Welcome to the Speakers’ Corner VOD blog!


This blog features more insights from our speakers on focus topics as well as presenters’ commentary and perspectives.  Speakers’ Corner covers the “REAL” of marketing:

  • Results
  • Engagement
  • Authenticity
  • Leadership

Leadership Platform

client_12By Anne McCarthy

From my perspective, personal branding is primarily about self promotion and, candidly, it is more often than not, self serving and short lived.

From a business perspective, I believe in developing a Leadership Platform, which is all about finding the intersection between the business’ purpose and the executive’s passion.

Genuine Leadership Platforms are unique – they are not one size fits all. A compelling Leadership Platform takes time to build and requires soul searching and reflection.

Five important considerations when creating a strategic Leadership Platform:

1. LIMELIGHT. A well-designed, disciplined Leadership Platform will attract appropriate levels of attention and break through the clutter. That doesn’t mean activating all channels and trying to reach all audiences, all the time. A sound leadership platform is intended to drive a specific agenda, reaching a specific set of stakeholders to achieve specific results.
2. LESSONS. There are many notable leaders who have deliberately and strategically leveraged robust content and specific channels to move the needle. There are good examples and there are bad examples. Researching how well-respected leaders built, maintain and enhance their platform is a worthwhile investment, e.g. Warren Buffet, Sheryl Sandberg.
3. MULTIFACETED. Leaders today need to be more than one dimensional. You may be a CEO but that doesn’t necessarily mean you command attention. Stakeholders are more discriminating today. In order to be more than a ‘one hit wonder’ a true leader must have more than one facet to his or her life. Whether you are an athlete, a musician or a business guru, think about your role in the community and those talents and skills that make you a more interesting, compelling character.
4. TRANSPARENCY. In this era of universal access to information, don’t attempt to fake it. Authenticity is the price of admission. If there are inconsistencies in your background, lean into them. If there are speed bumps that may detract from your message, take them on in an offensive manner. Political candidates call this opposition research.
5. PASSION. Why do you do what you do? What do you care about? You can’t invent an area of passion. Tie your passion to your purpose. This will fuel your Leadership Platform.

Monetizing Data: Are You Doing Enough?

client_10By Hunter Albright

Significant Opportunity

The opportunity for creating value through data has never been greater.  Companies are becoming increasingly aware that they are sitting on huge amounts of under-utilized data and looking for ways to increase its value.  According to a recent study by Forrester Research, most companies estimate they’re analyzing a mere 12% of the data they have.

Furthermore, not all organizations are equally adept at translating their data into value, and their ability to do so is impacting their ability to compete.  Some businesses, such as information service providers, have always been about deriving value from data. However, the ability to use and monetize data is now impacting almost every type of business. As a result, driving value from data must now be contemplated as part of an overall business strategy.

The companies that are the most progressive at how they look at data, like Google, Uber and AirBnB, are creating significant value and changing the economy.  They way they look at data and figure out how to extract value has become a compelling and sustainable advantage.

Opportunities can hide in plain sight.  Some ways to positively impact the bottom line using data include:

  1. Infer customer satisfaction
  2. Minimize customer churn
  3. Identify your best customers – your target new customers
  4. Improve your marketing ROI
  5. Improve your operations and drive up your margins
  6. Improve your product development
  7. Identify a new revenue model
  8. Disrupt your own business – before someone else does!


Start with Questions

The conditions for data monetization for a wide range of businesses are great:

  • Massive volumes of structured and unstructured data;
  • Increasing ability to execute data-driven marketing campaigns across multiple channels that create relevant customer experiences;
  • Improving business intelligence and processes by applying data analytics.

However, these same trends create challenges for businesses.  Too often companies get off course by diving right into the masses of data that is available.  Instead, the focus needs to shift to thinking about the right questions and the answers to them — the value is in the answers, not the data.

Therefore, it is important to start with the key questions that can most greatly improve your performance. Use these questions to better define the problems that are most helpful to solve.  Then use the data and analytical techniques available to develop potential solutions.

As you go through this process, inspiration for data monetization can come from the questions, from the data, and from the analytical methods.


