— On Comms Design. From London

Can you make “social media professionals” of your staff?


Today LinkedIn has publicly announced a new curation and sharing tool called Elevate. Read the blog post about this here. This is an interesting development from the social network, which rests on some daring assumptions about why people use LinkedIn and how easy it is to turn your staff into your ambassadors but also meets the increased demand for branded content distribution (mostly after Facebook organic reach for branded pages fell off the cliff last year).

To start with, I think it’s interesting that LinkedIn is refraining from using the more widely spread term of “social brand ambassador” in favor of something a bit more neutral – “social professional”, a term which implies benefits for both the employer and the employee. The implication here is that employees will be trained to be more social media savvy, while the companies will have more “buzz agents” for lack of a better term. Having read and re-read the posting, I wonder if this use of a neutral term is actually an easy way to not get embroiled in the conversation about making employees your brand ambassadors online, a feat which only few companies have managed to pull to date.

But more specifically, there are some considerations to be discussed here on the viability of such a tool and the circumstances under which it can perform best. The initial behavior on which this is based is correct: in organizations everywhere, the simplest way of getting some form of dissemination happen is to send a company-wide email outlining the company’s latest achievement and to encourage staff to share that with their network. And in most cases, they do because in most cases people are happy where they are, they do not see being urged to share as infringing on their plans for their profiles and also feel that this may add to their performance reviews.

There are some assumptions being made here, though, and that is that ALL staff will always whole-heartedly share things the company publishes without expecting anything in return and that they will ONLY share stuff which the company has vetted.

Some of the situations not discussed in the release of this tool are, however, even more interesting. What happens if, when encouraged to share, certain employees also start sharing their own views of the company or advice/indications about company products which have not been vetted by company legal/compliance? The way this tool works implies that staffers will only share materials the company has made available in the content stream. But who is to say some will stop there? This is, BTW, one of the main reasons brand ambassadorship among staff is so hard to implement: because you can’t really impose what people will communicate about, if you encourage them to do so.

Another interesting impact is that on employees’ expectations as a result of sharing on behalf of the company. While sharing may not be an official requirement from their employer, it is not impossible to imagine that, after sustained sharing of company content, some staff will feel entitled to have this reflected as a positive point in their evaluations and even benefits. This can easily backfire into a sharing war if news of such an exchange becomes widely known.

Thirdly, what happens in the case of outlier staff with significant large networks (for instance well known designers working for a small design boutique)? Are they expected to share to a valuable community and provide this as a free service to the company that employs them? Anyone with minimal understanding of the power of a community will refuse to do so.

Indeed, some of the situations described above are only marginal. And also, some will naturally sort themselves out because this is LinkedIn and not Facebook. But some questions remain. All in all this is an interesting development from the LinkedIn and worth testing out. But as all new things, it should be handled by taking all possible outcomes into consideration.

Image from LinkedIn blog post