Alastair is Co-Founder of Digital Marketing Agency Optix Solutions in the UK.
I’ve spent the past 23 years working in the marketing industry, so what I’m about to say might surprise you. It’s my strong belief that when it comes to small and medium-sized enterprises, your biggest marketing asset is not your brand, advertising or social media. Your strongest, and probably most untapped, marketing asset is, without a doubt, your people.
A lot has already been written about “personal brands,” but I find that most of those articles are written from the perspective of what the individual can get from building their own personal brand (a concept I am 100% behind). In this article, however, I want to flip the script and explain how personal brands can also benefit owners and marketers.
Whether you have two employees or 200, if your people have a strong personal brand and are active online, they can generate opportunities for your business. Let’s look at a real example: My agency has a corporate account on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. The maximum reach for those accounts put together is around 5,000. That means if we have a job to share or an exciting new project we want people to know about, then, assuming nobody reshares, we can only hope to reach a percentage of that number.
But if I take six of our top team members and factor in their LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube followers (if they have them), we could potentially reach thousands more people. I don’t think I need to spell out the conclusion I drew from that. Not only do the potential numbers eclipse that of our business accounts, but also bear in mind that my sample size was only six of our 20 total staff members. Layer on top of that the fact that their followers are probably far more interested in what those individuals have to say than what our company logo is talking about that day.
Here are some tips on how to harness this powerful asset:
1. Lead from the front.
Imagine the leaders of a business failing to engage with social media—and all the while, they are asking their teams to do exactly that. They will inevitably be fighting an uphill battle. In my business, for example, you’ll find our leadership team very active online. We lead from the front by sharing thought leadership, employer branding and niche posts around our industry and expertise. You might need to take your leaders on a journey to show them how social media is linked to your business objectives and goals. They need to know why it is important to spend their time on it.
2. Have a clear policy.
One of the most popular concerns I hear is that employees don’t know what they are allowed to say or do online. Rather than engage with the company and potentially get pulled by the HR department, they avoid sharing work-related content entirely. To address this, create a clear policy of what’s acceptable, set up lines of support within the marketing team and offer ongoing training to ensure people are comfortable engaging. I’d also suggest creating playbooks that give suggestions and best practices on what to share.
The easiest option for employees dipping their toes into the world of content sharing is to take content from the company they work for and create some social commentary around it. That way, they don’t have to create the content from scratch, but they can still share useful things with their network that are related to their expertise. The key with all content sharing is to be useful, valuable and educational where possible.
3. Outline your expectations.
This comes down to training. If you want your people to be active on social media, then you’re going to need to invest in them. I’ve found those who are naturally inclined to post regularly are few and far between, and those who do might not be thinking strategically about business.
My advice is to plan your training over a period of years rather than one-off sessions. Ensure your training focuses on the team member personally, not your business. They won’t want to promote the business and work for you if they think it’s all upside for you and nothing is in it for them. Show them what this can do for their careers, not just while they work for you.
For example, I had an employee who worked with me for a number of years in SEO. She created such a strong personal brand that she was recently offered a job as head of SEO at a major global company. This simply wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for her personal brand. While this might sound scary for some employers, I’m happy I was part of her journey, and in this case, she will remain as an advisor to our board, which means our team can still benefit from her expertise.
4. Pick your champions.
There are always people who are willing and excited by the prospect of helping, and they are probably doing it anyway. Put together a small cohort of champions and schedule weekly or monthly check-ins to discuss strategy and tactics, support one another and share successes. Then, encourage these champions to share their successes with the rest of your business as well, so that the positive news stories start to sink in and other, more skeptical team members can begin to see the benefits of engaging with the company’s brand online.
If you take the view that enhancing your staff’s profile means they are more likely to be poached, then you’ll never get anywhere with this. But if, like me, you take the view that you are probably a branch on the tree of your team’s career—and you help them water that tree—then not only can it benefit you in the short-term but also you could be looked on favorably by those individuals for the long-term.