A Guiding Process for Success

Given that the ability to leverage data significantly impacts a company’s ability to compete, in the next five years, fortunes will be made and lost based on which leaders can most effectively reorient their approach; initiate enterprise-wide; data-led transformations; and effectively monetize this new type of asset.

Every company will approach data monetization differently, and getting it right can be hard.  However, you can improve your changes for success by stepping through a simple four-step process:

  1. Needs Validation – identify a need that has value and urgency for you or your customers.
  2. Solution Design – collaborate with your potential customers or similar companies in the design of the solution.
  3. Solution Validation – quickly deploy the solution to validate that it works and quickly iterate to a market ready solution.
  4. Creating Scale – once you find a solution that works, focus on creating scale.


Learn More

To learn more, get some top tips and recommendations on tools that can be helpful, check out my Speakers’ Corner webisode, “ Monetizing Data: Are You Doing Enough?”


Lather, Rinse, Repeat: How Preparation helps Communicators Respond to Crises

Meg Vanderlaan

By Meg VanderLaan

Every day, in every organization, there is potential for a crisis. Sometimes crises happen, and they generate very little media coverage.  Other times, crises hit and the headlines seem to drag on for weeks. As professional communicators, it is important to be prepared for any crisis. Prevention is the best cure, but certainly how you respond to a crisis when it presents itself can make all the difference.

Crisis management is becoming more complicated with so many different channels. People trust digital media and owners of smart phones are now publishers. In November 2014, mobile devices surpassed desktop access to the web for the first time, and it is only growing. We check our phones an average of 150 times per day!

With all of these challenges, corporate brands and individuals can lose credibility immediately, and it is critical to have a foundation for crisis management and a plan to deal with crisis. Most of this work begins before a crisis happens. Here are a few preventive measures:

  • Establish your corporate identity with positive brand and reputation building.
  • Know your allies and partners and work with them. Know the communications team at your client or site so you understand their protocols.
  • Build relationships with the media and always respond to their inquiries–even when you cannot provide information due to legal actions, confidentiality or pending investigation.
  • Know your stakeholders. Be prepared both internally and with your clients or sites. In our case, we have our employees working on client sites every day. It is imperative that we learn about our clients’ crisis plans.
  • Conduct media training with key executives and project managers.
  • Communicate your crisis plan to your employees. Review the plan and review it again.

But as much as you prepare, crises happen. These crises can impact your brand and your reputation, your customer and client impression of your organization, your employees and the communities you serve.

One of my favorite books is Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales. In the book, Gonzales reviews multiple crisis situations and each individual response to them. He clearly outlines those who survive and those who do not and points out the importance of the balance of logic and emotion. For me, surviving a crisis is just like that. If you’re too logical, you won’t connect and you will act too robotically. Sometimes crisis situations don’t go by a “book.”  If you’re too emotional, you’ll lose focus. You need to think and plan. It’s all about balance.

When you are in a crisis situation, there are several steps to take. It is always interesting to me to watch crises as they unfold and to realize how companies forget two very important words: communication and respect.

During a crisis, honesty and ethical behavior comes through loud and clear in your communication. It’s critical to have carefully planned messaging, use honest, empathetic and human language. Don’t hide from the media, even if you cannot provide much, and consider communicating to all of your stakeholders. Don’t wait too long. Speculation and gossip can tell your story for you, if you don’t jump in to set the scene.

Respect the media and injured parties-they are not adversaries. Avoid saying “No Comment.” While feeling right at the time, it may raise suspicion in the news consumer’s mind. They may wonder: “What are they hiding?” Another act of respect when relating to the media is to respond quickly to media requests. Clarify, don’t speculate. Be consistent, but human, and always use caution when responding in the heat of the moment.

It’s challenging to discuss behaviors and interpersonal connections in a digital world, but digital communications should not be forgotten in your response to crisis. Use digital media to know which conversations are happening and also establish a set course for how far you will engage in social media in response to a crisis.

When things begin to settle down, rebuilding reputation and brand again is important. It reminds me of the instructions on the back of shampoo bottles: Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

This is where you engage with communities in volunteering, promote your organization through your allies and stakeholders and tell your story. This is also where you build relationships with the media. Don’t forget to conduct media training and communicate your crisis plan to employees. The best crisis communication begins long before the next crisis occurs.


