Leadership plays an important role in driving employee activism in areas such as building a reputation of trustworthiness and making the company an employer of choice, according to Weber Shandwick’s 2019 report titled “Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism”. It added that internal communications, fair treatment of all employees and community responsibility, should not be overlooked when it comes to deepening employee activism.
Employee support is all the more important during a challenging time such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Sophia Ong (pictured), VP, marketing, Electronics at ST Engineering, told Marketing that employees play a crucial role in bringing about optimism, hope and humanity. Ong explained that it is vital for companies to reference back to their brand values to remind themselves of what the brand stands for and how it can be applied in the context of a crisis.
“We have employees who empathetically offer well wishes, thank the medical community, and for light moments, post photos of their video conferences and share articles of how their products and solutions help support the current situation,” she added. At a group level, its employees were also joined by leaders to do their part by helping out at Temasek Foundation’s #BYOBclean initiative at the end of March. Employees shared social media posts of themselves volunteering and pitching in to fill clean reusable bottles with hand sanitisers to help limit the spread of COVID-19 within Singapore.
Prior to ST Engineering, Ong worked at Russell Reynolds Associates, PwC, NCS Group, GE Capital, The Ascott and Singtel. With over 15 years of experience in the industry, Ong said one common thread about employee activism that struck her is that employees who have aligned purpose with the organisation would be the most passionate and active in advocating the brand.
“Employees will be most willing to bring their purpose to life, with an organisation that strongly believes in the same meaningful pursuit. This is regardless of whether the employee is a natural or nurtured social media activist,” she explained.
Encouraging employees to have tact and empathy
ST Engineering's Electronics sector has taken customers and employees engagement online in light of the pandemic. It hopes to provide value to customers by engaging its ambassadors who are involved in projects to help solve current challenges and preparing for the new norm. Some adjustments were made in terms of the type of content it puts out to customers, Ong said.
“Being mindful about the crisis and its impact, we looked at what content should be paused and what can be emphatically pivoted to help support our customers. We also looked at how we can lend optimism, hope and humanity through the voices of our employees,” she explained.
Overall, Ong said the leaders at ST Engineering have been supportive of the employee advocacy programme. That said, it is still not a walk in the park for Ong as she faces challenges from two groups.
Ong described the first group to be the "Inertia" camp. For any employee advocacy to work, the individual needs to be comfortable and has a penchant to connect and interact on social media platforms. There will always be instances where identified ambassadors decline to share any corporate news. “As marketers, we need to respect the privacy and space of the individuals,” she explained.
Besides corporate social media guidelines, marketers should also offer the freedom and excite ambassadors to post corporate news that they take pride in, as well as moments when they are genuinely delighted or touched by the corporate brand experience.
“Ultimately, I would always explain to the ambassador to take the opportunity as part of developing their personal branding for the long run,” she explained.
The other group is known as the Wayward, where ambassadors get too emotionally involved in online arguments, be it on political and business viewpoints. Ong has personally experienced and managed a handful of such cases in her previous organisations. According to her, these are the trickiest ones to manage as the corporate brand gets dragged in one way or another.
“Many a times, such cases are privately counselled and settled with the involving parties. Over the years, I have kept a couple of such cases to share and highlight when coaching personal branding for the leaders and ambassadors, in hope to avoid similar cases from happening in future,” she added.
ST Engineering's Ong will be speaking at Marketing's Content 360 conference which is going virtual. The conference will bring together industry leaders to discuss challenges and share insights on future content marketing trends, as well as successful strategies to help tackle the complex marketing landscape. Sign up here!
Tips to drive employee advocacy
Some brands inheritably have natural and enthusiastic brand ambassadors. However, most companies in general still need to build on their employee activism. While it might a challenging journey, successful employee activism can still be achieved through these four tips.
1. Create moments and generate content for your ambassadors to share
News releases, events and for now, webinars, thematic and purposeful campaigns, tactical initiatives and even features of its employees, are the driving force behind what ST Engineering’s employees can choose to share on social media.
"As marketers, we need to create the awareness and compelling assets including videos, behind-the-scenes, infographics to encourage our employees live in the moment, and be inspired to share," Ong said.
2. Collate a deposit of weekly or fortnightly shareable content and even gamify it
Send out periodic emails on the shareable content, with easy links to the digital assets created. Marketers can make it easier for employees by including sample posts liners, recommended hashtags, and spotlight on the company’s social media updates for them to like and share.
Ong added that companies with a budget can leverage various employee advocacy tools such as EveryoneSocial, Hootsuit Amplify and LinkedIn Elevate, that pulls content into one platform. Some even include gamification and leadership boards that keep things fun.
3. Curate platforms for employees to share their relevant views
Be it the intranet or external marketing platforms such as the company’s blog, marketers can encourage the employees to blog and share their passion, experiences and ideas.
The content marketing team can help guide them on the topics that resonate with the underlying theme and target readers, whilst giving them the opportunity to shine.
“We can also be clear to the employees that they are representing and helping to promote the values of the company,” Ong said.
4. Recognise and share success stories of ambassadors
It is vital to spotlight on the active ambassadors due recognition, encouragement and profile their best practices. This will help motivate others to replicate their success, and rally more to come on board as well.
Humanising brand and marketing
There is a general preconceived notion that B2B content is less interesting than B2C content. While that might be true in certain cases, Ong said it is all in the mind and creativity of the marketers, and contrary to popular belief, B2B content can be fun and engaging in its own unique way. ST Engineering’s Electronics sector is always on the lookout for passionate technologists and engineers, as they are the unsung heroes of its projects. As such, there is never a lack of great content, she added.
“From stories of how we sailed into uncharted waters with unmanned surface vehicle to building and launching a satellite, to managing the Beijing Traffic Control Centre with their massive railway lines to overseeing the Intelligent Transport System across the APAC and EMEA regions, I have always marvelled at the projects that ST Engineering Electronics has undertaken,” she said.
The challenge is for the marketers to uncover the gems, appreciate the projects and best tell the story around the innovation.
Ong’s team curates not just mere stories and blogs but also a 60-second video series with the experts, infographics and an interactive bench-marketing test.
Currently, ST Engineering’s Electronics division has over 30 product brands including cybersecurity, smart digital building and public safety and security. All these are unified under AGIL, which is ST Engineering’s customer-centric approach used to curate, design and develop breakthrough products and solutions. As such, Ong said it is more pertinent than ever to humanise the product brand through the voice of its employee.
“The employee advocacy programme is incorporated as part of our omnichannel branding strategy and manifested further through active social media posts, a collection of tech insights and case studies at agilblog.com. The strategy also includes orchestrated digital marketing and collaborative publicity efforts,” she explained.
Be it featuring ST Engineering’s pioneering leaders, thought leadership pieces written by its engineers, or its female employees sharing their voices during the recent #ideasforchange campaign, Ong said each story shares meaningful experiences and insights.
“Branding is a continuous journey. When it comes to effective branding, our employees inevitably wield the key and their influence on our customers is not one to be underestimated. Every social media post, every touchpoint matters,” she added.
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