Last updated: March 14th, 2018
Companies are becoming increasingly aware of Employee Advocacy and its potential for different departments and the company as a whole.
Employee Advocacy has become familiar to organizations, as the rise of social media and digital word-of-mouth have expanded communications across different departments and created a space where employees can contribute to the brand’s image.
It is an initiative that can benefit the entire organization, as well as the individuals working for it. According to Altimeter’s study on Employee Advocacy from 2016, 90% of brands surveyed are already pursuing or have plans to pursue some form of Employee Advocacy.
What is Employee Advocacy?
By definition, Employee Advocacy is the promotion of a company’s messages by its employees. Employee Advocacy today takes increasingly place online, with social media as the main medium for brand ambassadors.
Employees have extensive networks of friends, followers, and connections on social media who can be reached and influenced with a click of a button. By sharing valuable content to their networks, employees can increase the company’s reach and credibility by generating meaningful conversations about the business. At the same time, they are also building their personal brands online.
Put simply, Employee Advocacy is knowledge sharing for people within and outside the organization.
Why Employee Advocacy?
A significant shift has taken place from restricting social media use at work towards encouraging it. A growing number of companies have realized the massive potential of their employees’ networks and started to move away from compliance management to empowering and enabling their employees.
Nearly 40% of people spend 1-5 hours per week on business-related social media activities, while on average nearly 60% of employees in formal Employee Advocacy programs spend more than 5 hours each week on business-related social media activities (Source: Hinge & Social Media Today). It is an arena where the majority of employees feel comfortable operating, whether in an established brand ambassador program or not.
With employees able to create conversations around the company and the brand on social media, Businesses have realized that when it comes to activating the company’s employees as micro-influencers spreading word-of-mouth, the opportunity outweighs the risks. “In the end, the choice becomes: Do we invest in our employees with the risk of them leaving, or do we not invest in them and thus not get the best result for both the company and employee,” Smarp’s CEO Roope Heinilä points out.
The main advantages of Employee Advocacy can be divided into three categories
Employees have the potential to reach more people than their employer corporate social media pages combined. What’s more, Employee Advocacy spans beyond the platforms companies are using, as employees are also active on networks their employers might not have heard of.
The potential reach of an Employee Advocacy program can be estimated with this simple formula:
Number of employees x Size of their networks = The potential reach
Authenticity & Credibility
People trust other people – they tend to rely on their family, friends and peers when searching for information to make decisions. Employee generated word-of-mouth plays a substantial role in online marketing, as it is perceived more credible and trustworthy, compared to advertising and marketer-generated content.
Today’s employees expect meaning in their work. Expectations for a job have, indeed, increased vastly. People want to grow, learn and develop on the job, and they are looking for opportunities to make a difference in the organization. The more meaningful the job, the greater the effort and commitment.
An Employee Advocacy program has the potential to increase employee engagement by tying employees more closely to the company, and to also create internal collaboration between different parts of the company. By empowering employees to act as brand ambassadors, employees get the the authority to influence others and make a difference as well as find meaning in their work.
What’s in it for the Employees?
Employee Advocacy can help employees to be more successful in what they do. By acting as brand ambassadors, employees are able to enhance their professional brand, become thought leaders, improve the results of their work, and also expand their networks. 85.6% of employees in firms with a formal Employee Advocacy program say that their involvement on social media for professional purposes has helped their career (Source: Hinge & Social Media Today).
We strongly support having an employees-first approach to advocacy programs. Employees should be the driving force in making the program work. When employees recognize the value of the initiative on an individual level, the company can benefit as a whole.
Departmental Benefits of Employee Advocacy
Employee Advocacy should be a company-wide effort for the program to result in benefits on an organizational as well as individual level. However, there are specific benefits that can be tied to marketing, HR, communications and sales.
The organic reach of company social media pages is continuously declining, with social media platforms increasingly limiting the organic reach of corporate-generated posts. This, coupled with the rising prominence of ad blockers, has resulted in a major headache for marketers. When content no longer reaches the same audiences and ads become ineffective, marketers need to find new and alternative ways to reach their audiences.
Employee Advocacy is an efficient way to increase the reach and visibility of a brand. While it is a form of spreading content, it is not considered advertising and thus not blocked by ad blockers. The organic reach of employee-shared content is also better, compared to content posted by a company; social media platforms prefer content that is posted by an individual.
Fact: according to our data, one employee share generates about 4 clicks on Facebook on average.
Employee Advocacy is considered word-of-mouth marketing; people expressing their opinions and creating conversations around the brand. This boosts authenticity and trust, as the messages are reported by people, not brands. According to 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in authorities and media is drastically declining, and a person like yourself is considered the most credible spokesperson.
