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5 Reasons Why Your Employee Advocacy Program is Doomed

Dear Business Leader:

You just read somewhere that 84 percent of people trust recommendations from people they know – more than any other form of advertising – and you know that “B2B social networking” is the trending topic on your favorite LinkedIn group. No wonder you’re set to kick off an all-singing, all-dancing employee-advocacy project in your organization. You’re certain it will empower your people overnight to become brand ambassadors, changing the world as you know it …

A little constructive advice: DON’T DO IT!

You might as well keep your money in the bank and put your time to better use. Your efforts are doomed to failure and your program just won’t work. Here’s why:

1. You Haven’t Set a Clear Objective

Don’t assume that your people will instantly know what you’re trying to achieve by introducing employee advocacy into their sheltered lives. It’s particularly unhelpful for them to learn that your vision for the program goes no further than reversing the ban on social media at work that you imposed so “successfully” only last year. You need to do better than that.

This is a business initiative, right? It needs business-related objectives with clear, measureable outcomes. Right now, even you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve – employee advocacy isn’t just a way of instilling some kind of corporate feel-good factor. At the very least, consider which of the three common constituencies your brainchild should represent. Try these for size:

  • Awareness – brand development, community outreach
  • Campaigns – promotions, products, events
  • Talent – recruitment, employer reputation

Need some time to think about that one? Good – take as long as you need. Maybe you didn’t know that employee advocacy was so all-embracing. Wait … your new product goes on sale at the end of Q3 … that deserves a social-media campaign. You need to tell the world about the launch event you’re spending your entire marketing budget on. That way, you can at least justify some of the expense.

Now put some numbers on it. And I don’t mean finger-in-the-air guestimates of the number of new followers the campaign attracts. Followers aren’t useful unless they’re also advocates, and if your employees don’t take the lead, forget it. How about this:

To generate 3,000 confirmed registrations for our Q3 product-launch event by the closing date

Good, you have an objective. Now maybe, just maybe, you’re in with a chance. But …

2. You Didn’t Appoint an Employee-Advocacy Champion

But that’s you? You run this business and if you say it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I’ll play that quote back to you when you’re reflecting on a program that’s been an abject failure. Since you clearly don’t understand how employee advocacy works, let me give you a few clues:

People become ambassadors for a brand because they have plenty of good things to say about it – in this case, it’s your people and your business. You want your employees to use their personal social-media networks to spread the word about your upcoming event. Do you seriously believe they’re going to share anything like that with their trusted connections just because you tell them to?

First and foremost, people share business-related content with friends and followers because they believe it will interest them. So let them get involved by asking for suggestions about how to present your message to the outside world (aka their networks). But here’s the catch – you can’t do that yourself unless you’re already operating on the same networks, so you need someone who is. That’s your champion, by the way.

Remember the Marketing Exec you nearly fired when she dared oppose your social-media ban? You’re lucky – she’s still working at your company because, deep down, she really identifies with your products. She still tells all her Facebook friends how much she enjoys coming to work for you. You don’t deserve that kind of loyalty, but now’s your chance to recognize it. She’s your champion. Go tell her. Make her day.

So now you’re up and running. What? Don’t tell me …

3. You Don’t Know How to Get Your People Involved ...

You could always talk to them – that works for me. You do talk to your people I guess? OK, so you don’t … well, now’s the time to start.

Work with your champion and put together some materials that explain what you want to achieve – and why. It’s not just for your team, it’s for you as well. Setting out your plan for someone else to digest is a great way of finding any cracks in it. You need a briefing document; keep it personal and conversational. What? You don’t do conversational? Give me strength …

What is Employee Advocacy?

Explain why employee advocacy is a powerful business initiative, making it clear that it’s voluntary. You’re encouraging them, not forcing it on them – they’ll choose to share stuff they like. Show people that the reach of their personal networks amplifies a message many times over. They need to understand the vital role that they play in the whole process and they need to know they’ll be well prepared. Train them to use the tools that you’re introducing for the purpose – you’ve got the budget, now use it.

Yes, this will mean you standing up in front of your people and sharing your vision for employee advocacy. So get working on what you plan to say – it better be good. If you can’t show commitment from the top and demonstrate real leadership from the get-go, you’re wasting your time and theirs. So, are you ready?

You were born ready? No surprises there then. But? But what?? Let me guess …

4. You Have No Plan for Content Creation and Sharing

Why am I not surprised by this? It’s only one of the more important elements of the entire program. So what’s to worry about?

Well, this:

Refer back to what I just said about your people wanting to share stuff because it will interest their friends and followers. You forgot already? OK, I know, you’re the boss, you don’t need details – except this one, you do need. Oh yes. You’re about to construct a huge virtual machine that encourages people to share your corporate message, spurred on by an über-enthusiastic employee-advocacy champion …

… and you don’t have anything for them to say?

