A majority of brands today aren’t utilizing their biggest marketing asset: their employees. The concept of employee advocacy has been around for quite some time, going back well before social media and the Internet became popular. In the past few years, “employee advocacy” has become quite the buzzword in the HR world, and many companies are scrambling to implement an advocacy program without understanding some core concepts that make a program successful.
Businesses need to look at employees as more than just “people who are hired to provide services to a company on a regular basis in exchange for compensation.” With our lives being so intertwined with digital media, it’s imperative to see employees as individuals who can help maintain and nurture current business relationships while attracting new customers.
Employees are one of the most valuable marketing assets a business can have, and if you’re not utilizing your employees as a part of an overall marketing strategy you are missing out on a huge opportunity to drive exposure, build brand awareness and increase revenue.
So What Is Employee Advocacy?
At its core, employee advocacy is the promotion of an organization by its staff members. An employee advocate is someone who:
- Generates positive exposure and raises awareness for a brand through digital media or offline channels
- Recommends a company’s products or services to a friend or family member
- Represents the best interests of the company both internally and externally
- Can help build employee ownership of the organization
- Is an expert on your product or service and can be a credible spokesperson for your company
Why Does Employee Advocacy Matter?
The benefits of employee advocates are pretty well known. They can help attract and retain new customers, spur higher levels of internal employee engagement and increase consumer trust. Encouraging employee advocacy can also:
Demonstrate to your employees that you trust them
Empowering your employees to advocate on behalf of your brand can breed inspiration and increase loyalty within an organization. This can also increase internal employee engagement and improve internal communication between team members and higher echelons of management.
Increase social exposure
It’s no secret that content from individual users is seen more on social channels than content coming from brand pages, especially on Facebook. Cumulatively, your employees have far more social connections than your brand does. Imagine how many more people could see your content if it was being shared by just a few employees.
Provide customers with real, meaningful interactions with employees
Source: Edelman Trust Barometer
People trust other people, it’s as simple as that. According to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Report, 92% of consumers around the world said they trusted “earned media,” such as recommendations from family and friends, above any other form of advertising. In 2015, the Edelman Trust barometer showed that consumers place more trust in company employees than they do in individuals who are the public face of the brand, like the CEO. Increased consumer trust is essential for repeat business. If consumers trust your brand they are more likely to convert into customers, and subsequently turn into brand advocates themselves.
Increase a company’s bottom line
It has been shown time and time again that employee advocacy can have a major impact on revenue. According to the National Business Research Institute, a 12% increase in brand advocacy generates a 2x increase in revenue growth. It has also been found that socially engaged companies are 57% more likely to get more sales leads.
Employee advocates create brand advocates, and brand advocates are no longer a ‘nice to have,’ they are a ‘must have.’
Old Methods of Fostering Employee Advocacy
Back in the day, before the age of the Internet, there were traditional methods that companies used to spur employee advocacy. Although much less popular, these traditional methods of employee advocacy still exist, and are implemented in countless companies worldwide.
‘Offline’ employee advocacy is important to have, but can only be attained when you have a corporate culture that reflects the ideals and values of your employees.Your brand is your culture, your culture is your brand. Creating a company culture affects more than just a company’s employees; it directly impacts financial performance. Shawn Parr of Bulldog Drummond couldn’t have explained the importance of this any better:
Culture, like brand, is misunderstood and often discounted as a touchy-feely component of business that belongs to HR.
Shawn Parr, Bulldog Drummond
Once a great company culture is established, employee advocates will come naturally. Some “traditional” ways of promoting employee advocacy offline are:
Giving employees free swag
This easy tip is often overlooked, but brands that do it are extremely successful. Printing logos on tangible items such as t-shirts, lip balm, keychains, water bottles, drawstring backpacks, etc. to hand out to employees can be an extremely effective tactic. Any time an employee wears a t-shirt or uses their water bottle, they are advocating on behalf of your brand!
Have company outings and get-togethers that are worth talking about
If your company were to host a “Casino Night” or “Battle of the Bands” event where all employees and their spouses/families were invited, you can bet it would be talked about outside of the event itself. This is a great way to build brand identity and foster company culture.
People crave recognition. Taking the time to recognize employees who perform well can also be extremely beneficial for business. A recent study found that 72% of businesses said recognition given for high performers within a workplace had a significant impact on employee engagement. This can be done easily by starting an “employee of the month” program or listing top employees in a monthly newsletter column. Time can be set aside in team meetings to recognize certain employees for their hard work or accomplishments. Public commendation of employees is great way to recognize hard work, and a surefire method to create employee advocates.
Encourage employee self-care at work
Let’s face it, work can be a stressful environment. A survey done by theAmerican Psychological Center for Organizational Excellence found that one-third of Americans face work-related chronic stress. The World Health Organization also estimates that stress causes American businesses $300 billion a year. Companies that encourage employees to take a few minutes for themselves throughout the workday have been shown to be more successful than ones that do not. Whether it’s holding weekly yoga classes or getting an office ping-pong table, there are countless ways to reduce employee stress, increase productivity and boost overall employee happiness. Take care of your employees, and they will take care of you.
The above methods of cultivating employee advocacy are still widely used, but with digital media becoming such an essential part of a business’s marketing strategy, more and more employers are realizing the benefits of having an “online” employee advocacy program.
