When social media first became popular, managers saw it as a barrier to productivity. Employees would be checking Facebook and Twitter all day instead of working, they worried. Over time, though, as social media has become a tool to help businesses market their products and services to customers, managers have realized there's a way to put that over-enthusiasm to good use. If you're thinking about asking your employees to help with your social media marketing efforts, here are a few things you can do to ensure success.

Make It Voluntary

Forcing some type of requirement on your employees will likely backfire. Instead, mention that you're trying to boost your brand and explain how they can help. If you make it clear that participation is voluntary, you'll find that you have a core group of loyal workers who regularly post about your brand on their own accounts. Chances are, you'll naturally attract team members who are extremely active on social media, which will expose you to more followers than if you required less active employees to participate.

Set Guidelines

Even on their personal accounts, your employees will be representing your brand. This can be managed to a good degree by issuing a general social media policy that covers any mention of your business online, including personal blog posts. These policies can vary, but some companies have policies that state employees must mention that their views are their own and not necessarily endorsed by the company. You can also request that employees refrain from offensive content on social media if they've identified themselves as a member of your team on that same site.

Offer Suggestions

Even the most compulsive social media posters may feel at a loss as to what to post about your business. Regularly come up with suggestions for posts, especially if you have a specific product or event you want boosted. Instead of asking employees to come up with their own ideas, encourage them to share posts that you create. Place your suggested posts on Slack or some other program all your employees use, so they can pick and choose what they want to post. You can even hold a contest where employees who share company posts are entered into a drawing for a prize.

Support Employees

One of the best ways to showcase your own brand is through supporting your own employees. If you have an internal event, snap photos of your employees and encourage them to share the images on their own accounts if they wish. Even your annual Christmas party can be a good opportunity to take photos of your employees having a good time. If they like the photo, your workers will naturally share on their personal accounts. Also, on a regular basis, re-tweet or re-share posts from employees where appropriate, to let them know you have their back.

Celebrate Milestones

Another way to encourage your employees to share is through the use of milestone celebrations. For small teams, you can bring in a unique dessert for each employee's birthday and share the news on social media. You could also consider choosing an employee of the month or celebrating a worker reaching a certain number of years of service. Many startups will do blog posts to celebrate high performing employees or new hires. When all the people in the office share these posts, it can be an encouraging experience for the person getting all the attention.

Share Successes

As your employees help you spread the word about your brand, gather data and share it with your team. Show how many views, shares, and click-throughs your content has gotten thanks to the team's help. They'll become invested in the process and be encouraged to help you out in the future. You'll also know whether asking employees to help out has paid off, which will help you rethink your strategy if it isn't working as well as you'd hoped.

Since they work with your brand each day, your own employees can be your best ambassadors. Find creative ways to get your own employees excited about your social media strategy by explaining your goals and bringing them into the process. While they might not respond to forced social media participation, if they decide to do so on their own, you'll probably get helpful results.

Published on: Dec 14, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.