When employees speak publicly about the companies they work for, it carries a unique kind of weight. Whether it’s an offhand comment about the office carpet or an earnest perspective on the direction of the business, it has the authority of coming from an “insider.”

Now, with the rise of digital and social media, employees have endless opportunities to share their perspective publicly. This has brought about a new form — and new era — of what we call “employee activism.”

An employee activist is one who is engaged socially and professionally: someone who has a lot to say and who generally acts as an advocate for their employer. This includes defending the employer against criticism, both online and off, and providing greater visibility for their workplace.

In Weber Shandwick’s 2014 global study on the subject, Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, it was found that one in five employees (21 percent) are estimated to be an employee activist, and another 33 percent have high potential to move into that category.

Cultivating more employee activists can help more people outside your company become aware of company goals, initiatives and even challenges you want to be open about. It can also increase employees’ ability to talk about those things more fluently on their own social channels, should the need arise.

Ready to activate your employees? Here are five key strategies:

1. Identify what part of the spectrum your employees fall into.

The Weber Shandwick Workforce Activism Spectrum™ model identifies six distinct segments of employees. Where do your employees fall? Who is already active, and who is more passive (or actively detrimental)?


2. Accelerate the activism of ProActivists. Ignite the activism of PreActivists and HyperActives.

To sustain ProActivists, you need to reinforce what they perceive as the company’s best traits. Forty-eight percent of respondents to our survey recommend leading with the company’s reputation.

PreActivists and HyperActivates need more convincing to spur their activism, so be prepared to make more of a case to them. Also, our research showed that employees in these segments care a lot about fair treatment of all employees. Keep that in mind when you’re reaching out.

3. Negate the negatives for ReActivists and Detractors.

ReActivists are most critical of their employers’ reputation, the availability and nature of training and resources, and how well the company embraces diversity and inclusion. To combat this, employers should enter “Best Places to Work” lists and improve their workplace benefits.

4. Communicate in ways that matter.

Regardless of what segment they fall in, employees would like their employers to communicate with them more frequently through written means (73 percent), with work email as the leading favorite. Intranets and social media are also in demand by the tech savvy.

5. Customize strategies and tactics for each segment.

Given the diverse nature of the workforce segments, it’s clear that mobilizing employee activists cannot be a “one size-fits-all” approach.

For more information on our employee activism research, the Workforce Activism Spectrum, and the playbook for activating employees, check out the full report.


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