• Russ Fradin
    Russ Fradin on July 29, 2014

    An Introduction to Employee Advocacy

    Employee advocacy is an emerging new marketing strategy where companies empower their influential employees to authentically distribute brand approved content, create original content, and in turn earn recognition and rewards for their activity and participation.
  • Adding curation to the content mix can build credibility, trust, loyalty, thought leadership and reciprocating brand relationships. Providing the maximum amount of utility using a mix of content from different sources is a win-win for everyone involved, especially the content consumer.

    Let’s face it – we’ve all been told that we need to create lots of high-quality content on a regular basis to do marketing well these days. In some ways, this is true. In others, it’s not. However, we can all agree that we need content and most want more of it.

    Creating and publishing high-quality content consistently and at the appropriate cadence isn’t easy. It’s expensive, time-consuming and labor intensive – not something you’re going to turn over to an intern to handle. Ideally, your brand’s subject matter experts create the content. After all, their expert knowledge is what’s going to position your brand as the preeminent thought leader in your industry, right?

    While marketers are scurrying around trying to create and lobby for content across their orgs, publishing on the Internet is exploding. In fact, 2.73 million blog posts are published every day and every second 48 hours of YouTube videos are uploaded, 571 websites are launched and 100,000 tweets are shared.

    If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

    No matter how hard we try to out-publish the other guy, there will always be some person or brand to come along and publish more and better content than us. It’s a fact that we must all accept. Should you continue the chase or is there another way? Yes there is. Supplement content creation, publishing and sharing with curation. Instinctually though, many people still don’t want to promote another brand’s content through curation.

     

     

    Don’t forget the reason why we’re producing content

    We’re creating and sharing content to drive revenue, right? Yes, eventually, but content can’t drive predictable revenue without the appropriately sized audience. Marketers must first build a substantial enough audience to drive revenue. How do you build audience? You build it by producing content that solves problems or entertains.

    Most businesses are in the business of solving problems – that’s what they do and that’s what content marketing should do. People don’t care who solves their problem. They just care that it gets solved. Brands that understand this become inherently useful to their audience, or as Jay Baer would call it, “a Youtility.” Curation makes it easier for a brand to become inherently useful and grow audience.

    A rising tide lifts all boats

    Since there’s already a content arms race likely happening in your industry, curating and sharing content has never been easier – especially when you consider the ecosystem of tools that have sprouted up in recent years. However, there are still many marketers who still refuse to use curation as part of their content mix because they fear its SEO implications or the competitor fear mentioned above.

    Curation, in all its forms, does not negatively effect authorship or SEO. In the case of curation for syndication, duplicate content should always include proper canonicals explicitely pointing to the original source of the content. Get that right and your SEO worries should go away.

    Since a rising tide lifts all boats, implementing curation in your overall content publishing mix by embracing your content-competitors can help bridge the gap between your capacity to publish and share, and what you actually wish to publish and share.

    Adding curation to the content mix can build credibility, trust, loyalty, thought leadership and reciprocating brand relationships. Providing the maximum amount of utility using a mix of content from different sources is a win-win for everyone involved, especially the content consumer.

    Image credit: Flickr

    Although there's a strong case for employee advocacy, we reconsider the advantages of brand-owned channels compared with personal networks in advocacy programs, remaining conscious of the reduced reach that this entails. Whichever way you choose to go, success is still dependent on doing the right things from the get-go and sticking with them. Employee advocacy may still be young, but it’s becoming increasingly effective as social channels become the norm in business.
    Throwaway remarks often lead to fascinating conversations. This one ticked all the boxes.
     
    “It's why I get so annoyed when people talk about ‘employee advocacy’ programs when what they really mean is trying to get all staff to be an army of mini Marketing Mes...”
     
    I have to thank Judy Gombita, (Social) Public Relations and Communication Management Strategist and Co-content Editor with global blog PR Conversations, for this comment on a (mostly) unrelated article on the Polaris blog.
     
    As you might expect, it sparked an animated debate, from which it’s evident that there is clear daylight between us on the subject – but I don’t see that as a bad thing. More importantly from my perspective, I found myself testing many of my own beliefs on employee advocacy in particular, and internal communications in general.
     
