Social advocacy: how employees can be your best storytellers

Is the woman in the picture above working? Or is she sharing a story on her social media? Maybe she’s reading or watching someone else’s post. Actually, the point is that she could be doing all of the above, and this can still be of value to her employer – because we live in a blended world in which work and personal life are coagulated into one big digital mix.

This post is about how to harness that to make your employees fantastic storytellers for your organisation within channels with which they feel comfortable.

The lines in our world aren’t just blurred. They barely exist. We all know work and personal all happen at the same time and we switch between one and another. Yet communications disciplines typically don’t recognise this. They often remain structured to reflect a world in which each ‘audience’ is separate and requires distinct messages. Marketing focuses on customers, corporate communications on all the publics, employee communications engages our colleagues, investor relations on shareholders and public affairs on government and regulators.

You can’t control the message

At the heart of this structure was the idea that we can ‘control’ the message. This was, to some extent, true when communication channels were effectively broadcast outwards. But of course this world has long gone, along with real control.

These audiences are now people who are all in one big interconnected mass, receiving and broadcasting – telling their own stories and hearing those of others, influencing and being influenced. Your business and products are undoubtedly part of the content of that conversation – at least you hope so.

This is the basis for social advocacy – a term to describe a situation where your employees and customers choose to talk about your company and products positively by their own choice in their own channels and often in their own time. Historically these channels have been the marketplace or the home. Now they are social media and can have a really powerful impact, because of course the content on these channels is a major component of the way your company’s Strategic Narrative is being built.

But you can design it

So, my suggestion is to do some architecture, especially for your employees. Design a framework whereby your colleagues are encouraged and enabled to engage fully on social media channels about work related issues, confident that they know what to talk about, with whom and why. If there is consistency in this content then your Strategic Narrative will build quickly, based on what I call the Narrative Themes – the 3 or so big ideas for which you want to be famous.

At the heart of this approach is the idea that business is jazz, not classical. That means there is less control, and you want to encourage people to riff on the themes and bring their own personality – but there still needs to be a tune at the heart of the music. Otherwise it’s just noise.

A framework for social advocacy

The framework for this approach is a clear Strategic Narrative. This is the story you want to build among your important audiences about your business or service. I’m a journalist by background so when I work with clients I want to make this sharp and compelling so everyone gets it. This is a newspaper front page, not a novel.

So I suggest you seek to articulate a big idea that defines this Narrative – what I call the Headline. This contains the promise, the vision and the essence of your story – all within 4 words or so. It’s hard! But critical.
Then develop a Story – 4 or 5 short sentences, about 150 words, that sum up the story you want to build. It contains a clear statement of who this is for, why they should care, how we are special or great, and what exactly is our promise.

Beneath that are the Narrative Themes mentioned above. These are 3 or 4 big ideas that matter to those you want to reach and reflect your strengths. These Themes are the tunes on which you want people to riff. They are statements about the market, about what you see as critical for your customers or what you choose to stand for as an organisation.

When I work with clients I invest time interviewing leaders and customers on these topics, and it is incredible how diverse are their views. People working closely together yet having a completely different focus. That is why it is so important to write the tune – so everyone is singing the same song!

Feed the beast

So we know the story we want to build and we are clear about the Themes we want to amplify. Now it is a simple matter of communicating this to your colleagues, engaging them in the story and getting their ideas about how they can consistently engage their own audiences internally and externally on these Themes. Simple!

Of course it’s not – it’s a matter of constant and consistent promotion of content and ideas that riff on the Themes. It’s about providing your colleagues with a kit of parts for each story that they can slice and dice for their own social media and add their own twist – this is like an internal media kit that PR teams have used for years. It’s critical that at the centre of this is empowerment – encouraging employees to feel free to communicate.

What really helps is if you have a platform that makes social advocacy easy. I suggest clients look at Sparrow, which blends your own and external content in a format that feels familiar to all users of Facebook or any other commonly used social media.

Our lives now combine our work and personal communication in one continuous flow. Information, news and comment live in this same blended world. Harnessing this well is a powerful way to engage and empower employees, while also building a designed Strategic Narrative among all the people you need to reach.

This article is written by Stuart Maister, Chief Storyteller at Strategic Narrative

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Stuart Maister works with leaders to help them be clear about their vision, mission and the story they need to tell. This provides strategic clarity and an aligned leadership.

His consultancy defines how the firm leads its market. His coaching helps leaders be clear about their own narrative and vision. His facilitation helps groups or delegates be clear about the big ideas emerging from the workshop or event. He helps leaders communicate more effectively.

If you are interested please contact stuart.maister@strategic-narrative.com – and feel free to share this post.