To answer these questions, I turned to Holly Fearing. As a social media advisor with the Filene Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin, she helps credit unions, co-operatives, small businesses and non-profits use social media channels to find and connect with their target audiences. She’s also president of the board of Willy Street Co-op, a three-store natural foods co-op in Madison, Wisconsin.
Informally, employees can share your store's posts on their personal social media channels, Holly suggests, and even add a personal connection that will resonate with their followers, e.g. "This is a perfect example of why I'm so proud to work for my store!"
However, you could have a more formal program with certain employees designated as “brand ambassadors.” By asking for volunteers, you’ll likely get the most enthusiastic staffers and also give a voice to an individual or department that feels under-represented.
At one natural foods retailer, an employee who took photographs as a hobby became a brand ambassador. Her artistic photos of products are now featured on the store’s social media.
Brand ambassadors can also respond to customer questions on social media in a customer service capacity much as they would if roaming the floor and were asked a question.
Another role for staff on social media is as recruiters. If any of your people are on LinkedIn, they already have the capability to connect and network with others in our industry. “There's a networking group for almost any professional topic,” Holly says, “and people really help each other out with ideas in LinkedIn groups. It's also a fantastic place to advertise job openings, recruit new talent and showcase your organization's culture for those looking at your store to potentially apply for a job there.”
Of course you need to stay in compliance with your provincial Employment Standards. If an employee voluntarily chooses to share store posts on their own social media, you can thank them but make it clear that they are not “on the clock” when they do so.
However, if you ask an employee to be a brand ambassador or recruiter on social media, their time must be paid. And you’ll want to put some boundaries around their hours on social media so that they don’t inadvertently run into overtime. Holly gives an example of a food co-op that set 10 per cent of an employee’s hours for brand ambassador activities. This full-time employee then knew she had four hours a week to spend on social media.
With the proliferation of mobile devices, this time might not all be spent sitting in front of a computer; it could also involve roaming the floor, taking photos and texting. To avoid the impression that an employee is using a cell phone on personal business, Holly suggests wearing a button with a message like, “Hi! I’m a brand ambassador.”
Finally, I asked if millennial customers and employees tend to favour social media more than other generations. Holly replied, “Millennials were the ones who cracked the nut of what is possible in digital communication channels. But all generations are using these channels now.”
For more ideas on social media for your store, you can contact Holly at email@example.com. •
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