    I can report that my belief system survived the rigors of self-examination largely intact, although some of the detail required fine-tuning. I’m sharing my thinking with the intention of extending the debate to a wider audience.
     
    Firstly, What Is Employee Advocacy?
     
    I haven’t offered a hard-and-fast definition for “employee advocacy” in any of my earlier columns; I’ve focused more on describing the environment in which advocacy flourishes, outlining the benefits it can deliver and explaining the pitfalls that leadership teams encounter en route.
     
    Why? Because it’s a gradual outcome. Although I place it in the business-tool category, it’s not an activity or process that you turn on and off at will.
     
    I like this definition offered by Kevin Ruck, author of Exploring Internal Communication and co-founder of the UK-based PR Academy, commenting on a March 2014 article on PR Conversations. It should, he suggests, mean “what organisations (sic) do to put employees first in every way, including keeping them informed about things that they want to know about and giving them a genuine say in what goes on.”
     
     This, he says, “is what will lead naturally to employees posting genuinely felt positive comments on external social media.”
     
    This corresponds closely with my experience. Organizations where people speak out on behalf of their employers – whether on social media or simply by word-of-mouth – are those that treat people as individuals, telling them as a matter of course about things that affect their employment and allowing them a say in shaping their workplaces.
     
    Advocacy results when leaders create the right environment, encourage people to participate and provide them with the means to do so. The “means” may be as little as a well-crafted social-media policy coupled with appropriate training or as much as a full-blown content-sharing hub. Being prescriptive isn’t helpful – it usually has the opposite effect to that intended.
     
    … and How Does It Manifest Itself?
     
    The “traditional” objective of an advocacy program is to encourage employees to take to social media and share business-related content with their personal networks – an outcome that I’ve described in previous articles. It’s here though, that my debate with Judy caused me to think hardest – on three counts. It won’t surprise regular readers that these are authenticity, content and voice, in no particular order.
     
    I wrote recently about both authenticity and content, so I don’t plan to revisit this area of my thinking. Suffice to say that it’s not easy to craft authentic content with the sole intention of making it available for people to share. To use my favorite example, if I utilize my personal social-media networks largely to indulge my love of mountain biking, I’m hardly likely to be interested in sharing content on (say) commercial fire-protection systems.
     
    Voice is another matter. The business benefit of encouraging people to share using their personal networks is well-documented – there’s a twenty-to-one advantage in reach when an individual shares something compared with a brand sharing it to the same number of followers (1).
     
    Yet I have to agree, at least in part, with those that decry this approach. Here’s why …
     
    Voice and the Influence of Environment
     
    The business environment and the advocacy use-case play a massive part in determining the appropriate voice. Consumer-facing companies may offer employees plenty of content that lends itself to sharing via personal networks. Conversely, a professional-services firm promoting a subject-matter expert may consider using a brand-owned account to convey the message more authentically.
     
    In a recent article from Marketing Sherpa, Maria Lopez Fernandez interviews Lisa Monarski, Senior Manager of Employer Brand at Deloitte, who explains Deloitte’s use of a corporate Twitter account to promote the company as an employer of choice. @LifeAtDeloitte is an employee-managed account, established with the aim of answering the question “What’s it really like to work at Deloitte?”
     
    Monarski reports that it’s had a “very positive effect” on the brand, driving significant growth in followers from colleges, universities and career centers. Such is its popularity internally that there’s a six-week waiting list for guest tweeters; it certainly scores with employees.
     
    It’s here, then, that my opinion has shifted a little. I’m more open to the advantages of brand-owned channels in employee advocacy, although I’m conscious of the reduced reach that this entails. Whichever way you choose to go, success is still dependent on doing the right things from the get-go and sticking with them. Employee advocacy may still be young, but it’s becoming increasingly effective as social channels become the norm in business.
     
    Where Do You Stand on the Advocacy Spectrum?
     
    Whatever your point of view on this contentious topic, don’t hold back. Maybe you believe employee advocacy belongs in the “mini Marketing Me” arena? Tell us what organizations should be doing to avoid ending up there; we’d love to hear from you.
     
