Dealing With Employees Who Are Social Media Celebrities
One of the big promises of social media is that literally anyone can become a celebrity now because of cheap and easy access to social media tools. We all have a shot at our 15 megabytes of fame if we can create compelling content.
But what are the implications for businesses that get serious about social media? Are there hidden dangers lurking for companies whose employees are “too good” with social media? This article will explore five benefits and five threats of celebrity employees.
The Employee Celebrity Is Born
Organizations around the world are wisely trying to dive into social media to take advantage of the new opportunities. The promises of “crowdsourcing” ideas and creating “viral” success stories have a huge appeal to companies of all sizes and industries. However, in doing this, companies are also creating something they never anticipated: the employee celebrity.
The Shift to Managing Talent
An employee celebrity is someone in your organization who has a positive reputation apart from or in addition to your corporate brand. Social media allows for great personal branding in addition to corporate branding, so a shift in power and need happens when employees become celebrities and begin to see themselves as talent rather than average employees.
When you’re working with talent, there are inherent benefits and potential landmines. Just ask any coach or owner of a professional sports team. Here are five opportunities and five threats with employee celebrities:
Five Opportunities of Celebrity Employees
#1: A Human Connection
Customers and prospects get to connect with a human they trust at your company who’s genuinely worth giving attention to. As a result, brand awareness, customer service and increased engagement opportunities occur. (Example: Frank Eliason at Comcast, known as @comcastcares on Twitter.)
#2: Enhanced Credibility
Your celebrity employee brings your company credibility it never had or hasn’t had in a long time. (Example: Robert Scoble during his Microsoft days.)
#3: Better Insight
Your celebrity employee knows the heartbeat of your customers and can accurately anticipate reactions to policy changes, new products or brand adjustments. (Example: Lynsay Caylor at Pilot Travel Centers listens, learns, reports and acts because of their Facebook page.)
#4: Enhanced Influence
Your celebrity employee has the attention and trust of interested and potential customers. These are the first people likely to spend money with your company. All they have to do is talk about it and watch the fans run with it. (Example: Steve Jobs is the ultimate celebrity employee.)
#5: Crisis Management
Your celebrity employee can set the record straight if a PR crisis occurs because the platform is already in place and trust exists between the employee and his or her following. (Example: Steve Rubel has addressed specific situations when his employer, Edelman PR, came under fire.)
Five Threats of Celebrity Employees
#1: The Power Player
Your celebrity employee develops a following that is more loyal to him or her than to your brand, products or services and attempts to wield that power to make changes the company doesn’t want to make. The celebrity knows he or she has influence with customers and they’re willing to use it for personal benefits rather than corporate benefits.
#2: The Gunslinger
Your employee celebrity angers customers with an idea, opinion or mistake that then reflects badly on the company and creates a PR crisis. Often this kind of celebrity employee will apologize but also relishes the additional attention that comes from the controversy.
In 2009, James Andrews, an employee for Ketchum PR, was flying into Memphis to do a presentation to their client, FedEx. After he arrived in Memphis to go to FedEx headquarters, he tweeted that “he would die if he had to live here“.
The people at FedEx saw it and called him out on it. Then the whole thing went public and Ketchum PR had its own PR situation. Ironically enough, Andrews was going to talk to FedEx about the power of social media.
#3: The Chatterbox
Your celebrity employee accidentally or unknowingly reveals secret corporate information and your company has to decide how to deal with the information leak. The tendency will be for the leadership or employee celebrity him- or herself to pull back from the public discussion after a situation like this, but you want to deal with it proactively and likely publicly through the same means that caused the trouble in the first place.
#4: The Free Agent
Your celebrity employee decides to leave the company for a new job and take his or her following along. The opportunity for the company is to decide if they did everything they could to retain the employee. This also supports the idea of getting more people in the company involved so if one person leaves, you haven’t lost an entire segment of your conversations.
#5: The Diva
Celebrity employees may get so focused on celebrity status that they’re difficult to work with or merely uninterested in the normal work because they’re so focused on growing their tribe. Unfortunately, this person has seen your company as a stepping-stone to greater things for a long time. Now it’s just more obvious. Despite the potential frustration, don’t burn bridges here because you might have a relationship with a rising star.
The Adjusted Reward System
The thing that makes celebrity employees unique within the structure of your company is that previously the employee’s primary rewards were a paycheck, occasional encouragement, and the hope for a promotion someday.
Now, however, they can create a following that cares more about them than their own manager probably does. The company keeps on supplying the paycheck and the employee keeps on fulfilling his or her role, but the attention from the customers creates a reward all its own.
You Need Each Other More Than You Think
The irony in most cases is that the employee attained “celebrity” status in large part because of the company he or she worked for. The company name backing them gave immediate authority to the public.
The employee’s own abilities, however, took the company name and endowed authority to the level that made it truly beneficial to both the company and the employee. They need each other more than they think they do.
The pressure social media and employee celebrities bring to the workplace is mostly positive. It changes the dynamic from “human resources” to “talent management” and that’s really a good thing for everyone.
Businesses will get better people, employees will be better people, and customers reap the benefits from the whole arrangement. Employee celebrities will be viewed as a threat in some companies, but they’ll be rock stars in other companies. Social media gives every organization yet one more thing to consider for the future of their business.
So, do the benefits outweigh the threats? Does your business have a celebrity employee? Let us know what you think in the comment box below.
Bill Seaver is the founder of MicroExplosion Media, a social media marketing consulting firm based in Nashville. He's an active blogger and podcaster. Other posts by Bill Seaver »