What’s a 50-Cent Hot Dog Got to do With Customer Experience?

client_8By Gabe Cohen

IKEA: some consider it heaven on earth; others have a more love-hate relationship with the Swedish big-box retailer. Regardless of where you land on the emotional spectrum, IKEA is one of the biggest global brands, welcoming over 716 million customers through its yellow and blue doors in 2014 alone. What most of us don’t know is that part of IKEA’s winning formula can be attributed to something incredibly simple and inexpensive…a 50-cent hot dog.

IKEA’s brilliant understanding of its customer journey enables the brand to pinpoint the precise moments where its customers are experiencing the highest amount of pain, such as checkout.  It then proactively embeds a series of touch-point that attempts to remedy this issue as quickly as possible. Like a dentist who treats a child with a lollipop, the Swedish retailer rewards the weary shopper with 50-cent hot dog or a cone of soft serve ice cream at the end of their journey.

There are different ways in which organizations can manage the pain-pleasure gap. Mouse-eared revelers waiting in line to enter Disney World, are welcomed by Main Street, U.S.A.—the first and iconic “themed land” inside of Walt Disney’s Magical Kingdom. Seeing the joyous face of a 3-year old captivated by the “magic” of Disney is a sure way to rid any parent of any long wait.

Both Disney and IKEA deliver an excellent customer experience by interpreting brand and experience synonymously. By aligning teams under a unifying brand principle, these brands have been able to get outside of their departmental marketing silos to create a consistent and excellent customer experience. Using brands as a North Star, these organizations are able to create cross-functional teams that are aligned to a promise that can be consistently delivered across a kaleidoscope of touch points. For Disney, this means bringing together a cast of actors, production specialists, tour guides, designers, food service, marketing gurus, and IT teams together to create a “magical” experience.

Crushing customer experience is not limited to consumer-facing brands. A survey by Temkin Group of over 200 companies revealed that 63% of companies said they planned on using customer journey maps in 2015.


Rackspace, a cloud computing service based in San Antonio looks to turn a support call into a positive customer experience. It’s breathing vigor and passion into a customer journey that has historically been extremely painful.

Its approach coined in the experience principle of “fanatical support” is driven internally to engage employees who are key in delivering a refreshing and energizing experience in a category where customers spend the majority of their time listening to hold music.

Measure Them!

client_7By Jeffrey Daigle

I always smile when people tell me that there is a sudden new big data problem in their industry. I keep thinking back and remember when organizations were struggling with bytes of data, that then became kilobytes, then megabytes, and regardless of its size, it was always a bigger byte than they could chew.

Even with all of this data, I tend to advocate continuing to collect even more data on your customers. It’s this philosophy of “measuring them” that allows us to continue to get a holistic picture of the customer and how they want to engage with a company or engage with your competitors.

Though with this recommendation, many people often ask me where they should start. I suggest starting with an inventory of the data sources your company has already collected. To help you get started, we’ve created a document to help you start your data source inventory process. This tool looks at the most common data sources that might exist in your organization and then asks you to identify the data owner, any analytics tools being used on that data already, and the frequency with which the data is updated.

However, this list isn’t ever going to be a complete list of the potential data you might benefit from. There are other data sources that may make sense for you to collect and analyze. Companies that truly measure their customer base look beyond the obvious ones like market research, transactional surveys, purchase data, or visitation data to new sources like contact center transcripts, usage data, or online sentiments.

Gathering all of this information on your customers by itself is not the end goal. You’ll have to turn this aqueous and malleable data into concrete insights about the customers. And companies are doing just that and transforming what they’ve gathered on their customers into actionable insight. We talk about these and other examples in our Speakers’ Corner webisode “Measure Them.”

  • A large U.S. chain of department stores gathers information on what customers say they would like to see in store with sales associates to help them inform the merchandising process.
  • A small chain of quick service restaurants review regularly the menu items that are customized so they can create flavor fusions that customers would want to purchase in the future.
  • A business-to-business manufacturing company has sales representatives fill out quick surveys immediately after on-site client visits to gauge account health and proactively repair relationships by getting qualitative and quantitative results


Interested in reading more musings from Jeffrey? Read his other blogs.