    Refs:
     
     
    Beyond Engagement is an exclusive Social Media Today column published every other Thursday.
     
    Image credits:
     
    Column logo by Marie Otsuka
    Instagram might be the land of selfies, sunsets and food pics— and that’s totally fine with us— but it’s also home to some of the most creative social media minds in the business. Marketers, businesses and individuals have come up with incredible ways to make use of the every-growing photo social network.
    A screenshot of the TSA Instagram feed

    Instagram might be the land of selfies, sunsets and food pics— and that’s totally fine with us— but it’s also home to some of the most creative social media minds in the business. Marketers, businesses and individuals have come up with incredible ways to make use of the every-growing photo social network.

    From hiding dogs to selling sheep, here are 10 creative or weird uses of Instagram that show just how awesome the app can truly be.

    As a website

    Leave it to Ikea to do something simple but innovative. With the help of an ad agency, the Russian division of Ikea launched its new PS 2014 collection using Instagram as a website. If you follow ikea_ps_2014 on your Instagram app, you’ll see 12 images— 6 of which represent catalogue-style categories of products like benches and lights. Each of the products within these images is ‘tagged’ and clicking a tag will bring you to individual accounts for each lighting fixture, carpet or side table. Once there, you can see more photos of the product in question and get inspired on how to work it into your home decor. Then click through to their actual website to buy it.

    IKEA PS: Instagram Website from Instinct on Vimeo.

    To play a modern ‘Where’s Waldo’

    Andrew Knapp is a Canadian Designer, Photographer and Instagramer with a Border Collie named Momo who is particularly fond of hide-and-seek. Knapp takes creative photos in which Momo is hidden among buildings, crowds of people or natural imagery, leaving you to try and pick him out. The Instagram photos are beautiful and it’s surprisingly challenging to find Momo. Just have a look:

    To send people on virtual scavenger hunts

    During the US Open tennis tournament, Heineken decided to give fans a chance to win tickets to the men’s final by hosting an interactive Instagram photo hunt. To do so they stitched together over 200 photos on the@crack_the_us_open Instagram account, creating a giant panorama photo of tennis fans watching a big match from the stands. Then they asked their community to hunt for a particular fan and follow a set of clues which would lead them to a real pair of US Open tickets. A whopping 1,500 people took part and lead to a 20% increase of the @Heineken_US account.

    To crowdsource your music video

    When The Vaccines needed beautiful imagery for the new music video, theyput a call out to Instagram users everywhere to take photos at shows and festivals and tag them #VACCINESVIDEO. It worked in epic fashion, and the band ended up with 2433 tagged photos. They used those images to make the first Instagram music video ever, a beautiful clip which now has over 2.3 million views on YouTube.

    To show you what not to bring on planes

    The US Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, is known to most people as annoying airport security. But there’s a reason they scan all of our bags, and the TSA is putting that reason on display on Instagram. Their feed is a gallery of weapons, drugs and other items people have tried (and failed) to get past security. These range from the friendly fireworks of your childhood tolive grenades and even freakin’ batarangs! This odd assembling of objects has earned the TSA over 95,000 Instagram followers and counting.

    To sell sheep

    We all know that Instagram can be a good marketing tool, especially for clothing stores, restaurants and… sheep salesman? Enter @sheeps_sell, the Instagram account of a livestock business in Kuwait. The business’ owners saw an opportunity in the rising popularity of the Instagram in the Middle East, using it to share photos of the sheep they had for sale along with their phone number for interested parties. Kuwait is big importer of sheep, but this local company is trying to break into that market with the help of a free e-commerce platform in Instagram.

