Note: All the images in this post are under the Creative Commons license and are available for reuse and distribution. Please feel free to share but with a link to this blog.
1. What is employee advocacy?
Is your marketing department moving molehills in mountains of social? How about asking your employees to shoulder some of the lifting? Five minutes of their time daily can transform your social media marketing efforts.
Simply put, Employee Advocacy is the method of making brand advocates out of employees by encouraging them to actively represent their brands on social.
An incredibly powerful method of extending your connect with audience, employee advocacy can help you get your brand buzz out to multiple times the number of people your brand is connected with, via your employee’s social channels. For example, if your brand has 2000 Twitter followers, and your 1000 employees have an average of 500 followers each, you’ve got 2000 + 500000 pairs of eyeball’s worth of views that you could gain by using employee advocacy. A brilliant scenario to begin with, considering that typical sales conversion rates note a huge drop between social media engagement and actual product consumption.
To empower your employees on social there’s quite a lot you can do – from guiding them on what to share on social to helping them elevate their social standing and trusting them with the responsibility of actively participating in your brand’s communication.
If you’re empowering employees on social, you’re also developing brand ambassadors with big potential and having your employees as brand advocates can prove highly beneficial to your business.
2. Why should companies and organizations invest in social employee advocacy?
The power of social
Edelman, a global market research firm has found that 4 out of every 5 smartphone users check their devices within 15 minutes of waking up. Also, 53 percent of people say they would rather give up their sense of smell before their access to social media! Social has been proved several times as the place to be to get noticed by consumers in today’s marketplace scenario. To fight the sheer numbers of marketers on social media you’ve to get stronger communication in terms of trust and numbers, precisely what employee advocacy is all about.
People trust people over brands
Quoting from some interesting studies:
1) 92% of people trust recommendations from people they know – Nielson
2) 50% of all buying decisions are influenced by word of mouth – McKinsey
3) Recommendations generate 2X the sales as paid advertising – McKinsey
Clearly, the power of influencing buying decisions now rests with people, and you have people working for you, so all you have to do is put your assets to best use.
Here’s another noteworthy observation – “An employee’s voice is more credible than a CEO’s at 52% over 49% because people trust people like themselves” – as stated by Christopher Hannegan, Edelman. Being on social by yourself isn’t enough, your company’s employees also need to have solid presences on social to optimize your social reach and standing.
Through 6 connections you can reach anyone in the world
Have you heard of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? Based on the six degrees of separation theory, this fun game aims at connecting any actor with well-known actor Kevin Bacon through six acquaintances or less. Through 6 connections or less, you can reach anyone in the world, and you already have your first line of connections working with you. Your employees are probably diverse, come from different backgrounds, and have different connections in different social circles. Using employee advocacy can get you one foot into the 6 connections rule, and can also help you reach people across varying walks of life, thereby really widening your brand reach and helping you make connections with parts of the society that could have huge potential for your business.
Employee advocacy raises your bottom line
Ultimately, you can’t run a business that doesn’t drive margins. Profits matter, and it is important to consider what impact any marketing measure has on your bottom line. The great news is that employee advocacy works in favor of improving revenue.
Here’s what we found in a host of interesting studies:
1) A 12% increase in employee advocacy drives a 2X increase in revenues
2)12.6% of companies interviewed in a study stated that employee advocacy gave them higher conversions
3) Leads developed through employee social advocacy convert 7x more often than other leads
3. 6 straight-out benefits of employee advocacy
1) Increased visibility: A well-implemented employee advocacy system will help you generate more brand buzz on social. Your employees’ connections are definitely more diverse than yours, spanning more industries than your brand’s social profiles might. Therefore sharing through their profiles will give you a greater and wider reach.
2) Credibility: Talking about yourself is great, but your messages are far more credible when they are resonated with by others, and who better to talk about you than your employees? If the people on the outside (your buyers) see that the people on the inside (your employees) support your brand, they are far more likely to buy into your brand.
3) Amplified influence: As we’ve established, people are more influenced by people like themselves. So the brand messages being sent via your employees’ social accounts will be more influential as compared to the ones sent out from your brand’s accounts.
4) Valuable relationship building: Employee advocacy pulls in three groups of people connected to your business – you, your employees, and potential/current clients, and it acts as a means of building long-term and meaningful relationships between these three groups of people. There’s no better benefit because businesses run on relationships.
5) Employee engagement: To run a successful company you need your employees to be involved and invested. Employee advocacy is a brilliant way of making that happen, because by trusting your employees to represent you on social, you’re aligning everyone with a common cause. Common goals are a powerful way of bringing out the passion in people and encouraging them to work together.