Lessons from Fast Food: Serving Up a Delicious Omnichannel Experience

Holy Smokes! How the Pope’s View on Climate Change Can Spur Action in North America

TCPA Non-Compliance? A Utility Nightmare

The E Source Journey into Workplace Safety

Your Estimated Hold Time Is… Zero?

Omnichannel Sorcery

Unleashing the Power of Content

client_6By Steven Shapiro

Content marketing must work because here you are. You are reading a blog that will take you to a video that resides on a publishing platform called Speakers’ Corner that builds brand engagement with Westmeath, and exposes you to me and my company Communications Strategy Group. If the quality of the content is worthwhile and provides value, you will be willing to exchange your engagement, in whatever form that is, for access to the content, and a relationship will be born. This is what we call a “Content Value Exchange.”

More and more organizations are coming to understand the importance of becoming publishers as they recognize that marketing is no longer a game of control, but one of influence. Market forces, whether it be the advancement of ad blockers or the “consumer spring” that empowers stakeholders to verify and validate authenticity, have required brands to build an audience and trust with consumers like no other time in history. Valuable content has become the vehicle to build that relationship. It’s not a new concept, but it has become more of an imperative in the marketing communications world. With this accelerating interest and growing commitment to content marketing has come greater complexity both in terms of the structure and responsibilities of those in the marketing organization and the tools and tactics that are applied.

The question is, how do you approach this dynamic marketing communications environment in way that optimizes your marketing communications budget and delivers measurable outcomes for your organization? At the heart of a streamlined content marketing effort is what we call “Content Process Optimization” (CPO). While CPO requires a great deal of front end work, including:

• persona development,
• shared value identification,
• promotional channel analysis,
• content and subject matter expertise audit,
• influencer ecosystem mapping, and
• creation of measurement dashboards among many other foundational steps.

The heartbeat of CPO is a consistent work flow application of a content supply chain around a shared value with the audience, including:

• creation/extraction of content,
• packaging of content, and
• the distribution/promotion of content.

Sounds simplistic and obvious, but in most organizations today it is the distribution and promotion phase of the work flow that often drives the first two or worse there is no coordination at all. For example, in most organizations, the PR function is extracting and packaging content for the media, while the social media team is creating streams to cultivate a community, while advertising is centered on brand building activities all of which are often not aligned. This misalignment causes inefficiencies in the allocation of human and financial resources, marginalizes marketing outcomes, and perhaps most importantly, dilutes what your brand stands for in the minds of consumers and stakeholders in the cacophony of voices they are peppered with each day.

At the end of the day, the goal of your content marketing initiative is to create a publishing platform that over time builds an engaged audience that in turn can reduce marketing costs and maximize the lifetime value of your customers.

Data Analytics and My Stream of Consciousness

client_11By Arezou Zarafshan

Recently, my team and I were faced with a major challenge that required a herculean analytical effort.  The project was the type that any data junkie such as myself dreams about (new, exciting, big challenge and big visibility) and is deathly afraid of (huge risk, big challenge, big visibility), all at the same time.

We were asked by our CEO to project market performance for our brands in the upcoming quarter.  My team and I got to work, derived a great model with high correlation values and proudly presented our insights to our executive office.  Big bust!  Our CEO had over a dozen questions about how our projections tied to other pieces of our business.  How did it correlate with our inventory position?  What about account sales?  Should the company expect a slew of new orders in the coming quarter as we were projecting a very healthy growth in market position?

Although our sophisticated model commanded 93% accuracy, we did not have any answers to our CEO’s questions.  We had done the job we were asked to do very well but ultimately we had failed in providing business-worthy insights.

I spent sometime reflecting on where we had gone wrong.   We knew what to look at qualitatively and measure quantitatively.  We definitely had clarity about our signal (market position).  We understood very well what the signal was telling us (25% lift in value market share in less than two months).  All good, except we failed to ask “So What?”

As it turns out, a snapshot market position does little for lifting our business performance in a given quarter.  In our business, there is a sizable lag between account orders and consumer purchase and hence, our business has already realized the revenue for the product purchased by the consumer.

