By Gloria Lombardi

“What some employers don’t realise is how critical social media is to employee engagement and how it fuels employee activism. Employees have multiple social platforms on which they can air their likes and dislikes of their jobs, bosses and organisations. While many employers are fearful that their employees will destroy their reputations with one easy click of a social media “share” button, the fact is that we now live in an always-connected-online world that is not going to reverse course.”

Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism,” is the new study by public relations firm Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Research. Conducted among 2,300 employees from 15 countries worldwide, the paper investigates the challenges and opportunities for today’s organisations in driving workforce’s positive activism.

“Proactivists” are employees that every leader would like to have in their team. They are highly engaged, and devoted to their work and other aspects of the company. They are social – want to change the world and use technology to do so, positive and influential. Plus, they are the organisation’s brand and reputation champions.

In studying the top drivers of activism, we learn from Weber Shandwick that leadership is the most important factor, closely followed by internal communications. “Leadership plays a critical role in driving employee support, from making the company an employer of choice to building a reputation of trustworthiness and demonstrating that it listens and responds to employees. By modelling responsiveness, leaders show employees that they value their ideas and intangibles such as reputation and culture.

“Internal communications…are also not to be overlooked.” Among the top components of the latter, the study emphasises the importance of doing a good job to keep employees informed as well as communicate frequently. In fact, the research reveals that only four in 10 employees can confidently describe to others what their employers does or what its goals are. And, fewer than 3 in 10 report that they are being communicated with, listened to and kept in the loop.

What are the most performing companies doing to deal with this problem? How can organisations leverage the power of their employee activists? Weber Shandwick’s survey found that one-third of employers (33%) encourage their staff to use social media to share news and information about the organisation. While this social encouragement may sound risky for more traditional corporations, it has an outsized impact on employer advocacy among workers. “For example, employees with socially-encouraging employers are significantly more likely to help boost sales than employees whose employers aren’t socially encouraging (72% vs. 48% respectively).”

To encourage staff to use social media to share news and information about their work and company, employers are using a variety of tactics. At a very basic level, they provide readily accessible tools (55%), messages and content to enable sharing (50%) and easy-to-understand social media guidelines (42%). They provide training for how to use social media properly (37%) and offer updates about changes in social media so that employees can stay current on the latest tools and uses (35%).

A good example comes from the re-known Zappos. The company “encourages employees to include company information and opinions on their Facebook, Twitter and personal blog in addition to their LinkedIn profile. The company even has a Twitter aggregate of all employee twitter feeds. This serve as an excellent word-of-mouth platform for marketing as well as recruitment.”

I had the pleasure to meet with Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist and Kate Bullinger, Executive Vice President Employee Engagement & Change Management, Weber Shandwick. In this video interview, they share and comment on the key findings from their study. Based on the research, they give examples, advice and guidance on the secret of employee activism.

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This article originally appeared on simply-communicate