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Strategic Revolution: The Power of Social Employees

September 17, 2014, 07:00 AM

This blog covers the importance of social media and how it should play a part in your strategic revolution and what it means to you. The question isn’t whether or not your company should participate in the revolution, but when. I will share specific takeaways and provide you with a short action plan. This will be something you can think about while you read and possibly implement in a plan.

There are many household names involved in the social media revolution, including Dell, AT&T, IBM, Cisco, and Southwest Airlines. These brands are investing a tremendous amount of time and energy in training their social employees.  By now you may be asking yourself: what is a social employee?

First, social employees are very different than regular or normal employees, who perhaps are not empowered and aren’t true change agents.  This is a completely different way of thinking, a different way of being motivated. Social employees are highly skilled in the use of social media tools. They are engaged with the market, your company and current events. They are believers in your company’s mission, its vision and the values the brand represents. However, what is really important, and what makes a social employee unique, is the integration of their personal brand with their professional brand. If you think about it, everyone reading this has a personal brand. It’s something you need to work on and nurture. The value of bringing these two brands together is powerful and forms the social employee.

Ethan McCarthy, a social business evangelist at IBM writes, “Employees are the brand at IBM.” It’s interesting he doesn’t say advertising or marketing campaigns. He would also tell you fundamentally, the employees are the voice of IBM.

Here’s a simple analogy to give you a general sense of who a social employee is. Let’s compare a baseball and a bag of marbles of the same weight. They are about the same shape; in fact, if you put them in a bucket of water they would displace the same amount of water. The difference is in the surface area. Think of the marbles as your social employees, they would represent 300% greater surface area. Think of their interactions, connections and engagement. Think of the collaboration between those marbles as opposed to one baseball and its power. Social employees are collaborating across organizations and across business units. They are working with their customers every day in social media. Social employees and social customers like to work together. Fundamentally, how others perceive your brand is the subtotal of the personal brands of the social employees representing the brand.

Why are social employees important? Here are some heavy statistics: 90% of people don’t trust traditional ads, but almost 80% trust recommendations. Think of the last time somebody recommended a phone or a car or a software program. You’re getting information from people you know and respect. That word of mouth is 10 times more powerful than traditional ads.

There’s a clear win-win for both the company and the employee, and this is the power behind the social employee. The benefit to the company is authentic branding; it’s real and it’s believable. It isn’t an advertising campaign. They’re building their personal brand. This is their own portfolio of skills and what they have to offer. It’s what they are doing on LinkedIn and elsewhere in the digital world. All this adds up to the last bullet, which I call employability. There’s another “little” statistic:  94% of corporate recruiters screen candidates in social media before they decide who they’re going to interview.

Here is a great example of engagement. I am sure many of you have seen the picture with Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars? When you look at it, first you talk about engagement in what I call social currency. Basically she’s the ambassador for her personal brand, she’s the ambassador for the Oscar’s brand and even the ambassador for the brand of phone that was used to take the photograph. What about the personal side? Let’s say there is something that is important to you that you want to promote … say a 5K run for breast cancer. You can tap into your entire network -- your personal and professional network, and can pull the whole thing together to make it happen. You are leveraging the social currency you have built.

I love coaching hockey, and even if you’re not a hockey fan, you know generally the team with the most attempts on goal, ultimately should win. Well, Wayne Gretzky tells us that you actually miss 100% of the shots that you never take. Think about it. What does that mean relative to being innovative and thinking differently? It’s that famous phrase from the Apple campaign that made that company come to life years ago and where they are today. Thinking different, innovative, creation, creativity –- all these things come together.

Here’s a short action plan you can implement. Basically I’m asking you to take a leap. The first step is listening within your organization, within a company, listening to your employees, talking to them, getting to know them. The next step is to empower your employees and help them ignite their personal online brand. The last step is to trust your empowered employee to live your brand and to be an evangelist and interact through social media.

The opportunity today is one of cultivating the social employee and understanding what that could mean to your business and the way in which your business is conducted. I like to think the social employee is the future of business. So I invite you, today, to take that leap with me. Join the social employee revolution and realize that fundamentally, the future of your business is in your hands.

RJ Grimshaw
President & CEO | UniFi Equipment Finance
RJ Grimshaw is the President and CEO of UniFi Equipment Finance, a Bank of Ann Arbor wholly owned equipment finance subsidiary that is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mi. UniFi was founded in 1978, and serves manufactures, distributors and resellers in four main market segments which include industrial, specialty markets, technology, and health care. Reach RJ at rgrimshaw@unifiedge.com and on twitter @rjgcoach. Learn more about UniFi Equipment Finance at unifiedge.com.
Comments From Our Members

Melisa Carter • View APN Profile
Wow, RJ - that example with the baseball vs marbles really captured the potential of social media! Thank you for a meaningful blog that really helps put the role of social media in business in perspective.
9.18.2014 @ 9:38 AM

Susan Carol • View APN Profile
It has always been important in public relations to educate employees so they can be ambassadors for an organization, and its' more important today than ever before both to extend one's reach and also protect the brand.
9.23.2014 @ 9:46 AM

RJ Grimshaw • View APN Profile
Melisa and Susan, appreciate the engagement. Leaders need to get out of their boardrooms and escape their rigid hierarchies to engage with actual constituents. Social media gives leaders the power to greatly increase this level of engagement by really listening to the voices of stakeholders, then taking tangible actions based on those suggestions. These important benefits make up the intrinsic value of being a social CEO, while raising serious doubts about any laggards who continue to shun social media. Which type of leader would you rather work for, or put another way, which type of leader would employees like to become?
9.30.2014 @ 9:32 AM
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