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The No. 1 Question Every Business Leader Should Be Asking Employees have the power to make or break brands, and encouraging their engagement is mission critical.

By Joy Youell Edited by Matt Scanlon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In marketing, we hyper-focus on net promoter scores and customer-centric operations, which is all well and good, but there is one enormous area of feedback that business leaders ignore too often, and it's right under their noses. A question every one of them should be asking is, "Do my people care?" Do they care about their company's LinkedIn posts? About its blogs and emails? Do they engage with the right content, proudly bearing the brand name in social spheres, even when they're not asked to? In a world where social proof is a well-known contributor to consumer behavior, this dynamic cannot be overlooked. Owners/managers who analyze online circles in this way and spot their people engaged within will arrive at one of two conclusions: yes, they care or no, they don't. Both require a response.

Qualities of an online-energized team

In virtually every industry, a strong enough company culture will motivate employees to engage online. Zappos comes to mind. Even when former company CEO Tony Hsieh was in the early thick of things, including manning customer service phones, he was at pains to foster a maximally engaged company culture. Johns Hopkins University, meanwhile, has as part of its mission goal to "develop, explore and nurture ideas", and its leadership has the freedom to grant employees liberal amount of innovation time in disciplines far outside their own. Another example, The Walt Disney Company, specifically its HR department, was ranked in a yearly Korn Ferry and Fortune report as the "Most Admired", even after season of widespread layoffs.

What unites these three? Employees talk about Zappos, Johns Hopkins and Disney online all the time; they use the hashtags, follow the accounts, and respond to surveys — a public showing of strength that's clear evidence of strong internal operations and overall satisfaction. The obverse — a lack of public support and engagement — should alert leaders that something is amiss.

Related: Why you should let your employees be influencers

Motivating principles

A more common reality leaders face is that their people are not engaged enough with the brand online. In facing this, you need to, as a number of motivational experts advise, "Start with why". Why don't these people care? Are they simply disinterested in the posted content (which is problematic in and of itself) or are they unhappy with the company as a whole? People vote for, promote, endorse, support and otherwise uphold things they like. Why doesn't their place of work fall into this category?

Another core issue could be awareness. Perhaps marketing efforts or other messaging aren't reaching them. If not, that's also problematic. Your people are on the frontlines, which means they have inside knowledge about how a product or service is performing in the marketplace. The feedback they provide can be invaluable, even game-changing. If they are not tuned into the broader themes, messages, motifs and online activity of a brand, you are missing out.

Related: Why Everything You Know About Employee Engagement Is Wrong

You have two options as a leader faced with this knowledge: the stick or the carrot. You could make social engagement mandatory, or perhaps a soft metric for employee performance reviews. (Some companies choose to create playbooks that teach employees how to engage with the brand online, even if they don't go so far as to measure or enforce it.) On the other end of the continuum is a rewards-based system — incentives, even spontaneous or sporadic ones, for engaging with the brand online.

The net effect of each individual

As a leader in any role, it's vital to regard employees as valuable entities with the power to promote or detract from your brand, and what happens on social media is a large part of that. If your people are absent or ambivalent, an immensely powerful opportunity is being missed.

Every person on your payroll has an expansive network… their own audience, if you will. In an age where everyone is racing to be more visible and better heard, these people could be your secret weapon. They could also be key in ensuring your content is relevant, interesting and worth engaging with. In sum, every effort you make as a leader to notice whether your people are plugged in, and encourage them to, will be time well spent.

Related: Employee Engagement Has a Direct Link to Successful Business Outcomes

Joy Youell

Lead Content Strategist

Joy Youell is an experienced copywriter, content strategist and on-page SEO specialist. She's addicted to novelty and innovation, which has led her to considerably expand her field of study to include marketing, branding, voice development and numerous entrepreneurial endeavors.

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