I was fortunate that our CEO gave me a second chance and asked me to come back with a more comprehensive analysis.  This time around, I reminded myself of the steps to take for data to generate meaningful insights and action.  I brought a cross-functional team together, comprising  sales, account management, forecasting, finance and inventory management.  Collectively, we agreed on all the different data points and sources to examine.  When everyone came back with their results, time and time again, we asked ourselves and each other: “So What?”  This critical examination of our story only added to the robustness of our collective insights.

As we methodically peeled the onion, we learned that due to a large order two months prior and the softening of the market, our inventory was healthy enough to support the market demand for the quarter although our consumer sell-through continued to be healthy and growing.  In summary, even though our market position continued to gain strength, our account orders remained the same as previously anticipated.

With this insight, the business was able to better forecast for the upcoming quarters and become more accurate in financial projections (the Now What piece).

Viola!  Eureka!  I redeemed my credibility and perhaps a bit of my ego!

I enjoyed the challenge immensely.  However, the most valuable part of this experience for me was the reminder to follow my own recipe:

  1. Simplify
  2. Know the Signal from the Noise
  3. Ask So What?
  4. Ask Now What?
  5. Act!
  6. Cross-Functional

Does Customer Engagement Matter for Brands?

Diane Scott
Diane Scott

By Speakers’ Corner Presenter and Western Union Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Diane Scott

As a purpose-driven company that “moves money for better,” placing strong emphasis on our customer experience and engagement is of utmost importance.  People and businesses choose Western Union because we are a business centered on the needs of our customers, and we’ve invested and innovated to provide consumers and businesses with a wide range of choice in services.  We strive to enable them to move money any time, anyway, in almost anywhere in the world.

On average, Western Union customers transact with us less than a dozen times a year, which makes customer engagement even more important during the times they are not using our services.

So how do we do that?

Well, our business is social in nature. It is relationship driven.  So it only makes sense that we as a business leverage social media to engage with our existing customers, while continuing to grow a strong customer base.   As such, we are utilizing social media to build a critical mass audience that is engaged with the Western Union brand, drives awareness and advocacy, and provides high quality care.

Since launching a formal social media campaign about two years ago, the practice has been a resounding success, creating a strong following of consumers, customers and other notable external stakeholders and influencers.   Today, we engage with more than six million followers across our Western Union social channels.

As listening and conversation are the foundation of social marketing, we have found that there are some conversations that are more important than others and we would like to share our thoughts with you in this video.

Join us in this Speakers’ Corner webisode as we discuss the five social conversations that all brands should care about, and how they have provided us with invaluable insights about our customers, helped tens of thousands of customers through our 24×7/ 365 social care and created a lot of brand advocacy and awareness along the way.


15 Steps to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

By Speakers’ Corner Presenter and Social/Digital expert, Amy McIlwainAmy_McIlwain_HS

Utilizing blogging as a tool to grow your business through increased awareness, website traffic and leads can be hard work. Success isn’t going to happen overnight. So how do you know if you are on the right track? Is there anything else you can be doing to help boost your blog views?

We have created a checklist to help you optimize your LinkedIn profile and blog content, make sure you have your blogging platform setup correctly and offer new ideas to get more people seeing your blog articles.

Optimize For Your Audience
Who are you trying to reach with your blog? What do they want to hear from you? What information will they find helpful, informative or entertaining

Start with these tips for optimizing your blog content for your targeted audience so that they will keep coming back for more:

1 – Define your ideal reader.

2 – Think about what questions this reader would have and answer them. When someone asks a question in a search engine online, your blog will come up. Also, being extremely helpful will help build trust and credibility.

3 – Include quotes from influencers.

4 – Don’t let your content get out of date. Old content or broken links may deter readers from coming back.

5 – Use quality, unique images to add value. Don’t rely on stock photos. Also, be sure to label your photos with optimized names, descriptions and alt tags.

Optimize For Readability & Usability

Now you have your awesome custom content ready to go, but you need to present it in a way that is easy to digest. Here are 5 tips for making your blogs easy to read, no matter the viewer:

6 – Pick a legible font. Fancy fonts stand out, but may be hard to read, so use them for headings and subheadings only.

7 – Pick a practical font size. This is often larger than what you would first pick as aesthetically pleasing.

8 – Use a dark font on a white background, because it’s just more pleasant for your eyeballs.

