coming from the company.

“The program has received executive support from the top. In fact, our CEO kicked off the first training and it helped to underscore why this is program is so important,” continued Mr. Cutler.

What are the benefits so far?

[bctt tweet=”When employees share, the avg. share rate is 15X greater than BMW sharing through their corp channels”]

The speakers then explained that the bottom line is that employees feel in-the-know about the BMW Group and its brands; they feel involved and passionate and want to share. “This,” they noted, “is obviously good for the business too.”

When employees share, the average share rate is 15X greater than BMW sharing through corporate channels alone. That’s great organic earned media.

The other big plus is the potential to drive better internal collaboration. Employee Advocacy straddles departments, including internal communications, HR and marketing. To present a unified story in a program with shared cross department goals, it’s a great driver for collaboration. BMW NA has been very deliberate about the content that’s curated and selected through the platform. There’s also an important and direct correlation between employees sharing and the lift that the marketing team is seeing. The potential is not only to invite more people in but how the program can help employees support each other’s efforts.

How do you make sure employees don’t say anything wrong?

According to Mr. Cutler, BMW NA has been thoughtful about how to rollout their program with the following measures in place. The process is to provide guidelines and training for how to act responsibly.

Employees have the opportunity and the privilege to access social media on behalf of BMW NA but they also hold the responsibility to act within the rules of the road. There’s always been a clear distinction that there’s a difference between talking about a company and communicating on behalf of the company. Employees in the BMW Group Insiders program know that they aren’t approved spokespeople and understand that distinction.

Here’s a few example of what BMW NA did in developing the social business foundation that supports employee advocacy:

  • Developed a clear company-wide social media policy and guidelines
  • Developed a robust online training platform for employees, which is mandatory.
  • Established a policy requiring employees to apply for any digital media access through its systems.
  • Implemented an enterprise-wide social listening program to ensure that if a problem were to arise the company would be able to quickly take corrective action.


What’s next with BMW Insiders?

BMW plans to expand the program to a total of 250 users by the end of the year, and then evaluate the pilot to consider expanding further across the organization. We’d also like to consider expansion to include our plant workers as well.

As Mr. Cutler noted, “a platform like this is invaluable to remote workers. Many of the employees at plant facilities don’t have jobs that use computers. They rely on getting information through their mobile device or home computers. So that pipeline of information about what’s going on in the company is not the same as our associates who are connected in the office. With the next phase of the Employee Advocacy program, they’ll have access to information on their mobile devices that they can check at home or when they are on break.”

“We’re really excited about the possibilities around the next phases of the program,” he concluded.

Stay tuned for part three in our employee communications series and check out part 1 Rethinking Employee Communications: Your Unknown Silent Majority.

Post Author

David Honig

David is an online advertising / Technology veteran with more than 15 years in the digital space. Currently David is Vice President, Corporate Partnerships at Dynamic Signal and is responsible for providing overall leadership and strategic direction for Dynamic Signal's Corporate Partnership Sales unit.