Yes, I do insist on putting it like that, because that’s exactly how it is. You need oven-ready content, fresh and fit-for-purpose. Period.

Let me explain how you make that happen without employing an army of freelancers to rewrite War and Peace for you … although, now you mention it, I’m open to taking on a new client or two. But maybe some other time – I’m picky about who I write for.

Seriously, start with whatever “official” in-house content you have. Press releases, case studies, product reviews – that kind of thing. Don’t rely entirely on those; instead, have your people feed them gently into the mix. It helps if you have a content hub or social-media sharing tool that allows your champion to manage the whole thing.

People choose content to shareGet your staff to produce articles, blog posts and success stories. You’ll be amazed at how creative your team can be when given a free hand. Yes, I did say “free hand.” Let them own the program – remember why you needed a champion in the first place. And you don’t need people to write like pros – let them tell their stories how they see it. You can always get an editor to tidy them up before they go public, but most of the time it won’t be necessary.

 Now feed in relevant articles and posts from around the web. You don’t have to create everything yourself. People are more likely to share material that they wrote or discovered themselves, and your champion can screen everything before it’s made available for sharing. Let them show you what they’re capable of. There are a bazillion tools out there that scan the web for new content on any topic you care to mention and your staff probably uses most of them already. Just go with the flow.

So now you’ve got something to say, let’s go for it. But … what now?

5. You Don’t Know How to Measure the Results?

What do you mean, you’ll know how it went afterwards? After what? After you spend the entire launch weekend talking to an empty auditorium? After nobody turns up and your new product is still sitting on the shelves, gathering dust? Is your résumé up to date? Good, you’ll likely need it.

You need social-media analytics that work. Let me repeat that.

You need social-media analytics that work.

If you can’t measure how well it’s working, what exactly is the point of investing time, money and serious effort into defining objectives, appointing a champion and organizing content for your people to share? Do you think your CFO is going to love you for throwing money into what looks like the proverbial black hole? I thought not. So do something about it.

As a minimum (and I do mean minimum) you need to know in real-time:

  • How many times people share every piece of content 
  • How many clicks are generated from the downstream networks
  • Which networks amplify your message most
  • How many registrations your shared content generates
  • What type of content works best for you
  • Which of your people are the most active and successful sharers

Then, at least, you can monitor what works and what doesn’t and make any corrections as you go. You probably need to know a lot more than that, and there are tools that will do it for you, but I can see you may already be at full capacity right now. Let’s quit while we’re ahead. Questions?

OK, good question. You need to know which of your employees are the most active and successful because you’re going to recognize their efforts and reward them. Pay for them to eat out maybe, or buy them some goodies. Stuff like that.

What do you mean, you pay them enough already? You cannot be serious!

OK, you are serious. Then I return to my original point of view:

You are doomed to fail. DON’T DO IT!

Oh, and by the way, from here on in, you’re on your own. I quit.

Good luck

P.S. If you come to your senses – great. Employee advocacy is one of the most powerful business-communication tools around.

Image Credits: DaVinci Studio

Join The Conversation

  • Jun 7 Posted 3 years ago sarahgoodall

    Superb post Mike - great observations and brilliantly written.  

  • greykite's picture
    Mar 30 Posted 3 years ago greykite

    Hi Mike - I just caught your comment (and I'm glad I did so) which I somehow missed when you posted it - you hit the nail on the head. I'm vintage but not (quite) Victorian, but I certainly worked in a few places that had (and still have) closed minds when it came to new technology.

    In an era when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission considers that Twitter is an acceptable medium for announcements, a business that doesn't "get" social media is a business that's out of touch. And yes, you need to build a Social Business for employee advocacy to succeed; if you don't, people will see your efforts as window dressing and your program will fail ...

  • Feb 10 Posted 3 years ago MikeSagar

    Good post! I agree with all your points and sentiment! I would add that we are being to witness a serious mismatch of company cultures against what is expected in our socially enabled digital world. Many corporate structures have their roots embedded from Victorian times when autocracy ruled! Structures were put in place to preserve this via command and control. They, by their very nature are designed to stifle innovation/ideation/collaboration and promote ingrained thinking with a "follow procedure, this is how we do things around here". Millenials having grown up in a digital, socially enabled world find this completely alien. We now see socially enabled consumers, socially enabled buyers, socially enabled partners, suppliers trying to engage with a NON socialised enterprise - they now might as we'll be talking different languages! 

    To engage, surely the enterprise has to become "socialised", and remove the old a structures cultures if it is going to meet the goals mentioned in your post and continue to be successful/competitive

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