6) Raised revenues & conversion odds: Like we’ve discussed with statistics, conversions on social are higher through employee advocacy and can directly help in raising your company’s revenues.
4. Use cases of social employee advocacy
Social employee advocacy can be employed by organizations across industries trying to achieve any goal on social media. Be it branding, selling, registrations, recruitment or employee engagement, employee advocacy can be used to give any of those efforts a significant boost.
1) Employee advocacy amplifies your social media marketing efforts
There are 4 major goals in social media marketing –
a. Raising awareness of your brand
b. Driving more traffic to your blog/ site
c. Aiming at increasing time spent by visitors on your site.
d. Increasing total conversions arising from social media
To make people spend more time on your site, you’ll have to produce brilliant content that’ll engage your visitors. But you can drastically improve 3 out of 4 of these goals (a,b and d) with employee advocacy. Anything you sell on social media – products, ideas, events, causes; they can be made more compelling, credible and visible with your employees’ participation.
2) Employee advocacy increases brand awareness
The cultural dynamics have changed, hinged on the social revolution. Influential branding now depends on understanding what Douglas Holt calls Crowdculture.
Crowdculture puts power back in the hands of people. Internet users can now skip ads. To get their attention you have to engage them, entertain them and humor them. To get them to trust you, you have to distance yourself from the untouchable brand concept and start embracing ‘the people trust people’ concept. Your audience will bond with you better if your messages come from sources like your employees, rather than just your brand accounts. Employee advocacy is a great way of making that happen.
3) Social recruitment and employer branding
As a company, you’re not only trying to attract the interested audience and customers, but also the right talent for recruitment. This is why your image on social as an employer matters. Who better to build your employer brand on social than your employees?
Many companies have social media policies that prevent them from talking about work on social, but it turns out that the tactic might be counter-productive. While it is essential to have a policy in place, letting employees share on social can really amp up your employer brand. With lots of companies running recruitment on social media platforms these days, it becomes especially prudent to have employees sharing positive brand experiences on social.
a. Employee referrals have high hire rates – only 7% of applicants arise from employee connections but this accounts for 40% of all new hires
b. 67% of employers and recruiters have said that the recruiting process is shorter and 51% have said it is less expensive to recruit via referrals
4) Employee engagement
You can get your employees working together, on the same team, for a common cause with employee advocacy. As you’ll read further along this guide, there are also many ways in which your can bring together very different teams – like your marketing, HR, management and technical teams – while implementing an employee advocacy program. Employee advocacy is also a cool way of keeping your employees engaged, and employees who are better connected with their companies are more likely to stay with them.
According to a Dale Carnegie infographic,
a. 71% of all employees are not fully engaged
b. 11 billion dollars are lost yearly on account of employee turnover
c. Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by 202%
5) Some lesser known uses of employee advocacy
Exploring technology at your disposal can lead to many interesting finds. Why use something only for the purpose it was intended? Whatever bakes the cake, right?
Of late we’ve noticed people on social media using employee advocacy tools to orchestrate similar activities across classrooms. Teachers are curating educational content and sharing them with students via employee advocacy tools. In fact, many large organizations – universities, libraries, IT companies, fashion houses, media companies and others can use employee advocacy for external and more inventively, internal information sharing applications.
5. Implementing employee advocacy – Traditional and current methods
1) The manual way of organizing employee advocacy
Prior to the internet and the IT revolution, companies still did practice employee advocacy in a slightly different manner. They’d get employees to bring in customers and reward them with incentives or discounts on product prices. “Offline employee advocacy” is still observed in several companies and organizations across the world.
While offline may still be effective, employing social employee advocacy might be more relevant and influential in our time and age.
How you can apply employee advocacy minus the tools
Apart from offline employee advocacy, there’s yet another manual way of doing it. You could monitor social media content streams, collect articles you’d like to share with the world- add that to content created by your marketing teams, put all of these in an email, mark each of your employees and write to them to share it. This procedure could be shortened using Emailing lists like Google Groups, but the process would definitely be more strenuous than using an employee advocacy tool. Plus, you’d have to manually check metrics to observe your progress.
2) Using tools to handle employee advocacy
There are tools that enable management of the three major elements of social employee advocacy – content curation, sharing of curated content with employees, and performance analytics of your shares and your employees– all of these on a single platform. Access to the entire process at one place can make your employee advocacy experience simpler and less demanding in terms of time required for managing the program. We’ve discussed the how to choose and use employee advocacy tools in more detail in the next section.