    To become THE face of the selfie

    Benny Winfield Jr. wasn’t satisfied being a customer service rep. So, he adopted the moniker of @mrpimpgoodgame and decided he would become the king of the selfie. Winfield has earned himself over 200,000 followers with his 610 Instagram posts, almost every single one of which is a selfie of his own face— adorned with a slight smile and shiny head. Why take so many selfies? In an interview with Vice, Winfield said “The selfie movement is about loving the way you look, even if you’re having a bad hair day. No matter what. It’s always appropriate to take a selfie.” Inspiring words from the man, despite the fact that he admitted about 30% of his photos come when he’s on the toilet.
    mrpimpgoodgame

    To raise money for a good friend

    When Instagrammer Jessica Johnson started travelling the world, she decided to share photos of a little stuffed fox that she brought on every trip— a fox given to her by family friend Gary Moore 32 years earlier when she was just 3 years old. But when Moore was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Jessica decided it was him who deserved a vacation. So, she started raising money to send her friend on an amazing trip with the help of Mr. Fox. Jessica created a GoFundMe page where people who enjoy the Instagram photos and story of her little stuffed animal can contribute to the trip of a lifetime for Moore. Her efforts have earned her media coverage across the globe, from the likes of Buzzfeedand Metro.

    To get people to your party

    They say life is about the journey not the destination, and glasses brandWarby Parker took that to heart when they came up with the concept of Insta-Walks. These events invited fans to walk from the company’s headquarters in Soho, NYC, to a rooftop party in the Meatpacking District— taking and sharing Instagram photos the entire time. Doing so earned the Instagrammers free drinks, while providing Warby Parker with a jam-packed branded event and a slew of great marketing photos.

    To tease a silent film

    In 2013, the Toronto Silent Film Festival was looking for an off-beat way to tease their annual event on Instagram. With the help of ad agency Cossette, they came up with an incredibly creative and appropriate way of promoting the festival using Instagram like never before: by creating video on Instagram before Instagram Video even existed. By using multiple photos and the scrolling functionality of smartphones, they were able to essentially create short film reels. Cossette’s Co-Chief Creative Officer Matthew Litzinger told Ann Handley “In his time, Chaplin and silent films were as innovative as it got…and every new film broke through some technological barrier and used the medium differently than the films previous to it. So that’s what we’re trying to do as well.” Check out the reels below.

    Do you have other examples of innovative uses of Instagram? Share them with us in the comments below.

     

    As National Hot Dog Month comes to a close, this post takes a look at the top hot dog brands on Facebook to see which one does the best job engaging advocates, building community and growing brand love.

    92% of Americans buy hot dogs. With 7 billion of those wieners consumed between Memorial Day and Labor Day, hot dog brands across the country have been ramping up their digital efforts to reach consumers this summer. Using the Crowdly platform, we sought out to find what brand has been the Top Dog on Facebook at engaging advocates, building community and growing brand love.

    Here’s what we found:

    • Applegate, Ball Park Franks, Oscar Mayer and Hebrew National are the largest hot dog brand communities on Facebook

    • In those four communities, the majority of the hot dog-related conversation is driven by men (54%)

    • While Oscar Mayer has a base of brand advocates that largely skews female (80%), the majority of their engagement is tied to the brand’s Turkey Bacon product, considered a healthier option

    • Despite being the best-selling hot dog brand, Ball Park Franks has the fewest fans, lowest engagement and largest gender disparity (92% male) in its Facebook community

    • Hebrew National looks to be the most well-rounded of all Facebook communities, with the smallest gender disparity in its brand advocates (22%) and excellent, topical conversation among its members

    Applegate

    Photo Credit: Applegate Facebook Page

    Most Engaged: Applegate

    Applegate has more people talking about hot dogs in its Facebook community than any of the four brands we looked at. The natural & organic meat brand’s “Cleaner Weiners” are a big hit on social, especially with women. This bodes well for them, as the healthy eating trend is popular with that demographic. Nearly 50% of women say they want more green choices, and Applegate provides them with exactly that in their meat. In a slumping market (overall hot dog sales were down in 2013), natural and organic hot dog sales were up by more than 14%. With a base of 87% female advocates, the brand is using that to spread the word about its beef, as 86% of those fans discussing hot dogs are women. As the brand creeps up on close to a million likes, it has a serious opportunity to toast the competition with a targeted campaign towards its extremely engaged base of fans.

