Companies that don’t empower their employees to participate in social media nowadays are shooting themselves in the feet when it comes to recruiting by stifling their staunchest advocates. 

A big challenge in a knowledge-based economy is how to attract and retain top talent. For example, Google has recently seen an increasing number of employees leave to go work at LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other up-and-coming tech companies. In response, Google has been taking very serious measures to retain their employees, such as making multi-million dollar counter offers and providing an across-the-board 10% raise to all employees.

Although retaining employees is crucial, first you have to actually be able to attract top candidates, and this can lead to very intense competition among peer companies (think Proctor&Gamble versus Johnson&Johnson, the big 3 consulting firms, and any of the top tech companies). I’ve seen this first-hand at Kellogg, particularly when classmates are deciding across different companies.

When those companies are comparative on quantitative measures (salary, benefits, working hours, etc),  qualitative metrics like culture and fit become much more important. Along these lines, the independent perspective of current employee advocates is much more powerful than anything that can possibly be found on the company’s website or official marketing materials. It’s very similar to the power of independent peer reviews on purchase decisions, which a recent HBR/McKinsey study highlighted as the “single most powerful impetus to buy.”

And nowadays, more and more of those employees are likely to take to some form of social media (blogs, FB, Twitter, etc), where they can generate buzz and excitement about their companies while connecting with people all around the world, if they are allowed to. In fact, just this week Pew released a study that found that 8% of American adults on the internet are using Twitter.

That’s why I’m surprised that more companies haven’t embraced social media to a larger extent. When a company doesn’t empower their employees to use social media, in part by laying out clear usage guidelines a la Intel, they are stifling the independent voices of the very people that should be their biggest advocates (if most of your employees aren’t company advocates, you probably have other issues to attend to). You might argue this is necessary to keep disgruntled employees from writing negative things about the company, but that will still happen when those employees leave the company. If your other employees aren’t allowed to write anything, those negative accounts (and the perceptions they create) will go unchallenged.

I came across a great example of independent advocacy from a current Microsoft employee, Stephan Weitz, who wrote a fantastic blog post on why he has stayed with Microsoft for 14 years.  Furthermore, through his Twitter account, I’ve been able to get glimpses into his daily life at Microsoft, and quite honestly, that has seriously raised my impression of the company. Imagine if that were multiplied across hundreds or thousands of employees?