New Methods of Fostering Employee Advocacy
People are talking about brands online. Whether it’s a small mom and pop bakery or a giant corporation like IBM, these conversations arealways taking place. Employers can utilize blogging platforms and social media networks to join in the conversation and have meaningful interactions with potential and current customers.
The value of online employee advocacy can be summed up in two words:reach and trust.
Reach — Employees’ networks have the potential to greatly expand a brand’s reach on social media. Employees have a much bigger digital footprint than that of the brand. While most major brands focus their strategy on networks like Twitter and Facebook, their employees might be on a plethora of other networks like Digg, Tumblr and Reddit which allows for a much higher level of brand exposure. According to a recent Cisco study, employees have 10x more followers than corporate social accounts.
The math is simple. Let’s say a company of 100 employees has 2,000 fans of their Facebook business page. Their potential total reach is 2,000. Now if every employee in that company had an average of 338 friends on Facebook, the total reach of all the employees combined is 33,800. This calculates to a 1,590% increase in reach. By utilizing your employees’ social media networks, you have the ability to reach a much larger audience and have your message be seen by exponentially more people.
Trust — It has been shown that people trust people more than brands. Consider the following statistics:
- 84% of people trust recommendations from people they know while only 15% trust recommendations from brands. (Gartner via Neal Shaffer & PeopleLinx)
- 70% of customer brand perception is determined by experience with people. (Ken Irons via Neal Shaffer & PeopleLinx )
- It has been shown that leads developed through employee social marketing convert 7x more frequently than other leads. (IBM via Neal Shaffer & PeopleLinx)
When customers have meaningful interactions with employees, a level of trust and an emotional connection are formed. This can lead to higher sales, customer loyalty, repeat business and more word-of-mouth recommendations.
Employees Can Advocate Through Digital Media in a Number of Ways:
- Employees can establish their credibility and professionalism through their personal social networks.
- By listening to their customer through social media to better understand their needs, priorities and interests.
- Increase brand exposure by sharing interesting, relevant content that users are likely to engage with.
- Personally respond to customer support inquiries in a timely fashion.
- Facilitate the remediation of any issues that customers may be having.
- Promote thought leadership that captures attention and attracts opportunities.
A truly great employee advocacy program should deliver value to your target audience, support your company’s value propositions and inspire your employees to share content with their family and friends.
How Can I Start an Employee Advocacy Program?
In order to get started with an employee advocacy program, there are a few ingredients that you will need in order to be successful:
Brands can only do well with social employee advocacy when they trust their employees. Never force your employees — this will only backfire in the long run. Employees need to be trusted to use social networks for professional reasons during work.
There should always be a in place. This policy should encourage participation instead of deterring it.
Don’t try to implement a program company-wide the first day. Find a handful of employees that are already advocating on behalf of your brand through their own social networks. They can then train others as time goes on.
Training is essential when it comes to the implementation of an advocacy program. You must be prepared to invest some time in training new employees. It is important to explain the basic concept of the program, hold department-specific meetings and provide any materials that employees will need to get started (content, pictures and videos). It is also important to provide ongoing training for employees that might be having difficulties or new employees who have just joined the program.
Make it easy for them. Provide employees “the right tool for the job.” By utilizing an employee social advocacy tool like Bambu, you make it easy for employees to increase brand awareness, amplify marketing reach, boost social recruiting and drive employee engagement. By utilizing the proper tools, you put your employees in a much better position to be successful.
It is important to tie your employee advocacy objectives back to your overall marketing strategy and company-wide KPIs. This will allow you to see what kind of impact your advocacy program has.
Incentivize employees to be active in your program with contests, leaderboards and prizes. Gamify the experience with certifications and badges to make it fun for them.
Not all employees will be sharing the same content. By utilizing teams, you can actively curate team-specific content which allows for better distribution and higher levels of engagement.
Share your success. Share your program’s success with the entire company to give it meaning and to further motivate and inspire your employees.
How Can I Measure the Success of My Advocacy Program?
Assessment of your employee advocacy program is essential to calculate your ROI and overall program success. There are many different metrics to measure, and the ones that you focus on will be individual to your business. Some key metrics to keep an eye on are:
How many employees you’ve invited to the program are actually participating?
What percentage of employees are engaged and sharing on any given week?
Which individuals or teams are sharing the most? Which ones are generating the most/least engagement?
Organic reach of content
How many people are seeing the content shared through your employee advocates?
Which type of content is shared more?
Understand what types of content themes are resonating with employees. That way you can continue to optimize your curation tactics and make sure you’re providing them with the type of content they want to share.
Which content performs better on which platforms
Specific types of content perform better on specific platforms. Understanding this data will allow you to curate platform-specific content that you know will perform well.
How much traffic did the content shared by employee advocates drive to your website?
How many sales were made because of content shared by employee advocates?
What percentage growth in the number of fans/followers have you had since implementation?
By empowering employees and utilizing the above ingredients, businesses can exponentially increase the size of their social selling channel. Employee advocacy programs can help guide employees to use both online and offline methods to drive brand awareness, generate leads, attract talent and deepen customer relationships. Having dedicated employee advocates can mean the difference between a good company and a truly great one. What do you think is the most important part of an employee advocacy program? What impact have you seen employee advocates have on a business? What brands have you seen that do employee advocacy well?
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This post originally appeared on the Bambu by Sprout Social Blog