6. How to build a successful employee advocacy program
Approaching large projects such as these is best done in a structured manner. To help you with the same, we’ve put together a comprehensive step by step guide to planning and executing a successful employee program.
1) Create a solid context to inspire sharing
Everything successful begins with a strong context. To build a long-term and stable initiative, a common and strong belief among the participants is vital. Genuine advocacy is what drives shares and it can’t be bought or forced. You have to first inculcate a want in your employees. They first have to be brand advocates at heart. And that’s best done with a strong why. Why should your employees promote their own company?
How to get your employees to share on social
a. Incentives – the obvious one
b. Excitement – the interesting one
c. Pride – the tough one
For more ideas on how to generate excitement among your team and put reward systems into place read the “How to pitch employee advocacy to your employees and reward them” section.
Go ahead and make employee advocacy a team sport (with healthy competition). Note here that companies with great work culture and interactions within their teams automatically generate the enthusiasm that employees need to talk about their companies on social.
2) Get your specifics, goals and KPIs straight for measurable success
To stay focused on outcomes and get the most out of employee advocacy, it is important to have plans, goals, and KPIs. The more specific the better.
Get clarity on these
a. Your employee advocacy goals
b. How you’ll monitor your employees’ participation and measure your results
Set measurable goals like these
a. A boost in website traffic
b. An increase in leads
c. A reduction in marketing costs
d. An increase in event registrations
KPI-oriented goals like the ones above will come in handy while evaluating your program. There are three kinds of KPIs that apply to employee advocacy, and we have explored them in the section dedicated to measuring results. Some tools provide insights that help you gauge how well your environment has taken to your employee advocacy program. DrumUp, for instance, has a leader board and point system that tells you which employee was most active, with built-in analytics to also tell you which post did best.
3) Create firm social etiquette and responsibility guidelines to maximize positive impact
Most businesses steer clear of involvement of employees in brand voicing because of the possibility of something going wrong. While it is true that risk increases with numbers, the risk element can be mitigated with the establishment of some guidelines.
Ensure employee advocacy success with 3 sets of guidelines
a. Set a brand tone
Give your team a sense of the brand voice. Expose them to samples of great shares and show them what works and doesn’t on social.
b. Give them a dos and don’ts list
You could get your marketing team involved on this, a great opportunity to build inter-department relationships within your organization. The dos and don’ts lists could be fun and crazy, like “rockin’ ideas” and “Toxic – bad for health!”
c. Conduct employee advocacy Seminars
Make your employees brand confidants. Tell them why your company needs employee advocacy, and how their participation can make a world of difference. Share with them your ideas and make them understand how something that they can do will positively impact their brand.
There are no set rules, ironically, when making the rules. Make ones that best fit your company and industry.
4) Appoint an employee advocacy representative to keep the momentum going
Your first step post planning should be to designate a leader. It’s hard to transfer ideas to a large group at once. Appoint a representative who can:
a. Share your ideas with your employees (people are more inclined to catch enthusiasm from someone like themselves)
b. Generate interest within teams in the office
c. Help you understand your employees’ take on things
d. Collaborate with people to come up with fresh ideas and stories for employee advocacy
e. Oversee all social communication from within the team
f. Suggest pertinent changes and improvements to your employee advocacy program
Pick a person who will stand with your employees and guide them, rather than boss them around. Employee advocacy is a program that runs on good will and positivity and needs a candidate who fits that part to generate favorable results.
5) Promote humanized sharing to build trust with employees and your audience
Although you need guidelines, you shouldn’t dictate everything about your employees’ shares, or your employees’ shares will begin to look staged, and your audience may ignore your messages if they are going out from a 100 accounts looking like carbon copies of a promotional message. Give your employees the freedom to add their personal touch to the shares, this will also make them want to share more.
Aim at setting guidelines that don’t eat into your team’s personalities and humanness, because you want those to shine on social media.
Set liberal but firm guidelines using these 3 simple steps
1. Curate the content you want your employees to share
2. Encourage them to write their own text for Tweets and statuses carrying your message
3. Remind them to follow the dos and don’t s before customizing their messages
Look at the connections your team has as valuable and viable social capital. Giving your employees lessons on how to build relationships with possible customers on social can be very useful. To do this, you could bring in the HR and marketing departments to make a collaborated effort. This could be another excellent way of using your resources and promoting bonding within your team.