    Most Influential: Hebrew National

    Hebrew National’s Facebook fanbase is exactly what a healthy brand community should look like -- engaged, responsive and influential. By responding to comments, the brand keep conversation threads going and encourages others to chime in, share and like posts. Fans share everything from preferred condiments to grilling methods and that kind of engagement has made Hebrew National’s brand advocates extremely influential on the topic of hot dogs.

    The visible advocacy couldn’t come at a better time for the kosher brand of beef, as kosher products are projected to generate $17 billion in sales in 2014. Even more encouraging is that only 15% of that customer base is doing so for religious reasons. Instead, consumers are seeking out kosher products for food quality, general healthfulness, and food safety. Those numbers must have ConAgra-owned Hebrew National excited at the potential as the summer winds down. Turns out, being the Chosen hot dog is looking good on the 115 year-old brand.

    Most Likes: Oscar Mayer

    As the former top dog, Oscar Mayer has lost ground to category leader Hillshire’s Ball Park Franks and now sits as the second highest grossing hot dog producer at $523 million. The brand has to do more than rely on its famed Weinermobile to sample its dogs to summer crowds if it wants to make up lost ground going into fall. It hopes the release of its Bacon Dogs will help the Kraft-owned brand overtake the $42 million of market share it lost. In a category worth $2.5 billion, there’s room for both brands to grow.

    Despite the size of the category, more health-conscious consumers, higher beef costs and competitors like Nathan’s are gaining steam with heavily promoted national events. Oscar Mayer needs to utilize its large and diverse fanbase on social media to help it avoid the hot water. Luckily for the brand, the Ball Park Franks community has an advocate base that is nearly a third of its size. The opportunity to market Oscar Mayer products to a receptive and influential community is there for the taking.

    Hot Dog infographic

    This week we hosted another Social Media Today webinar as part of the Best Thinker webinar series: "Customer Service Is the New Marketing: Turning Satisfaction Into Sales."

    This week I moderated another Social Media Today webinar as part of their Best Thinker webinar series, this time on the topic of Customer Service is the New Marketing: Turning Satisfaction Into Sales. Our panelists were: Frank Eliason, the Director of Global Social Media for Citibank; Nick Ayers, the Director of Social Marketing for Intercontinental Hotels Group; and Hansen Lieu, the Director of Product Marketing for SAP. This webinar was sponsored by SAP, who also set up a special hashtag for this event (#TSSUHeartofmktg) and a special LinkedIn group to continue this conversation in the weeks leading up to The Social Shake-Up Conference in Atlanta on September 16-17. One lucky person will have their story featured as part of the discussion in Atlanta from the submission on the LinkedIn group, so be sure to share your favorite customer service story, either good or bad.

    Hansen Lieu started the webinar by setting the stage with a discussion of why customer service is the new marketing. He showed some stats that were well received on Twitter namely 8 out of 10 customers, research half of their total shopping time researching products online even before they step into a store. In fact studies have shown that when people are ready to engage a sales person, they are already 60% down the purchasing process.

    Frank then responded with a historical view of how social media got involved in customer service. He cited stories from Dell and Comcast where were turning points in the connection of social media to customer service. Frank also discussed what metrics can do to your customer service which prompted some discussions on what are the right metrics to be watching. Frank has long been a thought  leader in this space and also just launched a new book called @yourservice.

    Nick took over and give us an inside view of the social media team at Intercontinental Hotels Group. Nick has 3 teams in 3 different time zones covering the IHG customer 24/7/365. They also provide service in 5 different languages: English, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino. It was great to get an inside look into the challenges of a global “always on” social team and a glimpse at some of the ways they have been able to surprise and delight their customers.

    Now, if you have ever been on a Social Media Today webinar before, you know they are very “participant-driven” and we love to ask your questions of our panelists. Many of the questions from our audience revolved around topics such as: Best practices in listening for social customer engagement? What KPIs do you use to measure customer care success? How do you prepare for the 24/7/365 nature of customer care?

    If that piqued your interest, and you want to hear the replay of this webinar, please check out this link. Otherwise we hope you will join us on another Social Media Today webinar! The next webinar is on Transform Events into Meaningful Experiences: Lessons in Real-Time Marketing. Sign up for it or just view the schedule of upcoming webinars here.