Click to hear Tom Peters Talk on Wharton’s Business SiriusXM Radio with Catharine Hays, Executive Director, Future of Advertising Program at The Wharton School and co-author of Beyond Advertising (Wiley)
It’s not every day that you get to join even one of your favorite thought leaders on a popular radio show—let alone three. But every now and then, the stars of the business world align, and last week on Wharton’s (@WhartonFoA) Marketing Matters radio show, hosted by the wonderful Catherine Hays, we had the privilege of joining luminaries Tom Peters (@tom_peters), David Edelman (@davidedelman), and Kevin Randall (@KevinBrandall) for a rousing discussion of social employee advocacy—how it began, where it is today, and where it’s headed.
In the coming days, we’ll explore our discussions with each of these contributors in-depth. First, we’ll begin by taking a look at Tom Peters and his unwavering focus on the human element driving social business innovation.
“A Dream Long Held Is Becoming a Dream Come True” – Tom Peters
A core concept of social employee advocacy is the idea of the personal brand, a concept that Peters himself introduced to the business world in his 1997 Fast Company article, “The Brand Called You.” In the years that followed, Peters has seen his long-held dream for the personal brand become a “dream come true.” During our discussion, Peters clarified the need for personal branding, saying, “The only salvation you’ve got in these turbulent times is people who are energetic and focused on the business as a whole.”
This line of thinking hasn’t been without its detractors, especially those who insist that having a workforce of “de facto independent business persons” makes the task of managing employees essentially impossible. But Peters sees a difference between a workforce of individualists and a workforce of empowered individuals. In other words, building a personal brand isn’t about a culture where everyone is out for themselves, but rather about a culture where employees are empowered to participate in their brand’s activities in a more authentic, collaborative, and ultimately customer-facing way.
To make his point, Peters quoted former Burger King CEO Barry Gibbons, who said “What I really want is 250 thousand employees, each one of whom is the brand. They are the brand as much in purchasing and human resources as the people who are officially facing the customer.” This idea is the essence of what we at Blue Focus Marketing mean when we say that marketing is everyone’s job. While not every employee is customer-facing, workers from all departments stand to benefit both their brand and themselves by adopting social practices designed to improve workflows, communication, and productivity—all driven by a simple, essential maxim: be human.
Anyone who knows Tom Peters or who has read his work knows that, while he’s happy to follow new technological advances in social engagement, enterprise software, or data collection, his emphasis has always been not on the tools themselves, but the people who use them.
In fact, Peters is an advocate for the blurring of lines between the personal and the professional that social engagement allows. “People in the marketplace want more than specs,” Peters says. “They want personality.” While he acknowledges that such authenticity brings with it some necessary risk, he maintains that any social marketing campaign lacking this human element is unlikely to get very far.
Of course, authenticity isn’t just a button that can be turned on and off to suit business needs. A brand must design a culture that values traits such as authenticity and personal/professional development. “Social is this phenomenal opportunity to be part of the entire world,” Peters says, but employees first have to want to participate. Without this buy-in, all the tools and software in the world won’t amount to much.
Get Out There
To wrap things up, we asked Peters a fun question: What is a good tattoo for business leaders active in social media? After considering a moment, he replied,
“Quit being fraidy cats. Let your people loose.”
Here’s his point. We can discuss social employee advocacy on radio shows all day. But eventually businesses will have to learn the value of social employees for themselves. There’s a lot to learn, but brands and employees can’t learn it unless they become actively involved in the process.
And it takes time. As Peters likes to say, even though iconic comedian Jerry Seinfeld has been around for decades, to this day it still takes him about six months of trial and error on the comedy circuit to add just two or three minutes to his standup routine. In designing social employee advocacy programs, business leaders must embrace this mindset of public experimentation. It’s okay if you don’t know all the best practices yet. Just get out there and see what works.