Empowering Employees on Social Media

November 2, 2018

[andrew baker/icon images]
[andrew baker/icon images]

Who can help your company build client trust, attract top talent and strengthen community relationships? Those who know your organization best: your employees.

If employee engagement doesn’t already top your priority list, then now is the time to get started.

In late 2015, our CEO Horacio D. Rozanski challenged Booz Allen’s employees to tell the story of our company’s 100-plus years of innovation as a management and information-technology consulting firm. Today, building employee advocacy has become even more urgent for companies. Among them:

Employees tell authentic stories. When it comes to learning about a company, “people trust their peers and employees more than just about anyone else,” Charlotte Marshall, vice president of digital, social media and employer brand at Magellan Health, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based health care services company, said in a July 2017 article for the Society for Human Resource Management.

Titled “How to Turn Your Employees into Brand Advocates,” the article cites a July 2017 study from the research firm Gartner, which found that only 15 percent of people trust a company’s social media posts, compared to 70 percent who trust recommendations from people they know. “Your employees are powerful megaphones for your employer brand,” Jess Von Bank, vice president of business development at recruitment-software company Symphony Talent, says in the article. “They’re living personifications of your culture and mission.”

• Employees create crucial links with clients. When employees build relationships with the people they serve, they also build their company’s future. And what employees say carries weight: In Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer, 62 percent of respondents said they trust a company’s social media more than its advertising.

Empowering our employees

At Booz Allen, our social media program began in 2016 with an employee survey, part of our shift to becoming a digital-first brand. “Our people were reluctant to share online,” Dana Stirk, our digital director, recalls. “They wanted guidelines.” Moreover, employees wanted to access our intranet and corporate social network, Yammer, from different client sites without using mobile device-management software or multiple sign-ins.

Our solution was our “Engage” social media initiative, which has three parts wrapped in a strong change-management philosophy. Using a system for employee communication and engagement from the company Dynamic Signal, our employees can now access our social media platform using a mobile app and just one set of sign-in credentials. The platform allows our employees to contribute stories and select pre-approved posts to share on their own personal social media channels.

We also developed guidelines for external social media. After researching other companies’ guidelines, we updated our own in consultation with our law, ethics and IT security groups.

A third part of our “Engage” initiative involves training. We developed an online hub that provides resources such as a social media field guide and video tutorials. We’re working on offering degreed social media courses and training on topics such as social brand advocacy and recruiting.

Introducing our ‘Engage’ initiative

We rolled out the program in three phases, from May 2016 through March 2017. First, we offered a pilot program to 500 employees who might have varied reasons for using the platform such as social recruiting, thought leadership and internal communications.

Next, we initiated a soft launch during which the program was available but not advertised. We were encouraged by the positive feedback we received, and we used the data the soft launch generated to fine-tune the program.

Finally, we fully rolled out our “Engage” initiative with a two-week takeover of firm communications that featured corporate email, digital displays and posters, in addition to training and referral programs for existing users.

“It’s official: Our company is no longer quiet on social media,” said Don Jones, our lead digital strategist who guided the initiative.

By July, 41 percent of our firm had registered for our “Engage” initiative. During the previous 18 months, our employees had created nearly 5,000 social media post submissions, shared more than 35,000 pieces of content, generated more than 41 million social media impressions and drove more than 4,500 visits to BoozAllen.com.

Continual improvement is part of the journey. Step by step, we have been integrating “Engage” into key elements of our tech stack. Through “Poppulo,” our internal-communication tool, and “Workday,” our human resources platform, our managers can send email and mobile notifications to targeted groups. We also use “Engage” in our firm-wide employee activities, for example when asking employees to vote on awards.

Building your own program

Whether you’re starting a social media program or strengthening an existing one, the first step is to create clear objectives. Talk with stakeholders throughout the firm — such as legal, human resources, marketing, and of course, the employees themselves.

Five principles to keep in mind:

  1. Enlist employees as brand ambassadors. Employees are the face and voice of your brand. Let them know how important they are to establishing your company’s identity.
  2. Empower employees with information. Provide employees with training, guidance and permission so they can share and post social media content with confidence.
  3. Help employees build their own personal brands as they build yours. As branding expert William Arruda wrote in an October 2013 guest column on Forbes.com, “The most successful companies help employees understand their personal brands, capitalizing on the integration of these individual traits with the broader corporate objectives … based on the principle of personal plus corporate, not personal vs. corporate.”
  4. First plan your tactics, then choose your tools. Technology is powerful, but only when used in service to sound strategy. To ensure the technology you choose enables your success, think about what makes sense for your company.
  5. Measure, celebrate, iterate. Charlotte Marshall of Magellan Health stresses the importance of using metrics to evaluate employee-advocacy programs. “Did the Glassdoor ratings improve?” she asks in the Society of Human Resource Management article. “What was the reach and engagement that week? What was the highest performing piece of content? Who were your super-users? Make sure you call out and celebrate successes to keep the momentum up.”

And finally, lead by example. Like most transformative efforts, social advocacy programs work best when employees can see their leaders are serious about it, too. I share and post content using Engage by Dynamic Signal and encourage others to do the same. After all, we’re brand ambassadors together.

Grant McLaughlin

Grant McLaughlin, vice president, corporate affairs for Booz Allen Hamilton, brings a strategic edge to employee engagement and integrated marketing, reinventing the editorial voice and driving revenue with metrics aligned to client insights and data-driven targeting. His transformative team includes emerging technologists, digital marketers and analytical powerhouses. Follow him on Twitter @grantrmc.


Becky Graebe says:

Great insights, Grant! Booz Allen sets the bar in combining technology and a programmatic, win-win approach to employee activation and advocacy. It's that mutual benefit that sustains an effort like this and inspires other employees to get involved in authentic ways.

Nov. 19, 2018

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