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Your company's best advocates may be hiding in the nearest cubicle.
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Your company's best advocates are not your PR team (no offense). Well, not just your PR team anyway.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 50 percent of consumers said they trust "regular employees" to give them the low-down on a company's goods and services. Sixty-five percent put their trust in "people like myself" and 64 percent said they trust "technical experts" in a relevant field. In case you were wondering: Only 38 percent said they trusted the company CEO.

Before you wring your hands and perform backflips to win back consumer trust, consider this: Employees now represent more than half of your company's trust equity. Why not use it to your advantage?

Let Loose the Experts

One way to do it is to get your employees on social media--but that doesn't mean simply asking them to say nice things about your brand online. Let them use and broadcast their expertise.   

Let them tweet about industry events, answer questions on Facebook, and blog about what they know.

HootSuite, an online platform that helps businesses manage their social media interactions, has this to say on the subject:

"Enterprises strengthen their brands enormously by activating these internal thought leaders on social media. Employee blogs and social media profiles allow workers to build personal brands online and form public records of expertise that also reflect well on their employer," the company wrote in a recent white paper report.

But Can You Trust Them?

Of course, enlisting your employees to speak on behalf of your brand shouldn't be undertaken lightly. Surely you've witnessed good tweets gone bad. (Remember those horrifically timed #Aurora tags? Or the recent live-tweeted lay-offs at the British entertainment retail company HMV?) 

Before you encourage your employees to broadcast their inner experts, consider what kind of engagement you see from them on a day-to-day basis. "Don't treat every opinion the same," says Cy Wakeman, founder of the management consulting firm Bulletproof Talent, in a recent editorial. "Listen to what your top performers tell you. They've proved their value and earned their credibility, so go ahead: play favorites." 

Allowing employees greater responsibility--then holding them accountable for the results--is the best way to empower your workforce, she says. According to Wakeman, employee empowerment is the new employee engagement--and may lead to greater company productivity and genuine employee investment in a brand or product.

They'll Fight for You--if You Let Them

Empowered employees, when you think about it, might make your best sales people.

"In social media, there is nothing more powerful than someone advocating for your brand," writes Matt Foulger, HootSuite's Enterprise Marketing Coordinator, in a company blog post. "Advocates give their friends, families and colleagues trusted advice that is far more credible than any source of advertising. They defend a business against negative messaging in the countless small interactions that determine a brand’s health. They volunteer ideas for product and service improvements. And they do it all for free."

So go ahead and trust employees to represent your brand. They might surprise you. 

Last updated: Feb 12, 2013

FRANCESCA FENZI | Staff Writer

Francesca Fenzi reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.




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