Posted December 6, 2013 4:23 pm by with 13 comments

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mastercardLarge companies spent millions of dollars a year aligning themselves with social media brand advocates. They figure the average person will be more interested and open to a referral from a non-related third party, then a social media mention from the company itself. But what about your own employees? Should they be brand advocates, too?

Earlier today, Frank wrote about the Twitter board members who don’t Tweet. It’s weird, right? You’re high up in a company but you don’t use, let alone evangelize the service?

On the other end of the spectrum is MasterCard. They’re spending company money and time to get all 7,500 employees up to social media speed with the hope that they’ll all be brand advocates for their employer. I can’t decide if this is a good idea or bad idea.

An article in Digiday explains how MasterCard is relaxing the rules to give employees more freedom to speak online. They’re also running social media classes so everyone has a basic understanding of how Twitter, Facebook and the others work.

As Cohen explained, a lot of people across the organization just needed help with the first steps of getting into social media, as simple as how to set up an account. The session was recorded and turned into shorter videos that focus on each platform. MasterCard also created a special section on its intranet site called MC Mashup to house the social media tutorial videos for company-wide use and as a place for people to ask questions and share information.

They took it a step further with the implementation of the YoPros program where younger employees mentor older employees one-on-one. As an “older” employee, I think I’m offended. Then again, I did need my son to help me with my Instagram account. Turns out it wasn’t that I didn’t understand how to use it, it was simply that I didn’t understand why people would use it. (Too much input for me!)

The article goes on to talk about how these social media classes are enriching the lives of their employees. Grandma can now get on Facebook to see the photos of the grandkids. Sweet.

Let’s not miss the point here. MasterCard isn’t training their employees out of the goodness of their heart. They’re expecting to be paid back in good social media wishes. Even if only half their staff mentions MasterCard in a Tweet or Facebook post once a day, that’s a lot of free exposure.

But what happens the first time an employee uses social media to air his grievances against the company? I’ll bet that’s covered in the new social media posting handbook. Positive is encouraged – negative will get you fired. (I don’t know that, I’m just guessing. . . )

How do you feel about enlisting your employees to be brand advocates? Are you comfortable with the concept or concerned about the potential risks? It’s not just about individual Tweets. If you have an employee who likes to post wild party pictures do you want their bio to read “Employee of the Month at XYZ, Inc.?”

A company social media policy isn’t just for the big boys. If you have employees, you need rules about what they should and shouldn’t say in a public forum.


  • Ted Rubin

    MasterCard is ahead of the curve and making the absolute correct decision. Employees will be doing this anyway, best idea is to not only support activity, but support them building their personal brands, for their benefit, and the benefit of employers. Show them you support them, and they will support you. ROE, Return on Employees… Empower them so they Power your Brand.

  • FareedAnsari

    If it doesn’t exist build it. This is the only way to engage, educate, and gain expertise in Social Media history and application, is to learn the perils, power, and promise of this little known realm.

  • Alyssa

    I definitely agree that MasterCard is trying to stay ahead of the curve, and that this is 2013 (almost 2014): it is in a company’s best interest to provide social media training for their employees. While I do think that the YoPro seems a little bit offensive and I think that some employees might not be a fan of the mentoring program, this new initiative will give MasterCard more exposure.

    • Yeah, YoPro is a tough one. I’m turning 50 and know social media better than most Millenials (I’ve been blogging since 1998, helped invent WordPress when it was called b2 and wrote some of the first social media monitoring software).

      To tell me I need a 20-something to mentor me would really piss me off. I could mentor them not only on the software, and why to use it, but on the business aspects and metrics that the younger folks do not have the years of experience (yet) to comprehend, much less convey.

  • Marcy Cohen

    At MasterCard we’re empowering employees in many ways, including becoming more comfortable using social media, no matter what generation employee. Our guidelines focus on three
    areas—Act Responsibly, Act Respectfully and Act Transparently. It’s all about
    using common sense, understanding that social channels are public and being
    transparent about your affiliation with the brand. So if an employee chooses to
    post a comment about the brand, we trust that they’ll stick to the guidelines.
    We’d love to hear how other brands are empowering employees in this space.

    • David Makacha

      I think what you are doing is great, I really liked the idea of bring the young and the old together so they learn from each other.

  • ReachingLocalMarkets

    I think of this as a tool, a tool for the company to internally audit the culture they have made. Sure, they might not like what they see at first, but nevertheless, it is an opportunity few are willing to take.

  • Ashleigh Verdier

    I’m actually in the process of doing a very similar thing for my company. I am using the Brainshark platform to create a whole slew of video presentations including quizzes and necessary attachments (like the Employee Code of Conduct). I’ve had quite a few employees in my office express a desire to know more about using social media for both personal and professional reasons. I’d rather have them armed and knowledgeable about the best ways of using social media than have them stumble through and shoot themselves in the foot by saying something they shouldn’t. Most people are using social media in some way, even if they don’t recognize it, we just need to make sure they know what they are doing. In addition to creating Brainshark’s I’ll be offering one on one training for those that really want/need it and possibly doing some live training in our different facilities around the country.

    • Mike Ambassador Bruny

      @ashleighverdier:disqus we should talk.

  • Kate Warnock

    I’m in agreement with Ted’s comments that both business and its employees benefit from appropriate training on social. Using that exact concept of building your personal brand, I’ll be creating a training program in 2014 for our employees. I think the biggest hurdle to clear will be c-suite adoption. If leaders use social, so will our employees. If not, well, that’s just opportunity lost.

  • Mike Ambassador Bruny

    I hear you Ted. Having been on both sides; an employee Ambassador and one who helps companies turn their workforce into a marketing force through Ambassador programs, I think everyone can really win in this situation. You are teaching your employees a skill and actually helping them to be what I like to call, “A Brand Inside A Brand.” Make them part of the policy creation. I’ve also done reverse mentoring with execs (it was never forced, nor do I think it should be) and the questions I asked them is, “Do you consider yourself a thought leaders? and would you like to increase the number of people you are impacting?” The answer will be, “yes,” which opens up the opportunity to talk about being taught a new skill.

  • David Makacha

    As a MasterCard Foundation scholar majoring in Public Relations, I think what MasterCard is doing is an excellent way of improving awareness. Since I started making posts that mentions MasterCard, I always get a lot of enquirers as people want to know more about MasterCard. We cannot ignore the fact that social media currently rules when it comes to engagement at the moment. Consumers rarely treat information from social networks with suspicion like they would do with adverts from the traditional media. A brand mention by an employee on social networks, is most likely to be believed. Most importantly it gives MasterCard a free advertising. MasterCard has always been a great company with good initiatives that other companies should also learn from. By educating its employees to use social networks, its not only MasterCard that benefits, its employees also benefit in terms of acquiring the necessary ethical conducts of using the social media. Lack of this knowledge has landed some employees in trouble .

  • I congratulate Master Card, . Social Media is today perhaps what basic computer skills were some years ago, a company that has an army of digitally savvy individuals will indeed be ahead of the field. A company that empowers its People to use Social Media for Brand advocacy has seen the future. Empowered employees who create strong personal brands make the finest company advocates.

    My thoughts “Future High Growth Businesses will be Powered by Employee Brand Advocates as companies realize that personal referrals are the keys to success as mainstream advertising looses its shine”.