9 – Get rid of large blocks of text. Using large subheadings and bullet points make an article easy to scan and interrupt a monotonous flow of text.

10 – Use a responsive design. Many of your blog viewers may be coming to your site from mobile devices like phones and tablets, so it is important that it will be legible and have a clean layout on any device.

Optimize For Increased Traffic
You’re almost there… you have great content that answers your audience’s questions and it is laid out in an organized, user-friendly manner on your website. But how can you get your blog in front of more people? Below are a few tips to get more traffic, followers and devoted readers:

11 – Edit your headlines. Make sure that your titles and headlines are full of search-friendly keywords. Also, when sharing on social media and via email, make sure your headlines are intriguing.

12 – Always write meta-descriptions. These are the descriptions that show up in search results, so it should be a short description that encourages someone to read your full article.

13 – Use categories. This helps human readers and crawling search bots find your content. Categories are much more helpful for SEO than adding tags.

14 – Create images that are the correct size for each of your favorite social media channels. Optimal image sizes encourage engagement and sharing on social. For image sizing, check out our guide.

15 – Add social sharing buttons to your blog page. Placing these buttons right at the beginning or end of your blog encourages the reader to share with their friends, because it makes sharing on any channel so easy.


Remember that your blog is a tool to start the conversation with a potential client, and not a direct sales tool. And to win business with your blog, you need to do more than write valuable content. You need to make it easy to find, easy to read and easy to share!

You can download the full 15-step checklist in this PDF!

Connect with Amy on Social!
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Michael Baldwin: Presentation Tips and Recommendations

Written and provided by Speakers’ Corner featured presenter, Michael Baldwin, CEO of Michael Baldwin, Inc. and Author of, “Just Add Water!”

When it comes to speaking and presenting, there is only one thing you need to know: Nothing will accelerate your career faster than developing your ability to communicate. Nothing.

It is an art form, a powerful tool, and a credential which has no peer, in business or in life.

Here are a few basic recommendations and presentation tips for everyone who would like to master the art of presenting … with impact and gusto!

  • Pretend you are about to propose … to your audience.

Why is it that when we contemplate proposing marriage to someone, we immediately start making plans according to what the other person likes; how the other person thinks; from the other person’s POV? And we do so based on an intimate knowledge of that person.

When you are getting ready to present to an audience, knowing as much as you can about that audience should be your same starting point. How do they think? What are their expectations? How do they see themselves?Most importantly, knowing how what you are going to say on a topic will affect the predisposition or bias of those you will be addressing, is the real key. That’s how you are able to: 1. Anticipate resistance and 2. Preempt objections … right out of the gate if necessary.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you already know your audience without some due diligence — even if it means refreshing yourself on a group that you think is a familiar one. And don’t make assumptions about them — do that and you are playing with fire.


  • Don’t be clear; be Crystal Clear about your objective.

Without a single extra word, be able to articulate your objective in one simple sentence. It sounds simple … until you sit down to do it and you discover that it is anything but, because it isn’t crystal clear in your own head.

It must be simple, single-minded, and everything you say or do must be in service of that objective, or you don’t include it. Think of the foundation for a house; the through line of a scene; the key chords to a piece of music; if the foundation for your presentation — your crystal clear objective — isn’t crystal clear, your presentation will be fatally flawed.

Avoid being the next victim of a tired old saw: “There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.” Spend the time to get it right before you start building your presentation.


  • Build your argument to an inescapable conclusion – Checkmate.

Just like any brilliant Supreme Court oral argument, you want to build your case, point by point, in a logical flow that ends in checkmate — an inescapable end point that makes your POV the obvious one. My favorite methodology: use one index card per point to collect and organize your thoughts. Then organize them sequentially — left to right like an equation — slowly building to your end point.

A random collection of slides (too common a problem with presenters) has nowhere near the impact — or the power — to convince audiences, change minds, and close deals.


  • Stay connected to what you are saying and to whom you are saying it.

Nothing persuades like the passion of conviction. And nothing works harder against you than any hint you are phoning it in. Understand the stakes of each presentation personally — know why the outcome is important to you, and let the audience know it too. Genuine contact, eye-to-eye, is the only way to make a meaningful connection with someone, and the only way to communicate real conviction in a visceral, human way.


