How Heather Dopson Puts People First in Employee Advocacy
When Heather Dopson speaks at conferences about the power of Employee Advocacy, she often includes a slide in her presentation that has just two words:
It’s a reminder that companies should never treat employees like robots. They’re people, not a marketing channel, Dopson explains. Programs are doomed to fail when organizations expect employees to share dull, corporate-speak content on their social media networks.
Instead, she emphasizes the employee part of Employee Advocacy.
“It’s never going to be special unless we show our employees about how this is going to benefit them,” added Dopson, the Community Builder at GoDaddy. “It should increase their visibility and allow them to be seen as experts. That’s a piece that companies overlook. But when the focus is more on the employees, you’re going to see greater success for the company.”
Dopson has spent the past seven years building out advocacy programs at several companies. She also has watched, as more organizations try to tap into the potential of employees as brand advocates, a similar mistake being repeated – over and over again. They fall into the trap of making it all about the company.
“You have to operate with the idea of people-first,” Dopson said. “No company exists without the hard work of the employees, so let’s shine a light on the knowledge that employees have and can share.”
She explored that idea in a recent Dynamic Signal webinar, “5 Secrets to Unlock Exceptional Employee Advocacy,” when she shared tips, tricks, and insights that can help you design a program that’s not only employee-centric but great for the brand, too.
“Listening to Heather is like a much-needed breath of fresh air,” said Katie Rubak, Product Marketing Manager at Dynamic Signal. “Any company that’s sole purpose is to squeeze as much social media reach as possible out of its employees is getting it wrong, and Heather will be the first to call them out.”
Dopson speaks in blunt, tell-it-like-it-is terms about social networks, human behavior, and best ways for companies to build brand equity. Her LinkedIn profile has a good synopsis on how she views her role:
Saving the world from self-proclaimed social media gurus, experts, and any other catchy name they try to sell you.
Most of all, she’s a firm believer that when companies pay attention to the welfare of their employees, it benefits them even more. That’s because people will run through walls and shout from the mountaintops for employers who they believe are invested in their success.
“My mantra is I help people lose their J-O-B and find their J-O-Y,” she added. “I care that people are in a place where they’re feeling good about their work. People have a choice every single day of their life to not live miserably.”
It’s a philosophy that Dopson applies to her own life. The phrase “Live Immediately” is tattooed to her forearm – a nod to Roman philosopher Seneca’s words of wisdom that we should all make the best use of our time to make life meaningful.
She grew up on ranches in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Dopson was attending Texas Tech on an ROTC scholarship when she enlisted in the Air Force, “which made my parents very unhappy.” Her service included a deployment to the Middle East during the First Gulf War.
Later, she was a police officer in Tucson, Ariz. before eventually becoming a real estate agent. She hated that job – “I felt like a taxi driver” – but it led to her true calling when she taught herself technologies designed to help Realtors build their digital presence.
“I showed people how to brand themselves on the Internet to be a trusted resource because putting your face on the shopping cart at a grocery store is not going to work anymore,” Dopson said. “For a time, I worked for an international real estate company, and we had a Myspace page. So, when I say I’m social media OG, I mean it.”
Three years ago, she joined GoDaddy to work with external influencers and focus on brand evangelism. She recently took over ownership of “The Drop” – the Employee Advocacy platform, which is powered by Dynamic Signal.
Her goal? Give employees content that they want to see, will make them more knowledgeable about their jobs and the company, and they might share with their networks.
When they do, GoDaddy will benefit, too.
“I often tell people that it’s more about the psychology and sociology than about the technology,” Dopson said. “Too often we have the tendency to think about the technology when we need to be thinking about the people aspect first. When you do that, you’re going to have a lot more opportunities for success.”
In other words, be human.
Position: Community Builder at GoDaddy, which empowers 18.5 million everyday entrepreneurs around the world with the help and tools they need to succeed online; and Digital Strategy Director at Heather Dopson and Associates
Home: Tempe, Ariz.
Education: Associate degrees from Clovis (N.M.) Community College and the Community College of the Air Force, bachelor’s degree in sociology from Eastern New Mexico University, Police Officer Certification from Southern Arizona Law Enforcement Training Center
Career: Air Force veteran who worked as a police officer before moving into the business world, including social media roles at Infusionsoft and Axway
Interests: Scuba diving, volunteers with The Fetch Foundation helping train rescue dogs to become working dogs, and is a firearms and survival mindset instructor, which includes teaching women the personal safety techniques of conscious observation and disaster planning
Favorite Books: A voracious reader, she’s a fan of “The Snowman” by Jo Nesbo. She often re-reads “Leadership Secrets of the Rogue Warrior” by Richard Marcinko. But her favorite is “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson, and a first-edition copy resides on her nightstand.
Favorite Movie: “Die Hard”
Favorite TV Shows: “Antiques Roadshow,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “The IT Crowd”
Fun Fact No. 1: Has a Belgian Malinois named Joker
Fun Fact No. 2: She’s a nationally certified taco judge. “For real, it’s a thing.”
Best Advice She Ever Received: From her first sergeant in the Air Force: “Self-control is strength. Getting to a point where your mood is not impacted by someone else’s actions is true mastery. Your emotions should never overpower your intelligence.”
Follow on Twitter: @heatherdopson
Five Questions with Heather
How does Employee Advocacy help a company?
“We all know that people are shopping online. They’re talking to their friends. They’re talking to other business owners. All of this is happening before they’re going to brands. So, having your employees out there sharing the story not only of the brand but the stories of themselves is really critical.”
Can it build trust in a brand?
“It develops a much deeper level of trust than what you see with a basic marketing message. When the people behind the brand are sharing messages and talking about why they love the company or why they love what they’re working on, that creates such a powerful message.”
How do you overcome leadership concerns about social media?
“Some companies have a history of telling people that they shouldn’t be posting on social about the brand. But we should want to highlight our employees because the people who are working at our company are geniuses. They’re the ones who are building the products or having interactions with customers. They’re the people who should be telling our story instead of being hidden away.”
What’s your main advice for starting a program?
“Always operate with the idea that it’s about your people. It’s critical that leadership truly understands that this is how Employee Advocacy moves a brand forward. Tactically, the best way to get participation is to create buy-in across the company. Don’t keep it behind a wall in marketing or communications. Start talking to people on other teams. Finally, you might have a great platform, but that’s not a program. You have a tool. Now you need to develop an entire program to drive a successful outcome.”
Big or small at your launch?
“I think you should start small. I don’t like to go wide on a rollout. People say, “I want to have 1,000 people enrolled by the end of the first quarter. I think that’s a mistake. A launch needs to be about identifying your digital natives and getting it right in small ways before expanding.”