#SilverLinings: How the new Twitter Rules will force you to rethink your Employee Advocacy Program

Just because we can all agree that the wild west needed to end at some point, doesn’t mean we can’t miss it a bit.

As many of you already know by now, Twitter has changed its policies to counter, as Yoel Roth, API Policy and Product Trust at Twitter, wrote on the Developer’s Blog, any “attempt to artificially amplify or inflate the prominence of certain Tweets.” These new rules stem from the now well-publicized social media shenanigans from the U.S. 2016 elections. I encourage you to read that blog to get context and details around these changes, which go into effect March 23, 2018.

However, boiling this down for Internal Communicators, this is definitely a bump in the employee advocacy road — especially for those who use third party vendor software that help you provide tweets that employees can push out on their social media network with one or two clicks. Actually, any internal communications or social marketing group that delivers ready-to-send tweets for employees can to use (even if they have to cut and paste those tweets) will have to stop doing that on March 23 or put your employees at risk of losing their Twitter accounts.

While I find it hard to argue with the thinking behind implementing these new Twitter rules, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bummer for those of us trying to implement Advocacy programs. Converting even your most engaged employees into advocates is no different from any other change program. To paraphrase from the Heath brothers’ great book Switch, it is sometimes not enough to win head and heart; you need to make the pathway clear and easy. Providing ready-made tweets and posts that are editable, goes a long way towards making it easy to become advocates. After March 23, you are basically saying to employees, “here is a link and a hastag, write your own tweet.” While that doesn’t seem like much, those of us who work with busy employees know that it can make a HUGE difference in adoption.

In preparing for a Post-March 23 world, I have to admit, I felt a bit negative about the prospects of our Employee Advocacy program. But after conferring with more intelligent and less emotional communications professionals (like Mercer’s global head of Social Media, the great Danielle Guzman) and our third-party software vendor, Dynamic Signal, I feel much more hopeful for the future; in fact, we may be on an even better pathway than before the rule. It is true that the idea of hundreds of employees lazily sending out the exact same tweet, while reaching a larger social audience, did seem a bit lame.

Three Pathways Forward

  1. Champion Retweets: Instead of providing editable posts through your Employee Advocacy system, you can simply point employees to retweet posts from the company’s handle or from leadership. In my mind, this is just as attractive in terms of ease. Further, you can appoint certain SME’s and people already engaged on twitter, as “champions” on certain topics, having them create the original tweets that get retweeted. This will help grow those “champions” as influencers, and will still allow individuals to build their personal brand and drive messaging for the company.
  2. The Harpoon instead of the Net. Launching software that allows you to provide employees one-click tweets and posts is akin to dragging the net on the bottom of the ocean floor. You don’t know what you will pick up, but you’ll pick up a lot of it. One-click editable posts make it so easy that you are bound to get some good percentage of your employees to sign on and start posting. But how engaged will they be? Their lack of effort means they can always take or leave the advocacy. The new Twitter policy forces us to spend more time trying to harpoon the bigger fish, by convincing them to put some “skin in the game” in writing their own tweets. There won’t be as many of these advocates, but their greater activity will mean they are more engaged and see a benefit that makes them want to put in the effort. You can entice them further by offering them social media training, and perhaps even give them some “swag” to make them feel like they are part of an exclusive group. So while losing the greater numbers is not what I would have freely chosen, the alternative is a smaller group of pro-active participants that will give you a richer employee advocacy program.
  3. LinkedIn, anyone? Finally, this is a policy that affects ONLY Twitter for now. You can still provide posts for LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and other platforms. And frankly, most of your employees may feel better about posting company and industry-related messaging and information to their LinkedIn network.

So while you may have an initial shock and sense of dismay over the new Twitter rules, a silver lining or two can be found if you change your perspective. #GoodbyeWildWest

Steps Internal Communications Can Take To Embed Change

I recently read an excellent article by Kristy Hull in last May’s strategy + business (I’m a bit behind) on Getting to the Critical Few Behaviors that Can Drive Cultural Change. In it, she provides a strategic framework around change that centers around zeroing in on those impactful and actionable new behaviors by employees that are key to getting to a particular business outcome. To brainstorm those behaviors, Hull invites us to ask the question, “In a future state in which we’ve achieved the goals, what would people actually do (or do differently)?”

As communicators and change professionals, we know that we are rarely lucky enough to answer that question with a behavior that employees only have to exhibit once or twice. It’s almost never “employees need to click their heels three times and say there is no place like home,” or the princess or prince is kissed and everybody lives happily ever after (and by the way, Hull does not at all imply that this is the case). Usually change behavior needs to be exhibited multiple times, often daily and often for the long-term. In other words, the behavior ideally turns into habit.

As Hull says, behavior change needs to be built on a foundation of the right incentives, focused performance management, and sometimes organizational design and leadership change. However, a good communication strategy needs to be overlaid on top of these other actions. Internal Communications can help embed the behaviors and turn them into habits with tried and true tactics.

Gathering Virtual Dust and Real Cynicism

This may be controversial (or maybe not with veteran Communicators), but I go into planning these change strategies and tactics with the belief that unless you are a brand new organization, every company has a credibility problem with their employees — especially their more veteran employees – when it comes to change. Every company, with the best of intentions, has started a corporate change “program” or “campaign” that has died on the vine because it wasn’t well thought through, just didn’t have the commitment by leadership that it needed, or circumstances changed and the need for the change was no longer appropriate. Whether it ended for good reasons or bad, employees are left with yet another water bottle on their desk, poster on their wall, or digital card on their screen saver with program logos or slogans like “Imagine the Possibilities” or “Innovate to Create,” that are gathering real or virtual dust.