Employee Advocacy is also tied with internal communication. By leveraging shared technology and solid guidelines, Employee Advocacy can help align employees with the company mission and increase cross-departmental collaboration through content. With everyone working towards the same goals, internal as well as external communication can be significantly boosted.
“An average employee advocate is 2x more trusted than a company CEO” Edelman Trust Barometer
Today’s buyers operate in an online setting, where they look for information about purchases. 75% of B2B buyers are said to leverage social media to support their decision-making (Source: Schaub). Indeed, social media has become an integral part of sales. Social networks help in researching potential buyers and building revenue-driving relationships. Social selling, powered with Employee Advocacy, is an effective way to drive revenue and generate sales.
Think about it. LinkedIn has half a billion users globally (Fortune.com), while Twitter boasts over 328 million users (Statista) who use the site monthly. It’s a place to find out more about prospects, connect with them and participate in discussions. Using a social selling tool can make this a whole lot easier.
“12% increase in brand advocacy generates a 2x increase in revenue growth” Reichheld
HR & Recruitment
Successful recruitment in today’s highly competitive market is a challenge. The demand for resourcefulness has increased, and recruiters must adopt new ways of doing talent acquisition. Employee referrals are one of the most effective ways to capture top talent. The most potential candidates are probably in your existing employees’ networks. Referrals are also credited as the highest-quality hires.
“Referred employees are faster to hire, perform better, and stay longer in the company.” Global Recruiting Trends 2017, LinkedIn Talent Solutions
Let us not forget that Employee Advocacy also allows for relationship between the employer and employee to develop in a novel way. The employer can judge the employee by the type of information that only materializes in the world of social media.
How to Succeed with Employee Advocacy
So how does this work in practice? What are the components of Employee Advocacy that affect how well the program will succeed?
Pay attention to these steps.
1. Create a culture where Employee Advocacy can flourish
For Employee Advocacy to take place in the first place, employees must first feel motivated to act as brand ambassadors. This requires creating a company culture where Employee Advocacy can flourish. This culture should be built on transparency, freedom and trust. It is vital that your employees feel trusted and empowered to act as brand ambassadors on social media. This builds confidence and allows your employees to feel that their judgement to act as a company spokesperson is trusted.
Moreover, Employee Advocacy is about freedom of choice. Employees should never be forced to advocate – this approach is doomed to fail. After all, your advocacy program is only as good as your employees’ commitment to the program. 46% of people say that the overall corporate culture has an effect on their engagement (Source: Cisco).
Consider using a shared hashtag employees can use the flaunt the company culture. Make sure employees have positive things to say about the company and their work. Don’t forget to listen to the ambassadors. “Involve the employees in what they would like to talk about,” says Employee Advocacy Expert and Consultant Anne Frost. “When you start focusing on what we, as individuals, can say about our product or our work environment, there comes an awareness of how much we know as a company and how important everyone’s knowledge is.” Everyone’s contribution counts.
2. Set a Clear Guideline
It is important for the success of your advocacy program to have a clear social media guideline for your employees to follow. The purpose of having a company social media policy is to help protect the company’s reputation and avoid legal issues, but more importantly, it’s there to drive employee engagement. Defining what type of communication the company wishes for will effectively help reduce uncertainty and confusion among employees. When your employees are aware of what they can and cannot do, they can feel confident in participating and sharing company-related content in a way that suits their personality.
A social media policy should be designed to empower rather than restrict. This is why a social media policy should always be based on trust.
Remember to focus
- A professional code of conduct
- Copyright laws
- Transparency; don’t mislead others and admit to mistakes
- Respect towards other social media users
3. Plan the Launch
Before you get started with your Employee Advocacy initiative, you have to make decisions on how you are going to launch the program. Basically, there are two options to choose from:
1. Start small and grow the program over time
For businesses that initially opt to launch on a smaller scale, it can be slightly more difficult to establish structure later on. However, it is easier to first educate and communicate with a smaller group of people and get management buy-in, when you already have proven results. “Start with specific employees who have demonstrated that they are interested in participating and in providing feedback,” says Jeff Bullas. Starting small is also a way to find out what resonates with your employees and their networks before launching the program more widely, making a large-scale launch more likely to succeed. If your organization has not yet fully bought into Employee Advocacy, this approach provides a very low barrier to prove what can be accomplished.
Always include and encourage C-level participation in the launch; “An Employee Advocacy program should be under the custodian of an Executive champion – be it a CMO, CDO or CHRO.” These champions can help allocate the right resources for the program, while acting as examples for others and encouraging widespread participation.
