Caroline-Aiken-McGee

Caroline Aiken-McGee shared how she and her team built UPS’ employee ambassador program from the ground up to improve engagement across their social channels

According to Caroline Aiken-McGee, who manages social media education and governance at UPS, when the social media team was formed in Q1 of 2012, the organization — across the board — was hesitant about employees posting and potentially getting themselves in trouble on social media.

Now, due to a robust employee ambassador program and its intensive training modules, employees are an invaluable part of UPS’s success on its social media channels.

Early in 2014 Caroline and her team kicked off their first social media training modules.

We provided in-house training where we had hands-on sessions to review the tool ambassadors would use to engage with customers and fans. Caroline Aiken-McGee
“We initially wanted to focus on social media training and guidelines that could provide employees with basic information about the platforms that were out there — as well as some of the do’s and don’ts — to take away some of their fear about using social media,” said Caroline.

They started out with two modules: one for social media principles and best practices, and the other for employees tasked with managing a company-branded channel.

Then, as the social media team continued running more (and larger) campaigns on their channels, they saw a new opportunity to incorporate employees in social media — as official employee ambassadors.

“At the time, we had six or seven members on the social team,” said Caroline. “But the number of conversations we were being asked to engage with during some campaigns was tremendous. We work closely with the agents who handle customer concerns, and they are always active 24/7, but with our staff, we aren’t large enough to provide the expanded coverage needed to engage in a timely fashion. So we thought about asking a few employees to serve as social media ambassadors to help with certain campaigns.”

We trained them on how to flag a comment for help if they were unsure what to do or thought it deserved more scrutiny. Caroline Aiken-McGee
The idea of the social media ambassador was to help drive positive outcomes in their social engagement during times of heavy traffic, engage with their fans and followers, and proactively surface potentially controversial conversations on their channels.

The social team presented the idea to their department manager and, once it was approved, set about finding employees interested in becoming ambassadors, deciding how the ambassadors would engage on the channels, and putting together the training that would make the program a success for its 2014 launch.

For the launch, they found 23 volunteer ambassadors, but not all of them were comfortable on every social channel or fluent in social media etiquette.

To make them comfortable posting on behalf of the company, Caroline led a team of writers, designers, and developers to create a series of web-based modules — each between 45 minutes and an hour — to teach ambassadors the different aspects of their role and the channels they would be using. With each module, ambassadors were presented a series of questions so they could look at the responses and see where they still had gaps to fill.

With the help of the ambassadors, we were able to be active on our social channels for a lot longer over the course of the day. Caroline Aiken-McGee
“After the modules, we provided in-house training where we had hands-on sessions to review the tool ambassadors would use to engage with customers and fans as well as the different social channels they would use,” explained Caroline. “We also created spreadsheets specific to each campaign that listed the different type of comments they might encounter on each channel and suggested responses to give them an idea of what a proper response should look like — tone, information, and length.”

Though Caroline emphasized that they didn’t want ambassadors to copy and paste responses and to use the suggestions as a guide to personalize them, she said this tactic was particularly helpful for people who weren’t comfortable with all channels.

According to Caroline, the number one concern of leadership and potential ambassadors was which social accounts they would use to engage with customers.

“We decided early on they wouldn’t be using their own accounts to respond,” said Caroline. “Instead, they would use the official company Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram channels — and that helped ease the ambassadors’ minds.”

But they didn’t want them natively logging into the official UPS channels either. “We didn’t want 20 different people logging into UPS accounts,” said Caroline. “So we gave them unique credentials for our SMMS tool — which at the time was Percolate — so we could keep track of them.”

Because of that decision, Caroline and her team also had to train the ambassadors on how to appropriately use the SMMS tool.

Having those additional eyes on the channel helps the team recognize some surprise-and-delight moments that we may have missed, or comments that deserve extra attention. Caroline Aiken-McGee
After they completed their on-site training, they were asked to log in to the SMMS tool and watch how the social team responded and engaged with customers and fans.

“This method has proven to be very helpful to new ambassadors to become familiar and comfortable with the entire process,” explained Caroline. “In addition, we trained them on how to flag a comment for help if they were unsure what to do or thought it deserved more scrutiny.”

She also said that, although ambassadors aren’t required to be familiar with each platform they monitor, they are encouraged to create their own accounts to become familiar with how the channel works.

After the first group of ambassadors completed their training in August of 2014, they officially launched the program in November — just in time for UPS’ big Wishes Delivered campaign.

Wishes Delivered, which runs between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year, sees UPS fans and customers sharing heartwarming and inspirational stories across their social channels — and it’s one of UPS’ largest annual campaigns.

We look for new ambassadors each year when we're looking to renew the program, and we always have new employees who are interested after hearing about it through word of mouth. Caroline Aiken-McGee
“With the help of the ambassadors, we were able to be active on our social channels for a lot longer over the course of the day,” said Caroline. “The social channels never shut down, so the ambassadors help us keep them alive, even after the dedicated social media team packs up for the day.”

When they are running a campaign, ambassadors sign up for time slots between 7 AM and 10 PM EST, which Caroline said has made a huge difference in their ability to engage.

“Having those additional eyes on the channel helps the team recognize some surprise-and-delight moments that we may have missed, or comments that deserve extra attention,” said Caroline. “And on the other side of that, if they see a complaint that hasn’t been addressed, they can escalate it to the customer care team so they can respond.”

Since its launch, Caroline said that the program has been a huge internal success.

“The program has grown, even outside of the initial department,” explained Caroline. “We look for new ambassadors each year when we’re looking to renew the program, and we always have new employees who are interested after hearing about it through word of mouth.”

Because we're human, when an ambassador is responding or replying to a comment, you've got to allow room for error. Caroline Aiken-McGee
Their number of ambassadors increases nearly every year and, as of 2016, has grown to include employees outside of the corporate office in Atlanta.

To accommodate this new growth and changes in their social media strategy, Caroline and her team provide the training every year — even to the repeat ambassadors. “I don’t take anything for granted,” said Caroline. “So I always encourage our recurring ambassadors to retake the modules, and I can’t think of a time when they haven’t all attended.”

As for anyone looking to develop a similar program, Caroline advises being understanding of your ambassadors and getting the buy-in from the right people.

“Because we’re human, when an ambassador is responding or replying to a comment, you’ve got to allow room for error,” said Caroline. “I always tell them not to beat themselves up about a spelling error in a tweet or something like that. But at the same time, we have to look at how we want to address it when those mistakes happen. You have to have a plan in place.”

She also said it’s important to make sure leadership understands what you are trying to do and is in alignment with it. “Part of how you do that is in explaining the positives of an ambassador program and how it will help your overall social media program and your team,” she explained. “Then, make sure you put some kind of training in place to ensure they will be successful.”

Caroline Aiken-McGee has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2012. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.