Social Business, Do Employees Need Rewards to be Active on Social Media?
How can businesses encourage and motivate employees to become brand ambassadors for their companies -- both internally and externally? It comes down to the age old question: use the carrot or use the stick? 

Two reports caused me to ask this question. MIT and Capgemini published a study focused on the digital transformation and the IBM Institute for Business Value identified the top agenda from a study of 4,000 C-level executives: becoming a customer-centric organization. Both of these share similar goals: you need digital transformation as well as digital and social channels to actively engage with your customers, and you need engaged employees to support and drive this transformation.

But how do you get these employees? How do you motivate your employees to engage?

Motivating for Engagement

After reading the MIT study, I think a new form of leadership is needed to produce engaged employees or what I call Employee 2.0. And I agree with the study’s results that said these employees should be rewarded for their engagement. Some don’t like the idea of a rewarding/punishing system because Generation Y will soon be driving the change anyway, while others see the motivational value of the rewarding system.

Do we need to show employees a carrot to make them jump into engagement?

My answer is clear: Yes, we do need a carrot, in fact very tasteful, first-class organic carrots. The digital transformation -- the way to a Social Business -- is happening inside the firewall, and externally through an ongoing dialogue with a company’s stakeholders in the social web

Let’s focus for now on external engagement: Employees who are active brand ambassadors in external social media.

Wanted: Brand Ambassadors

Back in the good old times, people were proud to work for their company: they called themselves "XYZer“ and talked about their work with friends and family. But times have changed. In my experience people don’t identify themselves with their employer as strongly anymore, and that’s especially the case for companies and industries that need to cut costs and have to let people go. That heavily affects employees’ moral.

More importantly, people don’t talk about their work-related problems within private circles anymore. In the times of social media, the so-called “private circle” has become bigger, more transparent and more dangerous. Who wants to be held responsible for something their employer has done wrong? And who wants to be held responsible for saying something bad about their company? Previously, only a few people had been listening, but the Internet won’t forget …

I am painting a dark picture of the social web – it isn’t that bad but we have to take the motivations, ambitions and worries of the potential Employee 2.0 seriously. Why should someone act as a brand ambassador in public?

There are different reasons. Some employees think they enhance their personal brand by being seen as experts on certain topics in forums and communities or through their own blog. And this doesn’t have to do with looking for a new employer or making themselves attractive for headhunters. These people aren’t necessarily looking for a new job. More often, they want to increase their visibility within the organization. Some employees have a sense of mission or just enjoy being part of a public conversation. And last but not least, there are people who are looking to drive change internally.

These aren’t always the young members of the Generation Y -- older employees are also active. Regardless of age, these are the employees who should be supported and encouraged to become ambassadors for the company’s brand because they can serve as role models to recruit more brand ambassadors.

Questions and Concerns

But let’s be realistic: there aren’t a lot of these “self-motivated” employees. A lot more people wonder why they should do something like this. There are several reasons for not engaging in social media, some difficult to address, others refuted more easily in my opinion. If someone would like to separate their private and business life or if they are opposed social media in general, then one would have to accept and respect this. Other doubts can be addressed though, for example:

  • “When should I do this additional workload?”
  • “My engagement isn’t recognized within the company.”
  • “I don’t know what I am allowed to do as a brand ambassador.”

A company can address the uncertainty through social media guidelines and on-going training. Don’t underestimate this! I have seen long-time and well established employees who became tense when it came to being active in social media:

Am I allowed to express my own opinion?” “What am I allowed to talk about or to comment on?” “Can I damage my own reputation?

The only thing that helps here is to talk, to exchange experience and to recognize good performance.

Which brings us back to the carrot. There has to be a rewarding system to motivate as many employees as possible. And companies need to make clear that being active in social media is part of their job and not something in addition to the things that they have to do anyway.

Sound reasonable? It is, but it’s often hard to accomplish. A lot of managers aren’t aware of the things that employees are doing in these social channels. These managers only live by their own value and measurement systems and don’t understand the need for blogging or being active on Twitter and Facebook. That means the carrot isn’t the only thing that’s needed. The top management has to support social engagement and it has to be established within the middle management. Otherwise it won’t be successful.

But what’s the carrot anyway? What are these recognitions that work? It’s not only the money. Both progress in the individual career as well as the recognitions mentioned are important. These recognitions can be manifold: an employee portrait in the Intranet, an appreciation by the boss during a department meeting, an “official” brand ambassador title or other immaterial things can be and should be used. The goal should be to establish engagement in social channels, both internal and external, as a natural part of the job just like email or telephone calls with the client.

Listing the Pros and Cons

What are the Pros and Cons for becoming an Employee 2.0? I have started the following list and would welcome any additions:

Reasons for becoming an Employee 2.0

  • Raise the individual brand and reputation
  • Enjoy being active and part of the conversation
  • Wish for change and progress
  • Being proud to represent a company and its products and services
  • Appreciation -- both monetary and immaterial

Reasons for not becoming an Employee 2.0

  • Missing recognition for social engagement
  • Missing identification with the company
  • Wish for privacy and anonymity
  • No additional workload “on top”
  • Uncertainty about what is allowed when acting as a brand ambassador

Have any other points to add? Put them in the comments below.

Title image courtesy of Phil Lenoir (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more by Stefan in Why Human Resources Needs Social Business