The Socially Empowered Employee = Brand Journalist


Just read this article from Kare Anderson that pumped me up. It was a review for a book that was just published by Cheryl Burgess, “The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work” My copy should be arriving tomorrow, thank you Prime.

The post itself got me thinking about social business and I kept asking myself, “What’s the point?” If I am CMO, why do I want my business to be more social?

I found some research by Forrester that was published a few months ago, “Build Your Army Of Brand Advocates From Across The Enterprise” and one of the execs surveyed said “brand building is a company-wide effort that requires employees in all departments to be brand ambassadors.”

Well that’s certainly a good reason. Sadly though, and according to my friends at Altimeter, only 27% of companies’ employees are “aware” and “trained” on how to use social media.

Below is a brief diagram provided by the Forrester report. I would make a few adjustments to the below like, timing should be “always”, and there needs to be a content supply chain (content workflows for ideation, creation, approval, distribution and integration into paid, earned and owned media) built into this model. This will ensure consistency in brand storytelling and help facilitate the content pipeline.


So what’s with the brand journalist reference, Brito?

Well, brand journalism is much more than employees tweeting or sharing company news on Facebook. It’s about finding good stories about the brand, its products or employees and using long-form content to tell a story. There is no difference between an employee brand advocate and a brand journalist. One just has superior writing skills and can tell better stories.

As humans, we love to hear good stories. You probably know “that guy” who can capture the attention of everyone around him during a dinner party when he’s telling a story. He’s always with an entourage of people laughing and agreeing with just about everything he says. This might explain why when someone is telling you a good story, you may not even realize it. You are too fascinated with the actual story itself.  That’s the power of a well-told story. From a brand standpoint, storytelling allows a company to be “human” and being human is about having a real, honest connection with people, being transparent, responsive and above all accessible. We can all thank social media for all that.

This is why your brand must do more than empower employees to be more social. They must become storytellers, brand journalists.

One of the earliest references of brand journalism came from Larry Light, McDonald’s CMO, at the 2004 AdWatch conference where he proclaimed that mass marketing no longer worked and no single approach told the whole story:

Brand Journalism is a chronicle of the varied things that happen in our brand world, throughout our day, throughout the years. Our brand means different things to different people. It does not have one brand position. It is positioned differently in the minds of kids, teens, young adults, parents and seniors. It is positioned differently at breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, weekday, weekend, with kids or on a business trip.

Light’s speech didn’t go well with everyone. Seth Godin, marketing genius and author of over 12 best-selling marketing books responded in a blog post just a few days later saying, “It’s not really brand journalism that’s happening, you see. It’s brand cocktail party! You get to set the table and invite the first batch of guests, but after that the conversation is going to happen with or without you.”

And Godin was absolutely right. Back in 2004, brands were still confused on how to use social media to actually have a conversation. Today, things are different.

The philosophy of brand journalism is simple.  It’s about combining the core tenets of journalism with brand storytelling, thereby creating conversational and brand value to all stakeholders, both customers and the media.

Here is what drives my thinking.

I am sure you are familiar with the Edelman Trust Barometer. It’s an annual report that measures trust. When asked about trusted sources and credible spokespeople, respondents speak loud and clear about who they find credible when seeking information about a brand or company:

  • 67% of those surveyed find a technical expert in the company as credible.
  • 61% of those surveyed find a “a person like yourself” as credible.
  • 50% of those surveyed find a regular employee in the company as credible

Additionally, 2012 research by SNCR found that by far the most frequent use of social media among business pros was interacting with their peers within online communities like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, vertical-specific communities like Spiceworks, and even branded communities.

Key findings of this study include:

  • Professionals spend 40% of their time online interacting in peer-based communities, closely followed by online interactions with friends (31%) and family (13%).
  • Sixty-five percent of users participate to engage with a professional community of colleagues and peers via social media networks.
  • Eighty percent participate in groups online to help others by sharing information, ideas, and experiences.
  • Eighty-two percent exchange information with professional networks, and 78% exchange information online with friends; 37% exchange information with “experts.”
  • Nearly 80% of respondents participate in online groups to help others by sharing information and experiences; 66% participate in a professional community of colleagues and peers; 41% participate in groups to be seen as someone knowledgeable.
  • For seeking information about companies, nearly 50% of respondents said that visiting company websites was most meaningful, 45% read blogs; followed by micro blogging (41%), direct email (40%), and information exchange in online groups or forums (41%).
So what that does mean for you, your brand? 

We know from the Edelman Trust Barometer that employees (technical experts and “people like yourself”) are trusted and viewed as credible. We also know that business pros spend a lot of time in social networks interacting with others, seeking advice, and looking for information. So by combining these two pieces of research, it makes sense to empower your employees to engage online with customers, especially if you work in a B2B environment. It gives you the opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership, influence others through the buying cycle, and feed the content engine with relevant and trusted content. It also provides an opportunity to have employees become brand journalists.

Buy my book. It’ll help you. 

  • ProfDJ

    This thinking supports my view that the most trusted brands are other people rather than corporate brands.

  • Rylee William

    yes. i agree with ProfDJ.