Look, it happens. You try something; you put a lot of work into it. You do as many right things as you can. And you still fail. Trying and failing should not be a crime when it comes to cultural change programs (or innovation of any kind). This is how you learn. However, employees may start to lose faith in these programs. Maybe not after one failure, but after two or three, employees may be naturally skeptical. If failures keep happening, skepticism turns into cynicism, and then you have to recalibrate how you approach new programs.

It’s a problem, but not an insurmountable one, because through experience, I have also come to the conclusion that most employees want to believe. They want plans to improve the culture of the company to create growth to succeed. Why not? Growth means more money to do more interesting things (and better bonuses). Improved culture often means a better environment to work in, streamlined processes and less focus on unimportant things.

Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

The bigger elephant in any room when it comes to change is layoffs. Employees may be concerned that change could put their job in jeopardy. And let’s face it, with some change programs there may be some job loss. If layoffs are part of any change program, the earlier in the plan that can happen, the better off you will be. As upsetting as layoffs are for employees, if they can see that they are part of a broader change plan (and not just cost cutting) and that they are now “safe,” they are more willing to move forward even if still feeling badly for their laid off colleagues. Again, they want the company to succeed; they just need to know there is a plan.

When they see that they are safe, a few precautions can be put into place that will reinforce that desire, start embedding change behavior into habits, and give them some confidence that it will succeed.

  1. Start with Leadership: This is table stakes. Simply put, if employees don’t see their leadership exhibiting the behaviors they are asking from employees, then it won’t be long before they begin to wonder how committed the company is to the change. If there is training involved, start with the top leadership, and then have that trained leadership be part of the programs for the next level of leadership and so on down the line. It is important to remember that in a large corporations, while the C-Suite and the next level of division/business presidents are important for setting the tone, it is usually the CEO-2 and -3 leaders that employees see and hear on a more regular basis.

    Making sure to engage that, what I call, “upper-middle” level is so crucial. I was once part of a research effort to find out how certain changes were being embedded into the company by conducting hour-long interviews with non-leadership employees. What we found out was shocking: not only were change concepts not being passed down from this upper-middle layer of leadership, but because the changes were seen as a threat in terms of where certain teams reported, some of that leadership layer were actively engaged in turning their people against the changes. We had done a poor job of engaging that level and helping them own the changes, and in return they stopped the change program in its tracks. Other research has shown that it is not always so nefarious; some leaders just don’t know the “where or when” of how to communicate the change.

    A few business leaders I have worked with schedule calls with those next two levels of leadership on a regular basis to help them feel engaged with what is going on. The calls are followed with tool kits or “message maps” so that it is easy for the next layer to know what and how (and sometimes when) they can communicate with their teams. You can see how Internal Communications can play a huge role in this crucial piece.

  2. Paint a visionary picture with measurable milestones. As they say, it’s hard to get where you are going if you don’t know where that is. If employees are presented with a vision of the future as a result of the changed behavior that is both sunnier and feels realistic, they are more likely to want to get on board for the long haul. And if they are presented, in a transparent way, measurable progress, that will further boost your chances of changing behavior into habits. It’s the old charity thermometer trick. Some charities set campaign goals and show their progress by using the visual metaphor of a thermometer, and as the donation rise, you can see the mercury rising in the thermometer (never mind that in real life, this would mean you were getting sicker). While people may start a new behavior to get to a sunnier future, having shorter term milestones and a visual reference created by Internal Communications for employees to see the progress will drive them to continue to exhibit that behavior.
  3. Find your bright spots. Nothing motivates more than success. Related to showing progress is demonstrating quick wins and recognizing “heroes” of the new changes. Employees may sometimes have credibility issues with leadership, but they are apt to trust their colleagues. If you can show how fellow colleagues are prospering or how clients are happier with the new changes, you have done much to validate the changes. It is not foolproof, but it is incredibly effective.
  4. Make it easy. This is related to the Heath brothers’ idea of “shrinking the change,” which refers to helping people boil down a big change into specific actions. Many of us love using numbers for something like this. So if you want to boost prospecting, you create a “20 + 20” program where you ask everyone to spend 20 minutes a day researching new prospects, and make 20 calls a day to new leads. You can even make this into a challenge to heighten the fun. So if you are trying to embed learning in your culture, you can do “15 for 15” challenge, where you ask people to pick a topic and spend 15 scheduled minutes a day learning about this topic for 15 days straight, and then share what they have learned with others.
  5. Creating a change-adaptable culture. I listed this as one of the 5 greatest Internal Communications opportunities for 2018. It comes down to this: some changes are going to succeed and some will fail, but employees are going to need to get used to the idea that they are going to continue to happen at a faster rate. In fact, if you feel like your company is not in the midst of change, you should be concerned. And the change is not just about companies and what they do and how they do it, but it is about employees. In the last two years, I have seen a number of great articles on and speeches on the concept that they old pattern of education-then-career-then-retirement is over. Lifelong learning and career shifts will become the norm. That’s why a culture of learning is so important as a key building block to change adaptability. Training for leadership and managers on how to manage through change is going to become more important as well.

 

All this to say that Internal Communications can play a huge role in embedding change. However, it requires Communications to be in on the planning stages of the change and not brought in only when an announcement needs to be made. Also, it requires leadership to have a picture of not just the longer term vision, but the new behaviors and skills from employees it will require.

And with all of that, some changes will still fail, but if you have the right culture, employees will be with you when you brush yourself off and try again.