4 keys to an army of social networks

By Ryan holmes

Editor’s note: Ryan Holmes is the CEO of Hootsuite, a social media platform used by millions of people as well as the world’s leading companies to manage their social profiles. Follow them on @invoker and @hootsuite.

(CNNMexico) – It is the chicken or egg dilemma of the digital age. Businesses know that social media can influence the buying behavior of audiences: more than three-quarters of consumers report that social messages directly influence this. But you can’t influence an audience you don’t have. Firms that don’t have enough followers find themselves screaming into the void when they post on Twitter, Facebook, and other outlets.

Many companies in this position are already reviewing a resource that is on their payroll: their employees.

Company employees can represent an internal social media army, rarely explored and extremely powerful.

A little math reveals her true potential. Imagine that a midsize business, new to social media, can gain an audience of 1,000 Twitter followers on their corporate account – significant but perhaps not the critical mass that drives sales. Now let’s think that that same firm has 100 employees, each of whom has 100 followers. If all those employees share company updates, the potential reach is 10,000 Twitter users.

In a larger company the profits are more dramatic (think for example of a Fortune 100 company with hundreds of employees). Of course, employees should never be forced to share these social media updates from their personal accounts. This type of practice should always be voluntary. In fact, this is part of the reason why it is extremely powerful. Organic word-of-mouth messages from our friends seem more reliable than those corporate messages we see on social media. When employees share the messages, in other words, the firms not only expand their reach on social networks, but also generate more trust and interaction.

For companies interested in transforming their employees into a social media army, here are four key strategies:

1. Prepare the ground: Inviting your employees to use social networks at work, and not banning them, is essential. Yes, Twitter and Facebook can be distracting, but they are also pretty powerful business weapons. A recent study by consulting firm McKinsey says that social media use in the office has the potential to generate $ 1.3 trillion in value for companies.

But just inviting employees to use them is not enough. In my company each new employee goes through basic training in their first weeks. We are, of course, a social media company and this content is not strictly necessary in every context. But social media isn’t just intuitively understood, the potential consequence of using it the right way and avoiding the stumbling blocks of using it the wrong way requires some kind of instruction. We, for example, have created a certification where employees complete interactive modules at their own pace.

2. Open the accounts: Once employees understand how to use the networks, updates can be shared in a number of ways. One option is for these people to create business-related profiles. At my company, most of our 700 employees have Hootsuite-affiliated Twitter accounts (with names like @HootPeter or @HootMarc), and they regularly retweet our messages.

Others choose to share our messages on their personal accounts. This obviously doesn’t work everywhere, but in companies where brand identity and employee identity are well aligned, this type of behavior happens spontaneously.

Again, remember that you should not require your employees to share the messages. What we seek is to create interesting content that can resonate with our people, giving them the option to share it outwardly. Ideally, it is a two-way street: by sharing relevant information, our employees help us while they build their own fan base and reputation within the workplace.

3. Have easy updates to share: The key to engaging employees in social media marketing is to make the process easy and straightforward. How? Let them know when you have important news about the organization through social networks and share simple messages that they can share. Here’s an example:

Last year a thousand people came to our offices to apply for 100 vacancies. The line of applicants was two blocks. This was not an accident: in the days before the recruitment fair, our Human Resources team sent emails asking employees to share their job information on their social networks.

These emails contained pre-approved tweets and short Facebook statuses about the event. With just a few clicks our staff members were ready to share this news with their followers, expanding our reach beyond the walls of our office.

4. Measure your results: One of the virtues of social networks is that it is not difficult to extract data from the campaigns you carry out. For example, through tools like Hootsuite you can see how often an individual’s message is retweeted or how many people on Facebook were reached.

For more advanced data, tools like UberVu can measure mentions in real time on a dozen social networks and collect the information in graphs and reports. With these types of resources it is possible to see immediately who is sharing a specific message, how many people are reaching the message and the general feeling (from positive to negative) about the conversation.

Effective social marketing depends on cultivating a loyal audience of a reasonable size, which can be challenging and costly for social media startups. But, in many cases, the employees of these companies already have an audience to access. By enlisting a few collaborators willing to broaden relevant messages, businesses can instantly expand – and by magnitude – their reach on social media.

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