Written by: Amanda Brown
The term ‘Employee Advocacy’ crept into the marketer’s vocabulary about a decade ago but it’s one that is still relatively unknown. For me, employee advocacy should really be called a social champions program, as it is about amplifying an organization’s message by leveraging the network of the people in the business. It is the process of encouraging your employees to create, share and engage with your brand’s content on social media, as well as more widely both online and offline.
According to this article in Entrepreneur Magazine: “Social media content shared by employees gets eight times more engagement than content shared through the brand’s own social channels and is shared 25 times more frequently. And leads through employee social networks convert seven times more often than any other leads.”
In this post, I will be using the example of business-to-business marketing to outline:
- The Challenges of Marketing on social media
- Why an employee advocacy program is valuable
- Seven steps to a successful employee advocacy program
- Some of the hurdles you might come across when putting a program in place
The Challenges of Marketing on Social Media
Battling the social media algorithms
There are numerous challenges for the marketing department when it comes to social media, the main one being the algorithms that control the visibility of the content a company or individual posts. Whether it’s a post to a LinkedIn Company Page, a tweet, or an image share on Facebook, the reach of these posts is governed by the mathematical equations set by the social media platforms which aim to limit who sees your content.
Social media algorithms set out to show you content to the people they think will be interested in what you have to say. Consequently, if you have a large, disengaged following, the universe of viewers will be small; the more you can encourage your audience to like, comment, and share your content, the more likely they are to see the next piece of content. Therefore, those brands which provide entertaining, useful information will take the lion’s share of the social space.
The successful companies become even more successful and those with weak messages fade into the ether.
Business content is ‘corporate’
Business content up until now has been ‘corporate’; technically correct, factually accurate, but lacking in personality. LinkedIn Company Pages are filled with industry news, product promotions, and career opportunities. What they lack is personality and therefore the content doesn’t encourage engagement.
Unless your business is a household name, becoming known isn’t about the company, it’s about the people within it. The solicitor helping conclude a divorce, an investor funding a start-up, or an engineer manufacturing a new wearable – they may all work for a company but it is their relationships that are crucial to sales. Bringing life to business content, with stories and images of the people involved makes it share-worthy.
Consumers’ trust in brands is declining
Building trust starts with the relationship a company has with not only its customers but also its employees. Social advocacy aims to build trust with people company-wide. After all, marketing is not just the responsibility of the marketing department. It happens with every email, phone call, meeting, and networking event. Your employees are representing your brand with every interaction.
Research shows that employees are ‘talking’ about their employer both in and out of working hours. Therefore, creating a culture that is inclusive and trusting is at the heart of a successful social champion program.
Why an employee advocacy program is valuable
Enrolling your employees as social champions has the following benefits:
- It encourages teamwork
- It empowers employees to take responsibility for creating content
- Highly regarded technical expertise is shared
- Puts the personable back into corporate content
- Builds loyalty from consumers as they trust the experts’ views rather than corporate messages
- Improves the profiles of employees
Seven steps to a successful employee advocacy program
An employee advocacy program needs to become part of an organization’s business plan and marketing strategy. What will be your measure of success? Followers, traffic to the website, comments on posts, shares, leads, revenue? It is important not to get bogged down in too many metrics but to look at the direction of travel – are the statistics better than the previous quarter? The performance of a program should be measured over quarters rather than days and weeks in order to give participants time to discover what works.
Revisit social media policies
A social media policy is typically part of the employee handbook – read once, signed, and consigned to the desk drawer. This is a good opportunity to revisit both social media policies and guidelines, focusing on the types of content which are encouraged rather than stating the obvious that no one should bring the company into disrepute.
Secure Leadership Buy-In
Firstly, it is important to have the buy-in from the leadership team. Consider Richard Branson, the ultimate social champion of Virgin, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, and Mary Barra, CEO and Chair of GM. They all have a strong social presence and lead by example giving encouragement to other leaders and their team members.
“It’s hard to build employee advocacy from the bottom up.” Chad Parizman, Senior Director, Digital Activation at Pfizer.
Participation across the company results in the most successful brand amplification programs.
Train your Employee Champions
Plan and provide training on best practices including profile optimization, content creation, and social media activity across the platforms the company focuses on. This may be LinkedIn alone, LinkedIn and Twitter, or where there is capacity, expertise, and relevance, the whole raft of platforms. The choice of platforms will be largely determined by where the customers of the company are most active.
Employing employee advocacy tools results in an efficient social champions program. Champions simply access the content on an app, edit, and share.
It is unrealistic to expect every employee to participate in an employee advocacy program. There will always be skeptics and it is the role of the program manager to communicate the benefits to every employee as results come in.
Although it is tempting to start with a pilot, I would highly recommend getting as many employees as possible on board from the outset.
The most successful programs provide pre-approved content for ease of sharing as well as encourage individuals to submit their own posts, images, and videos.
Measure results, revise and repeat
Measuring results is straightforward with the adoption of a tool and enables the ambassador program leader to make recommendations for improving activity.
If the University of Manchester, the largest single-site university in the UK with over 12,000 employees, can implement an employee advocacy program, so can your company.
All credits to: Amanda Brown
Amanda Brown, of Alterra, is an online marketing consultant, speaker, and author, with over a decade of experience in the field, specializing in business-to-business social media consultancy, training, and management for companies in the professional and financial services sector.