  • Read the faces in the room like tea leaves.

It’s called “active listening” in acting, and it’s what differentiates the great speakers: reading the faces and body language of the people in the room non-stop. Be on the lookout for expressions or body language that feel like someone is confused, uncomfortable, or lost. And don’t be afraid to press pause; to stop and ask someone if there’s a problem or a question that needs to be asked. It’s how you make it clear to an audience that you are paying attention to them.

Connect with Michael on social!

Click here to download a FREE chapter of Michael’s book, “Just Add Water

Employee Advocacy LIVE Q&A Recap

Employee Advocacy Experts, Amanda Turner and Bernie Charland

Thank you to all who joined our first LIVE Q&A on the topic of Employee Advocacy.  Bernie Charland, Principal/Founder of Thinktwice Communications teamed up with Amanda Turner, President/Founder of ClearChange Communications, to share their insights on this hot topic and field your questions together to provide you the best answers possible.  Below, you’ll find a full listing of questions with their respective answers.  **Don’t forget to download this FREE list of Employee Advocacy Stats to reinforce your own employee advocacy program! Here are a few key points of the Q&A:

  • Gamification and Incentivizing Employee Advocacy Programs.  Several folks asked about gamification and turning your employee advocacy program into a rewards based “game” with points, scores and a competitive element to drive some friendly competition in the office while promoting the company brand.  For the most part, the answer is yes.  Incentivizing employees to establish a stronger program is effective but needs to be done correctly and must be a good fit within the company.  “Incentives and gamification should be encouraged – not coerced.”
  • Employee Social Pages and Disclaimers.  A noted concern in the conversation was whether or not employee-owned social media channels should feature any type of disclaimer.  The answer varies from company-to-company but the bottom line is that it will not harm your company to have a disclaimer or a company hashtag indicating the employee is a part of the employee advocacy program and their views may not fully represent those of the company’s.
  • Using Caution in Highly Regulated Industries.  Many companies operate within industries that have very complicated and strict rules and regulations surrounding what employees/companies can and cannot say publicly.  Organizations that fit within one of these industries can do a few things to minimize the risk of an employee advocacy program such as ensuring a detailed social media policy and providing rigorous social media training to those participating in the employee advocacy program.
  • Monitoring Employees on Social Media.  Should the brand govern what is said on social media by closely monitoring what employees say and share?  You cannot govern what the employee decides to share; you can only provide them approved content to share.  What they decide to say and which content they decide to share will be determined by what’s relevant to their likes/interests and those of their audience (friends and family).  What they say/share SHOULD be monitored, but it cannot be governed in an effective program.  That would create a “manufactured” marketing program.

Want more from Bernie and Amanda? Check out their highlight clips from their Speakers’ Corner webisode, “Employee Advocacy: Why Employees Are The Next Big Thing.
-Highlight Clip #1: Mitigate the Risk of an Employee Advocacy Program
-Highlight Clip #2: Employee Advocacy Stats

Employee Advocacy: Game Change but not a Panacea

Bernie Charland
Bernie Charland

By Bernie Charland, Principal/Founder of thinktwice communications

Bernie Charland was featured with Amanda Turner in webisode two of Speakers’ Corner Season One, “Employee Advocacy: Why Employees Are The Next Big Thing

For the past few months there seems to be growing buzz in social media (and marketing communication circles) about employee advocacy. Companies like IBM, Target, Dell and Starbucks are sharing very positive updates about their programs, and a range of providers are promoting their plug-and-play platforms.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss this important topic on the Speakers’ Corner video-on-demand series with my colleague Amanda Turner. In our presentation Amanda and I positioned employee advocacy as the next big thing, and with good reason – as I detail below.

But despite the huge potential benefits to companies (and employees), staff advocacy programs are not a magic bullet, and not for every company. Like any other social media program, you need to a smart, realistic and deliberate approach. You should avoid jumping on the bandwagon without careful due diligence and planning. So I’ve developed a checklist of issues communication pros should carefully consider before they embark on an advocacy program.

Before I get to the checklist, let’s review a quick definition and look at the rationale for employee advocacy.

