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What the current Twitter storm teaches us about employee advocacy

It was one of my biggest social media mistakes.

A while back, I was working with a client, planning the distribution of a new blog. The moment the article went live, the author sent me an ‘urgent’ message requesting the link and a few words she could use to share the post on social media.

I immediately obliged and went back to the content calendar. An hour later I got a grumpy message from the head of marketing.

“The blog from today. Everybody’s sharing it on LinkedIn.”

“That’s good right? Great news.”

“No it isn’t.”

I called up my feed and there they were. Literally dozens of posts from my colleagues, word-for-word identical to the message I sent to the author, spamming up my feed and probably hundreds of connections on LinkedIn.

“You’re right it isn’t”.

This is what happens, of course, when a post intended for one person gets forwarded to dozens of colleagues with an instruction to share immediately.

I don’t blame the author by the way, it was my fault (more on that later). But the story came to mind when I saw two sets of tweets shared earlier today by Alex Selby-Boothroyd, head of data journalism at The Economist.

First the cluster of messages sent by senior Conservative MPs during the day on Saturday in defence of Dominic Cummings.

Now some posts sent by Conservative backbenchers, this morning, conveying the anger felt by their constituents.

Whatever your opinion on this particular story, and trust me I’ve got dozens, it’s clear who has the better employee-social strategy.

Posts from Raab and co vary in length, tone and vocabulary. But they are completely on brand, stick to the message and are crafted to trigger a clear emotional response. They also dropped about half an hour or so apart.

This morning’s copy looks like mass cut and paste from a WhatsApp group message. Little or no variation in the content apart from some minor personalization at the start or end. The timing isn’t great either.

Back to my constipated LinkedIn feed.

Here’s what I did.

First, I carried out an audit of employees on social media and identified participants who already used Twitter and LinkedIn to promote their professional profiles.

For the next three months, I worked with this group (about a dozen) to build their trust and start drip feeding them content to share. By the way, these were people who already had a personal brand and understood fully the need to adapt or add copy in a way that strengthened their profile.

Then I assembled a second, larger group. People who had social accounts but were much less active and articulate. They were also easy to find. Either they were retweeting or commenting on posts from the first group, or they were contacting me, keen to sprinkle a bit of social magic dust over their own profile.

By the end of the year I had about 60 active social media advocates sharing content that I sent across the week via email (this was well in advance of Slack or even WhatsApp groups by the way). As for the content itself, I provided the link and then half-a-dozen, short bullets that could be crafted into an original post.

Wherever possible I also included hashtags and account handles (the author of a blog for example). I have to add that after a bit of pushback from the new group I ended up crafting a couple of tweets per article, but with clear instructions that cut and paste was not an option.

I also divided employees into three groups, and shared the content on different days to keep distribution as even as possible.

I could wrap up by sharing with you some metrics: engagement rates, clicks, page views, bounce rates and so on. But for me, the biggest measure of success was the number of messages stacking up in my in box asking to join the program (nobody got in without a couple of hours of training).

As for my original author, she was also one of the most competitive colleagues I’ve ever worked with. More blogs followed, she got on message, and within the year she was one of the most followed and shared participants on Twitter. A little advocacy coaching goes a very long way.




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