6) Employ a reliable employee advocacy tool to maximize efficiency
For efficiency and simplicity, it is necessary for you to find a good employee advocacy tool to rely on. Keeping it simple is important because you and your team can spend only so much time on employee advocacy with everyday work.
Look for these crucial, basic features in employee advocacy tools –
a. Content curation- it’s convenient to be able to curate content on the same platform that lets you manage employee advocacy
b. A common stream- if your employees can access a common stream where you can share content curated by you, you will save a lot of time otherwise spent curating content and sending it to employees
c. A leaderboard- you need a way to keep your employees motivated, and this is one cool way of doing it
d. Performance analytics – you need to know how active you employees are and which post of yours got the most engagement so you can share more of that kind of post
DrumUp has each of these features and can help you set up a successful and beneficial employee advocacy program.
7. Which social media platforms to target with employee advocacy
With more accounts at your disposal and more people sharing your content, you raise your odds of being noticed substantially. Employee advocacy can really help you rise above the noise on major social media platforms. Here’s a statistical picture of three massive social media platforms and why you should target them with employee advocacy.
The LinkedIn scenario
If you’re implementing the program across these platforms, it is also important to know which ones you should focus more resources on. This varies based on the kind of business you are.
If your target audience is other businesses, you may want to focus on LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook could be a lower priority.
If you primarily sell to consumers, Facebook could be a huge draw. Twitter would still be relevant and LinkedIn could take a back-seat.
Either way, you’re the best judge of what suits your business. Consider where you would get the best visibility with your audience and accordingly decide your focus channels.
8. How to pitch employee advocacy to your employees and reward them
Employee advocacy will work in the long run only if your employees realize real paybacks from the system. Participating employees have access to a stream of high-quality content (curated by you) that they simply have to share on social. This process makes it extremely easy for them to stay active on social and be perceived as important participants in their industry communities on social. This comes with a lot of perks.
4 important things that employees can get out of employee advocacy
a. Higher social visibility
b. Relationships with people in the industry
c. Career-building opportunities
d. In case of customer facing roles, an ability to generate, nurture more leads and business
Nothing beats genuine enthusiasm. To create this, you’ve to integrate fun into each step of the program.
Add these elements to your employee advocacy system
a. Gamification– Keep score, competition drives activity and efforts. You could do this with a leaderboard.
b. Prizes – Choose prizes that your employees would want to receive. You could try gift cards, trophies.
c. Recognition– Recognize your MVPs (Most Valuable Players). You could make a monthly ceremony out of this.
According to a Talent Cove study, 78% of workers who feel recognized are more motivated at work. So don’t shy away from complimenting your team’s efforts and thanking them every now and then!
9. How to launch your employee advocacy program
Now that we have the essential elements down, it is important to know how to make your program take off. While running through this phase, ensure to carefully carry out these initial steps.
1) Begin by introducing the concept to your employee advocates
The first impression always matters. Introduce social employee advocacy to your employees in the most exciting way possible. Get help from your community leader, whom you should already have appointed by now, to assess the best way in which you can break the idea to your employees.
Things to follow when introducing employee advocacy to your team
a. Confide your ideas and social media goals with them
b. Share with them the responsibility of representing their brand
c. Encourage their feedback and comments
d. Make the launch exciting and inspiring
2) Follow up with an interactive training session
Training gives you an organized start so you can hit the ground running. It also prevents unnecessary blunders. To establish a steadily productive program, training is indispensable.
The results of neglecting training
a. Reduced productivity
b. Irrevocable mistakes
c. Slow growth
Avoid the above with a well thought-out and exhaustive training program. It’s best to pre-empt hang-ups with employee advocacy, because once you’ve begun, correcting procedures and mistakes will get messy.
Employee advocacy training
Make sure to keep your training sessions exciting, fun and semi-formal. You want your employees to associate the program with ‘fun’.
Here’s a checklist of things for you to address during training.
a. Why your employees should participate- It’s good to begin training by reminding your employees why they’re participating in the program.
b. How to operate the employee advocacy tool you’ve picked- They should be taught the ins and outs of the tool so they can use it to best effect. An interesting way of doing this is by getting your tech team to run this part of the training session. They are certainly qualified to do it, and your employees will be more welcoming of the training sessions when they are led by their colleagues.
c. What to do and what not to do on social– You could have your marketing team lead this session. They probably work with social marketing on a daily basis and can effectively communicate the dos and don’ts of social to their colleagues.
d. How to build and maintain relationships with people on social– If you have an in-house HR team, you should encourage them to lead this session. Relationships have boundless potential in business and your employee advocates should ideally know how to build and nurture relationships. If they become active on social, and that is part of the intent of employee advocacy, the relationships they build could become valuable to your company.
e. How to develop a social standing– Do you have Twitter rockstars working with you? Or LinkedIn leaders? They could very well help your employees reach the same social standing on social media. Why is this important? Because the more influential your employees become on social, the more powerful the messages that you share through them become. This is a win-win situation. Your employees get to build their profiles on social and you get to improve and amplify your visibility.
