How the World’s Best Employer Brand Uses Social Media, Part I

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Talk about a great employer brand. North Carolina-based data analytics software company SAS routinely lands on great places to work rankings, this year marking its 12th top-10 appearance on Fortune ’s Best Companies to Work For in the US list. It retains 97-98 percent of its workforce annually, 20 points higher than the industry average. Unlike another international tech giant that’s making waves for its workplace culture this week, SAS employees cite a culture of benevolence and flexibility.

So how does SAS convey their corporate culture? One way is through social media. Sure, people can read about perks like on-site childcare or company cafeterias. But when someone scrolls through the corporate Instagram and sees an employee spending time with their toddler during lunch or macarons in the cafeteria during Bastille Day, it gives the viewer a whole new level of insight.

In her role as employee and engagement training specialist, Alli Soule ( @allisoule ) counsels employees on how to use social media for professional purposes. (In the photo above, that’s her on the right, celebrating World Emoji Day with her colleagues.) She’s a member of SAS’s six-person social media team that just formed in 2014. We spoke with Alli about how companies can develop and harness employee social media activity and use social media to build their employer brand. This is the first of a two-part interview.

Although many companies are active on social media, most of them probably don’t make social media coaching available to employees. Why does SAS?
We have a very accepting culture when it comes to social media. Wherever we feel our audience is, we have a presence there. As a brand, we see the value of social media. And as an extension of that, there’s no better spokespeople for our brand than our employees–whether or not they’re even talking about SAS software on social media.

We stay out of employees’ personal lives–what they do on their own time is completely their business. But social media can make good business sense for employees. Maybe they want to use it to educate themselves, perhaps by following companies they’re interested in or peers in similar roles at other organizations.

SAS takes a lot of pride in who we hire. We trust our employees to be professional in a face-to-face meeting, so we trust that they’ll be professional on social media, too.

What are some of the common questions SAS employees ask you about social media, and how do you respond?
Especially if someone is brand-new to social media, they’re afraid that they’ll put something out on social and get fired. That’s never happened. They’re so nervous: ‘I don’t want to make the company look bad.’ It’s very endearing.

My response is to suggest that they think of their social presence like a professional conversation, except instead of face-to-face it’s behind a keyboard. Yes, there are totally different etiquette rules to get the hang of. But as you dip your toe in the water, you’ll get acclimated.

I also hear a lot of ‘Something’s not working on LinkedIn” or ‘How do I do x on Twitter?’ And occasionally, I won’t even know the answer. A lot of times it has to do with a new feature or a functionality that’s been taken away. So it’s good education for me, because then I’ll have to go back and do some digging and problem-solving and I learn something new about the platform.

Some employers may be worried about employees wasting time on social media. How would you respond to someone with this concern?
First of all, I would tell them that it’s a real thing. I myself am guilty of being sucked down the social media rabbit hole. What I would also say is that when it comes to using social media for your job, there are ways that you can manage it thoughtfully, and put together a schedule.

With the training we do here at SAS, usually there’s a module about how to integrate social media into your workday. For instance, if you only have five minutes a day, how can you include social media? Or can you take an hour and schedule your social media posts for the week?

There are ways to build time management into responsible social media use, and help mitigate the risk of totally wasting time. It’s definitely possible to be responsible. Because we’re talking about using social media for your job. If you’ve trained your folks right, hopefully they can stay focused.

You mentioned scheduling posts. Can you talk about some of the scheduling tools that you like to direct employees to?
The people on my team trade tools that we like, and one of our favorites is Buffer . We particularly like Buffer’s browser extension . As employees are trying to figure out how to manage their time and post to multiple accounts, we always recommend they use Buffer and the browser extension specifically. That way, if you see fit, you can share your post to Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook, all at the same time.

Plus, Buffer is awesome for pictures. We love that it has that little crawler that will crawl a webpage and find images on the page and you can just share the image. Images get so much more pick-up on social.

Once you’ve trained SAS employees on social media, how do you harness their activity to support the company?
It’s still a work in progress. We’re still trying to wrap our head around formalizing ways we can do this. But the main way we’re able to rally everyone is through relatively organic methods.

We have a lot of internal communications channels at SAS that are really good. Our intranet, for instance, and there are a couple of newsletters that have really good impact. So typically, when there’s a big event or a fun pseudo holiday–like Pi Day, because we’re all kind of geeky here at SAS–we try to saturate those channels and get people amped up.

Luckily, we have a lot of people who are already very enthusiastic about SAS. So we’re very fortunate that people want to participate. But we’re still trying to perfect this process. There are a lot of different layers, and we’re trying to figure out what’s interesting to our employees and what we can try to rally them around.

You just mentioned Pi Day. Social media lends itself to content that’s a little more fun than you might see on other corporate communications channels. How do you keep true to SAS’s voice while taking advantage of the opportunity to be a little playful?
We know that what drives people to click, like and engage on social media is the fun stuff. And this will eventually pan out to more followers. By being serious and just talking about our products and analytics, we’ll definitely attract more users to our software. But really, everybody–including our software users–likes the fun stuff, too. So there has to be a healthy ratio of business information to fun.

A lot of people who are new to social media only think about the fun stuff when they think about social. And we have to educate them that it’s still something they can do in their job. It’s shows your personality, it shows who you are, it shows what you’re interested in. And it draws people to you. You can take advantage of things that are trending, and get a lot of followers who will in turn start paying attention to the more business-heavy things that you’re posting. You can take advantage of the fun stuff to grow your following.

The bottom line is that people are very interested in who you are individually, and being able to show your personality on social media is a very important part of that. Yeah, they do want to learn from you, and learn about what SAS has to offer, but the fun stuff–you have to have it.

About the author
Erin Engstrom is the web content strategist at Recruiterbox. I’m in Chicago for now, but hope to take advantage of Recruiterbox’s remote workplace and do the digital nomad thing. Relax and eat the elephant one bite at a time.