Employees active on social media play a crucial role in corporate brand management, according to recent research from Neoma Business School. Joonas Rokka, assistant professor of marketing at the French school, reports that the online tools accentuate the role of the employee due to their capacity to blur the gap between work and personal lives. If an employee is dissatisfied at work, for example, they may use social media as a way of venting that emotion.

“It may not be direct but there are subtle ways of using it to [criticise] your employer - with irony, for example,” says Prof Rokka.

Satisfied employees may also inadvertently damage company reputation. For example, one employee who worked in the warehouse of a food company spoke about the quality of the food to such an extent on social media, says Prof Rokka, that people started to question why and then got annoyed that he hadn’t divulged he was an employee before doing so.

The research, published in the Journal of Marketing Management, shows companies need to spend more time nurturing their employees to harness this unexpected form of marketing.

“Companies often want this one single voice but when you have thousands of employees there’s no way you can have a single voice and be authentic,” says Prof Rokka.

Working with Katariina Karlsson and Janne Tienari from Aalto University School of Business in Finland, the professor analysed three companies for his study. One was based in the finance industry, another in the food industry and the third in media consulting. Despite their differences - in particular their varied levels of engagement with social media in a professional capacity - he found the same dynamic between the employees and the reputation of each brand. As a result, the companies were forced to acknowledge that they could not control the way the brand was perceived.

“All three companies were highly conscious of this [social media] world and its possibilities,” says Prof Rokka. He hopes his research will encourage others to consider their employees as reliable reputation builders.

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