Summarize the key points of your training sessions in guides that you can send your employees. They can serve as a permanent reminder of how to go about participating in the employee advocacy program.
3) Launch a pilot run with employee advocacy
The pace at which companies are adopting employee advocacy is quickening. Several of them have skipped the pilot stage and launched large scale at the start. However, a lot of brands that have skipped the pilot are seeing lower employee engagement, as low as 1%.
Design a pilot that has room for experimentation and tries different kinds of content and internal communication systems before you settle on the most workable social employee advocacy format. If you are a multinational organization, you could try employee advocacy on one branch in one state and gradually expand over the state and then across countries – only after you’re confident about the KPIs you’re seeing. If you’re a smaller organization, you could begin with one department before involving the rest. It’s always a great idea to test a procedure before locking down on it.
10. What kind of content to share via employee advocacy
There’s a lot that you could share related to your brand on social media. The idea is to balance promotional messages with other content, or your employees’ connections might write them off for sharing purely promotional content. You don’t want that. Also, it’s likely that your employees will prefer sharing some kinds of content over others. While you can curate the possible shares, the final decision of what to share should be left to your employees.
9 types of content you can share
1) Company blogs, news, media mentions
2) Promotional content – brand updates, promotional offers, upcoming product previews, event information
3) Interesting ideas related to your industry – blogs, videos, quotes, infographics, posters
4) Behind the scenes photographs of cool meetings, training sessions, workshops & company events – lunches, getaways, talent shows
5) Work done for clients – you could encourage employees to share work they’ve personally done
6) Photographs, success stories and happy experiences of clients
7) An employee’s recent certification or achievement
8) Community work – charities, causes that you’ve supported and photographs of work you’ve done there
9) Industry news – you could also make these available to your employees so they can stay updated on industry events, again, the sharing is up to them. Tools like DrumUp let you integrate news and RSS feeds into the same interface that houses their employee advocacy tool.
11. How to measure employee advocacy success
It’s important to note that results on social media, be it through employee advocacy or otherwise, take time. Organic growth requires a fair amount of investment in building relationships, interacting with people on social and being active in social media communities. Your employees will have to really indulge in social for you to see results. Bearing that in mind there are three ways to assess the success of your social employee advocacy program.
3 ways to assess your employee advocacy program
1) Employee engagement KPIs
a. Number of shares per post
b. Number of shares per employees
2) Social media engagement KPIs
a. Number of likes
b. Number of retweets
c. Number of shares
d. Number of comments
3) Revenue KPIs
a. Lead generation rates
b. Conversion rates
c. Registration rates
d. Revenue rates
If the indicators are showing you a decent effort to return ratio, your employee advocacy program is successful.
12. A comprehensive list of employee advocacy Dos and Don’ts
1) Pick a simple and efficient tool to help you with employee advocacy
2) Give employees options and let them decide what they want to share
3) Balance promotional and non-promotional content
4) Carefully screen the content prior to sharing with your employees
5) Share content that can best benefit from mass visibility
6) Provide employees with the necessary resources and support
7) Ensure that your employees have access to comprehensive guidelines
8) Keep your employees involved by setting an example
9) Interact with them on social
10) Do regular follow ups
1) Don’t launch without a pilot
2) Don’t restrict personal shares
3) Don’t dictate what to share
4) Don’t forget to impress your employees the importance of being active on social
5) Don’t suggest only promotional content
6) Don’t leave your employee advocacy program unsupervised
7) Don’t break off on consistency
8) Don’t forget to monitor employee advocacy KPIs on a regular basis
9) Avoid forcing participation
10) Don’t compromise on promised incentives
Finally, don’t treat your employees like hoardings, make them feel like part of the team and like they’re playing for their team. Design your employee advocacy program such that it is beneficial to all parties involved – your employees, your social media audience and you, and you’ll definitely succeed at it.
Note 2: The infographic is under the Creative Commons license and is available for reprint. Please attribute this blog with a link while sharing.
Note 3: This article was originally published on May 12, 2016 and has been updated since with additions to certain sections.