Employee advocacy is mobilizing trained employees to share company-approved content through employee-owned social channels to engage consumers, peers and family. (Italics are intentional, underlining critical elements of an advocacy program.) Advocates typically do not have social outreach as a formal part of their jobs (like subject matter experts who blog on the company’s behalf.) In essence, advocacy programs allow your employees to tell your company story.

As for the potential benefits of employee advocacy, they have been well documented and are backed by robust research and results. At its core employee advocacy helps amplify your marketing efforts – increasing the credibility, reach, audience and engagement well beyond levels for typical corporate outreach. This can translate into a boost in online profile, reputation and fan base. But the bigger payoff is the potential for an increase in sales leads, revenue and ultimately profits.

Enlisting your employees in an advocacy program can also help drive staff engagement, and given the stubbornly low engagement levels and related drag on productivity, that’s a very good thing. Advocacy programs are an excellent way to foster employee participation in your brand story, both as messengers and content contributors – or storytellers.

Beyond the profile boost for your branded content – the explicit messages you are sharing – advocacy programs send powerful symbolic messages to both consumers and employees. For employees it says: your ideas matter, we trust you, we believe in our company and we support your personal brand. For customers it says: we’re part of the conversation, we live our values, we’re proud to tell our story, we trust and value our employees and we’re a leader.

So with all this promise, why shouldn’t companies start an employee advocacy right now…if they haven’t already? The short answer is they may not be ready. The list below provides a good template for readiness for an advocacy program.

Can you be authentic? – To be effective long-term, employee advocacy programs must authentically align with their culture, brand and employee interests. Authenticity is a central ethos of social media, with a premium on transparency and responsiveness. That means no hype, no fluff, no dishonesty and no hiding. Does your companies’ marketing and PR content truly align with these values?

Is your culture toxic? – Very low employee morale or engagement is not a good foundation for an employee advocacy program. Ask yourself if your employees are likely to be positive and supportive as online ambassadors? If you’re not sure, you need to fix your culture before you think about advocacy. It’s true that many companies start with small pilot programs, but author/pundit Jay Baer said it best: “If your employees aren’t your biggest fans, you’ve got bigger problems than social media.”

Do you have social infrastructure? – Though there are good technology platforms that companies can easily adopt to manage their advocacy programs, companies with limited or no social capability and/or cultural acceptance will have a much steeper learning curve and a tougher time driving adoption. It’s also important to have internal systems that allow (even foster) multi-directional dialogue and content sharing.

Is your social media policy overly complex or restrictive? – No matter how well you design and execute your advocacy program, it will lag if your social media policies confuse or inhibit your employees.

Is your content compelling? – Perhaps the biggest barrier to a successful advocacy program is stale, self-serving content. Boring is bad. Leading companies use a formula that emphasizes industry and employee-generated content (multi-media of course) over typical marketing content. In other words, treat this as a conversation and not a pushy hard sell – which is anathema in social media.

Do you recognize and value your employees? – Good advocacy programs do a great job of recognizing and rewarding participants. (IBM even ranks the most prolific and popular advocates.) Do you already have credible programs in place to recognize your staff? Are you willing to make your employees the stars of the program?

Will you be social in good times and bad? – Any social media program requires sustained commitment to be credible and relevant, and advocacy programs are no exception. Shutting down during a crisis will create a backlash and erode your credibility. Furthermore, your staff will likely want to have their voice heard in tough times.

Are you good at listening? – Beyond the marketing boost, a big advantage of employee advocacy programs is the acquisition of content-related data and insights on your customers and employees. If you are not already in the mode of listen-learn-adapt, however, these benefits will be lost on you.

Do you trust your employees? – The most important litmus test of any advocacy program is whether you trust your employees. The best programs assume their employees have good intentions, and give their staff plenty of leeway – including choosing the role and content that fits their skills and interest. Programs that are dictatorial or stifle creativity will not be successful. Monitoring and discipline should be a last resort, not a default out of the gate.

It’s likely true that a good advocacy program can actually help fix many of the issues listed above. But I would suggest you start with a strong foundation. Walk before you go social, as it were.

For more info on Bernie Charland and Employee Advocacy, click here!

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By Bernie Charland, Principal/Founder of thinktwice communications