The training session was held near the end of October last year. So, the social media team at SAS created a ghoulish theme for the class: “Escaping the (Corporate) Zombie Apocalypse.”
“One of our speakers opened with a great quote about how Halloween may only happen once a year, but corporate zombies are around 365 days a year,” recalled Alli Soule, Social Media Employee Engagement & Education Specialist.
The course, part of the award-winning SAS program called “The 140,” was designed to help employees become more persuasive advocates for the company while also building their personal brands. How? Merely adding personalized messages to whatever they’re sharing on social media.
“One of the principle tenets to social media at SAS is we want all employees to have their own voice,” Soule added. “People are drawn to one another on social media because of individuality and personality.”
But resisting the temptation to just click ‘share,’ without editing social copy, is easier said than done. Employees are strapped for time. Many are still learning the nuances of social media use. When they simultaneously post identical copy, though, that misstep can become abundantly obvious in the news feeds of shared connections or by searching on a hashtag in the post.
That’s precisely the type of “zombie apocalypse” SAS works hard to help them avoid.
“It takes some time to feel comfortable with writing post text,” Soule added. “It requires you to show a little vulnerability. You’re putting your words, beliefs, and opinions out there for everyone to see. It’s not an easy thing. And there can be a learning curve.”
SAS, the world’s leader in business analytics software, is known for its workplace culture. The North Carolina-based company, which employs 14,000 people worldwide, has been included in Fortune’s Best Place to Work For ranking every year since the list’s inception in 1997. The Employee Advocacy program is an extension of that philosophy.
The research is clear about the impact employees can have on creating a positive image for a brand. The just-released 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found that “employees are ready and willing to trust their employers” – and are far more likely to engage in beneficial actions on their behalf. That includes becoming advocates for the organization. This is important because a 2017 global study conducted by FleishmanHillard found that consumers are three times more likely to trust a company employee rather than a CEO.
At SAS, the emphasis is on the people, not the brand. Employees must complete a one-hour course to receive their social media certification to get access to the company’s Employee Advocacy platform, which is powered by Dynamic Signal. Think of it as a driving lesson before getting the keys to the car.
But 600 employees also are members of “The 140.” The name for the innovative program was derived from the old Twitter character count and also represents 1 percent of the company’s employees. In addition to the certification, they have access to continuous training on everything from deconstructing their LinkedIn profiles to smartphone photography … not to mention skills to avoid being a social media zombie.
“One of our brand values is being authentic,” said Brandy Mann, Senior Social Media Web & Blog Specialist. “You should talk like you and not like a zombie. This program is not about showing you a button and asking you to push it. You don’t have to sound robotic like, ‘SAS is great and makes great products.’ You can be yourself.”
After all, people in your network care and trust what you have to say. They’re connected with you because they value your input. They want to know why you’re suggesting something to them – and will be more likely to share it themselves.
On the other hand, Soule added, think about what happens if you and dozens – or even hundreds – of your colleagues share a piece of content with the identical text that has been written by the SAS team.
It’s like a zombie army has been unleashed!
The course was taught by Allison Bogart from human resources communications and Anjelica Cummings from internal communications as part of a larger initiative around a recent rebrand at SAS. It also was a great example of how “The 140” provides practical advice and creative ideas that people can use every day. With that in mind, here are some tips from the SAS team to help employees personalize their posts and be more human on social media.
- “But I’m not a good writer.” Soule said employees sometimes tell them they struggle with how to word their posts. “My advice is to go into the article you’re sharing and find your favorite stat or quote that speaks to you and use that for share text,” she said. “There are ways to get around not feeling very confident in your writing skills.”
- Start slowly. It’s OK to lurk a little on social media and learn by watching, Mann and Soule said. Gradually join conversions with likes and comments. Then begin sharing. “People always jump to the sharing piece when they think about building their personal brand,” Soule said. “Just reading what’s on social media is important because then you’re aware of what’s being discussed. That builds relationships so that people are going to recognize you when you do start to share. It builds credibility. There’s a lot of value in listening before you speak.”
- Read the post! Never share something without having read it first. “Don’t just blindly share something because it has a cool title and you don’t even know what it was,” Mann explained. “It’s just common sense.”
- Resist the urge to share everything. Pick your spots when it comes to sharing company-related content. You don’t want your social media networks to view you only as a marketing channel for your company. “That can really turn people off,” Soule said. “Nobody likes it when their feed just becomes noise from people sharing generic, boring stuff. That’s when you get unfollowed, or people hide you. We reinforce to people that you don’t have to share all of the time and remember that it’s always about how you can give people value.”
- Think about your strategy. Employees can leverage their affiliation with the company to further their personal goals. Soule suggests that employees decide what they want to be known for – and then share company content focused on that particular topic. This way, your networks will come to view you as an authority in that area. When employees demonstrate their expertise, that reflects well on the company.
“I think it goes without saying that one class is not going to solve this issue,” Soule added. “But based on our feedback, a lot of light bulbs have gone off. If people can walk away from one of our training sessions with something concrete, that’s a win.”