Untapped Human Resources

Don’t worry about employees running amok online—worry if they don’t

The industry’s embrace of social media has helped us augment our branding efforts, but are we leveraging all the available options? Encouraging your employees—especially those who are advocates for your store or brand—to speak out is an effective and inexpensive way to spread the word.

Here’s why: Your staff is already using these sites. Research suggests three out of four Americans are turning to social networks to connect with friends, family, and colleagues. It’s likely they have already connected with some of your customers via those channels, so why not invite them to publicize what’s happening at your store

Many jewelers are concerned that their staff could misspeak online—or that a salesman’s raucous summer-vacation photos might reflect badly on the store. Empowering employees seems counterintuitive to the marketing messages we’ve spent years carefully crafting. One slip-up can lead to a backlash that lives on Google forever.

Before you write that new policy reminding everyone not to talk about your brand, I want to point out that it’s too late—they are already doing it. Every e-mail, call, fax, and thank-you card to your customers qualifies as a brand-approved communication. Even though these are one-to-one interactions compared with the one-to-many interactions enabled by social media, it is becoming common for traditional exchanges to end up on the Internet. Many of us have learned this the hard way, thanks to sites such as Yelp.

Your best bet is to train your staff to create positive interactions with your store—online and off.

One look at Ben Bridge Jeweler reveals the potential of empowering employees—although this particular case actually started with someone empowering herself. Anyone familiar with Ben Bridge’s marketing efforts has probably heard of @BenBridgeGirl (twitter.com/benbridgegirl), a Twitter feed created by Ben Bridge associate Veronica Sopher. She used the account to connect with fellow industry members, employees, local businesses, and, most important, Ben Bridge customers. She has singlehandedly connected anyone and everyone who is passionate about a company she clearly loves. It was nearly a year before store management discovered her Tweets, after which they encouraged her efforts to evangelize the brand. This willingness to let employees share their passion for the company has been a strong marketing initiative and a unifying thread for the 73-store organization.

If you still think the risks of allowing employees to promote your brand on the Internet outweigh the rewards, I leave you with the wise words of social media consultant Jason Falls: “If you are afraid of what your employees will say about you online, hire smarter.”

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