2. Plan and execute a large-scale launch right away
Those launching on larger scale right away need to have an established plan in place for the launch. This includes training, communication, and assigned responsibilities. The upside with this type of launch is that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and no group of people is left out. Having a well-crafted program structure before the launch also means that the initiative is likely to be better organized from the get-go.
4. Invest in Your Content
Content is at the heart of every Employee Advocacy program. It is what employees can share to their networks to help drive awareness of the brand, drive traffic to the website and educate readers.
What kind of content should you have available for your employees to share?
1. Branded content
Case studies, blog posts, events, campaigns – basically anything that promotes the brand or product – is good branding material for employees to share. But keep it digestible and suited for sharing on social media.
2. Employer branding content
Job posts, blog posts about company culture, behind-the-scene material – anything that reveals what your company is like as an employer and can attract new applicants and create a positive employer brand. You should encourage your employees to share this type of content, for employees can most truthfully reveal what your company is like to work for.
You might also consider fun content, such as photos, videos and why not GIFs that could be entertaining and/or fun material about your company or industry. This type of content is great for driving engagement and brand awareness.
3. Industry insights and thought leadership content
This can be either your own or third-party content that really highlights knowledge from your industry and ties your brand to the overall market and what you do. It can also be content created by your employees that showcases their personal expertise and increases their influence among their networks.
Aim for a healthy mix of these different types of content, when planning your strategy for curated content. The exact formula is up to you; just make sure there are enough topics and types of content to choose from.
4. Use Employee-Generated Content
Employees should also participate in content production to build their thought leadership, while boosting the brand. Plus, it’s a cost-effective way to scale content production and flaunt the brand through employees’ own insights.
Start by determining which people and departments hold relevant information that could be of use to others, and make sure they have the necessary tools in place to share it. Perhaps the company blog can feature employees as writers? Maybe you have video or graphic wizards among your staff you were not aware of, who can create stellar content to support your branding strategy. Solid Employee Advocacy tools also come with blogging features.
Sarah Goodall describes ECG in as follows:
“We now place the most value on what we perceive to be authentic information: the word of the employee at the coalface. Real people, real stories. Employees feel the issues that customers are experiencing, so their content has relevance.”
Consider using a native Employee Advocacy platform to get the most out of your advocacy initiative. A dedicated and comprehensive Employee Advocacy solution like Smarp makes it easy for employees to grow their professional brand by empowering them to participate in discovering, sharing and measuring the impact great content has on their networks.
Using content internally in the tool also matters – internal sharing and commenting features support internal discussions and alignment among teams. Good internal and external goals support each other.
Training is an integral part of implementing an Employee Advocacy program. Start by explaining the basic concept and purpose of the program to the participants. Employees need to understand that the program is, first and foremost, to their benefit and will help them grow as professionals. Next, provide employees with sufficient onboarding and make sure that your people are provided with the materials they need to get started. Remember, not all of your employees are social media experts. You might want to consider offering additional social media training for those who want to learn more about professional social networking and best practices.
The timing of the training you provide is key. Consider providing a thorough information session, a training session upon launch, and then reminding users along the way through practical gatherings, emails and through the tool you use.
7. Incentivize Participation
Creating the right kind of culture and arranging sufficient training is vital, but encouraging participation is equally important for the program to succeed. Highlighting the benefits for individuals (i.e. what’s in it for employees) is a good place to start. However, to ensure long-term success, also other means to motivate and encourage participation should be provided. For instance, you may want to consider creating timely contests with a rewarding system and gamifying the experience with a point system and leaderboards.
Measuring your advocacy program performance and comparing the results against other business KPIs is essential. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. In order to better understand the impact of your initiative, you should at least keep an eye on the following metrics:
- Reach – How many people you have reached through your advocacy program
- Number of active users and sharers during a selected time period – i.e. the engagement level of your advocates
- Number of shared posts on a given time period – i.e. the quality and quantity of content
- Clicks – How many clicks the shared posts gather
- Website visitors – how many unique visitors driven to your website through Employee Advocacy
- Social Reactions – i.e. comments, likes and (re-)shares the shared post generate
- Earned Media Value – compared to paid (cpc) social media advertising
Measuring will allow you to tweak and improve your program to get the full potential of your Employee Advocacy program.
Remember to create a program that reflects the organization’s overall values and mission to truly get the most out of it.
These are some of the basics related to Employee Advocacy; why and how to get started, what to pay attention to and what it’s essentially about. Want to find out more? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!
Smarp is a fully featured Employee Advocacy and knowledge sharing platform using the latest cutting-edge technology. The platform delivers all the features needed to run a successful employee advocacy program and has been built with user experience and intuitive design at its core. All of our features are extremely easy to find and use which ensure low threshold for employee participation. Founded in 2011, Smarp helps hundreds of organizations and their employees to humanize their brands.