Before I joined IBM I ran an online influence company called Kred which competes with platforms like Klout. We calculated and ranked over 250 million people on social media and provided them a “Kred score” relative to their online influence.
In my two years at Kred, I learned a lot about what makes someone an influencer and what it takes to have an influencer promote your business.
At IBM, I could see firsthand thousands of people with great ideas, all influencers in their own right, inside the company who could share knowledge about their specialist subjects with each other and the world.
What struck me from my time at Kred is organisations such as IBM, ANZ or your own already have paid influencers and ambassadors. They’re called employees.
Finding and coaching
I presented this concept at an event in London in late 2015 to around 300 marketers. As I delivered this news, I could feel 300 light bulbs go on right in front of me.
The challenge is how you find, mentor and encourage these brand ambassadors, while keeping within company guidelines around social media and in regulated markets, deal with the issue of transparency and disclosure - but it can be done.
The finding part is easy. Those most likely to be great brand ambassadors are probably already comfortable using social media sites such as Twitter, and LinkedIn, which make it easy to spot them.
Here are three things to get you started with a brand advocates program:
• Look on Twitter to see who already says they work at your company – they are your most engaged potential advocates.
• Provide your advocates with early access to company news – why not treat them like journalists working under an embargo? When the story can be told, who better to tell it than your own employees?
• Enable your brand advocates to tell their own story, but provide them guidance and support tied to your company objectives and social media guidelines.
There are a number of third-party social monitoring tools which allow you to search Twitter bios, so you could search for people who mention working at your company as a start.
In my experience, those who are already proud about displaying where they work on their Twitter profile are in many ways already a brand ambassador, and the best people to engage with at the start of a brand ambassador program.
Most likely, your internal or external communication teams will want to know about these potential ambassadors so they can provide them with tools and coaching to be great ambassadors for your company.
You will most likely need a robust social media policy or at least guidelines. You can see the one developed by IBMers at social.bz/guidelines - a simple, but sensible document for all employees in their use of social media.
You will also want to provide your newly minted brand ambassadors with tools to be able to source, promote and measure their activity on social media.
This can be an informal process, such as putting your ambassadors in a Twitter list or using tools such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to help you coach them as a group and provide inspiration.
There are a number of employee advocacy tools which provide full content discovery, sharing and analytics as well as compliance tools.
Whichever process you use, it is vital to provide feedback to your ambassadors in a positive way about the great job they are doing and impact they are having.
More than just a retweet
I’m asked all the time in my role as an IBM Brand Ambassador, "should I just be retweeting IBM press releases?" The short answer is no.
In this case, IBM already has a channel for these formal announcements and the real benefits of engaging authentic brand advocates is they get to add their voice to the story, and deliver this to an audience your company had never thought about, or would never have access to.
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I am also fortunate to speak at around 50 events around the world a year as a public speaker, and this means an audience which may not normally be exposed to an IBM voice or thinking can hear what we’re up to without it feeling like a formal company presentation.
If you have people in your company that are confident public speakers, you also have the opportunity to adopt them as excellent brand ambassadors.
When looking at employee advocate programs, there are a number of things to consider. Formal advocacy platforms have a place in scaling the message but can feel a bit like ‘click to tweet this’ engines rather than an authentic brand advocacy program if not managed correctly.
You also have a personal brand to consider. From my perspective, if my audience sees me simply repeating exactly what the company is saying then my value on the story might become diluted and my usefulness as an authentic brand advocate will be compromised.
My audience knows where I work and the fact I am likely to share only favorable news about IBM. But it is also looking for my point of view from where I sit and my expertise on a particular topic. It’s an important point for ambassador programs to consider.
Andrew Grill is Global Managing Partner, IBM Social Consulting. The opinions expressed here are his own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions. Andrew can be found on Twitter @AndrewGrill . He blogs at http://londoncalling.co
The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.