What Facebook’s latest API update means for employee advocacy

As part of its ongoing wave of API changes and shutdowns, as of 1 August, Facebook changed how users are able to share content to their networks. The company quietly nixed automated, API-based sharing to user profiles, requiring users to post with Facebook’s share dialogue, rather than custom-built dialogues that could include features like scheduling posts.

In other words, users and all third parties now must post directly and instantly to their feeds, and are no longer able to simply use the “add to queue” feature to schedule posts. Sounds straightforward enough, but what many communicators don’t realize is how this seemingly simple change directly impacts employee advocacy—for the better.

Dispelling the hype

Apprehension has abounded about Facebook’s recent modifications, with marketers, advertisers and communicators scrambling to change up their strategies in response. This reaction is understandable—updates like this make it harder to use third-party tools to manage social profiles and require changes in behavior that many are hesitant to make. And, in this case, losing the ability to schedule posts also does away with the convenience factor that benefited those who used scheduled sharing for good.

Yet, despite all the headlines, this latest move is inarguably a win for brands when it comes to employee advocacy. With the previous option to push automated, scheduled posts, the key factor missing was authenticity—employees could schedule corporate content to post directly with no consideration on their part before going live. This made it easy to spread inauthentic posts and contributed to spamming—a chronic issue plaguing Facebook and other social networks—with employees at times serving as content factories rather than meaningful content curators.

Content is not king. Relevance is king. And if you want to deliver a relevant message and engage audiences for advocacy, it starts with authenticity.

Out with spam, in with authenticity

By changing its API to only allow “share now” posting, Facebook is essentially forcing employees to view and approve the content they post, not only giving them more control and autonomy, but also creating a more authentic, meaningful voice around brand-approved content.

By now requiring more thought and purpose behind each post, the process involves a bit of friction that makes all the difference between spam and authenticity. It’s akin to the comparison between email and letters—people used to write far fewer letters, with far greater intent. Now, email is so cheap and easy that people will send one with just an emoji in it. That may be great for quick communications, but in the world of employee advocacy, that’s considered spam.

In this way, a little friction at the point of share helps foster a more genuine voice. And at a time when brands are struggling to engage users and networks like Snapchat are losing millions of users monthly, that focus on authenticity is a welcome move toward finding ways to deliver more personal, relevant content. This is the foundation of true employee advocacy, stretching beyond just the marketing impact to instead engage and align employees with the vision of the company.

Traditionally, advocacy has been based on the need to promote brand image, perception or market presence. But in practice, advocacy today is what billboard marketing was 15 years ago—brands simply have no way to determine the value. It has been plagued by competing interests—marketing wanting promotion, sales wanting to generate sales—leading to spam and hurting brand image. And for those leaders who do want to build an authentic voice, there’s often no way to tie the impact of that authenticity to their personal brand, let alone their company brand.

A new approach

Organizations have a tremendous opportunity to build their authentic voice by thinking more holistically about advocacy. People want to connect with people, and brands should see the recent changes as an opportunity to revisit their employee advocacy campaigns and actively build ways to promote authenticity. According to a recent study, company branded messages reach 561 percent further when shared by employees versus branded channels, yet startlingly, only 1 in 10 managers report having a structured, comprehensive social media advocacy program as part of their digital strategy.

The following are three key areas to look at first when redesigning your advocacy strategies.

The toolkit. Too often, advocacy is thought of as just “copy and paste this approved corporate message.” This contributes to the influx of spam-like messages, not to mention doesn’t excite employees about promoting the organization. Giving employees the right tools—a link, photo, hashtag or overarching message—rather than the finished product—lets them share posts in an authentic voice and drives greater engagement.

Tied to this, providing a clear policy and set of guidelines is critical (e.g., no harassing or crude posts), but must be done in a way that does not have so many restrictions that employees cannot express themselves. Trusting your employees is even more important.

The medium. Employees are accustomed to posting texts, pictures, links and other media in their daily lives, and this should be no different on corporate channels—allow employees to leverage the media they know and love to tell their stories through. At the same time, ensure they have ways to not only engage with the company and its channels, but also with each other to share among themselves and unite within the organization.

The message. For organizations that struggle to get users to advocate on their behalf, allowing employees the freedom to deliver their own genuine voice is key. Focus on uniting employees around a common story and finding human interest pieces and uplifting and inspirational examples—such as employees volunteering or overcoming great obstacles—to motivate employees to share in their own way.

Like speed bumps in a neighborhood, the recent API changes may be a hindrance for those who speed. But for everyone else going the speed limit, it’s a welcome change to rein in bad behavior and create more meaningful engagement. Time will tell how social networks will continue to evolve and organizations react, but the overall result is an industry shift toward greater authenticity and relevance—and that is, undoubtedly, a positive thing for brands, social networks and users alike.

Written by Tim Christensen for CW Magazine