Beyond Engagement: Unleashing the Power of Employee Advocacy

greykite
Mike Bailey Managing Consultant, Grey Kite Resources

Posted on April 4th 2014

Beyond Engagement: Unleashing the Power of Employee Advocacy

 

Brand AdvocacyBrand advocates are everywhere, but you wouldn’t know it; they look exactly like regular people. You could be sitting next to one as you read this article. Wherever you are and whatever your line of business, the chances are that before long, someone you know will unleash the power of advocacy on you. Or maybe they already did …

And here’s the thing: brand advocates don’t wear uniforms or carry badges; yet when they tell you about their new car, the best-seller you just have to read, the latest to-die-for smartphone – or any of their favorite brands – you trust their judgment and you listen. You trust them because they’re your best friend, your sister, your co-worker, your neighbor, just ordinary folks like you. That’s advocacy in action.

Why Does Advocacy Matter to Your Organization?

It matters because every one of your people can become an advocate for your organization and your brand – an employee advocate. It’s this simple:

The people with the potential to be your best advocates already work for you, and in today’s connected world, the most powerful way to bring them into play is via social media. On average, when employees share something – anything – with their social networks, each one reaches 20 times more people than a typical brand sharing with the same number of followers.1

Throw in the fact that members of the general public trust ordinary people like themselves nearly twice as much as they do company CEOs, and you can see why forward-thinking business leaders encourage their people to become brand advocates, using personal social-media networks for business communication. They’re what social-content expert Jay Baer describes as “human trust-magnets” – that’s the true value of employee advocacy.

Employee Advocacy in Action

Harnessing the power of brand advocates in employee-advocacy programs isn’t just a matter of throwing an invisible switch; the operative word here is “encourage.” Employee advocates don’t share business-related content because you tell them to – they do it because they believe in your brand and what it represents. Your job is to make it easy for them and to recognize them for their contribution.

In future articles, I’ll cover each aspect of the topic in depth, but for now, let me introduce you to the guiding principles of Employee Advocacy.

Leadership

A CEO’s failure to grasp the ideas behind employee advocacy will lead to a doomed program. It’s no different from any other business initiative; it requires the people at the top of the organization to create the right culture, to get involved and to stay involved. If your company doesn’t already embrace social media as an essential element of doing business, you’re not going to make a success of employee advocacy.

Program Objectives

Yes, you need to align your employee-advocacy program with your corporate objectives – it’s not optional. You won’t be able to measure the results (more on that shortly) without a clear target. Employee advocacy isn’t just a way of instilling some kind of corporate feel-good factor, it’s a powerful business tool that produces specific, positive outcomes.

Employee-Advocacy Champion

No, you don’t have enough time to manage all this activity personally; you need someone to share the load. It needs to be someone who’s as fired up about the idea of employee advocacy as you are, and someone your people can relate to day-to-day. In short, you need an employee-advocacy champion.

Training & Governance

Before you bury your people with content and let them loose on their unsuspecting social networks, ensure you train them effectively. Aside from explaining the mechanics of the program and how to use the tools you will be providing (more below) you need them to understand your organization’s policy on using social media for business.

Content Generation

I use the term “generation” deliberately. Some organizations share existing content, either their own or third-party media, which they curate, typically on some form of content hub. Increasingly though, businesses realize the difficulty of targeting their employees’ networks with generalized content and create items that have a more specific appeal.

Content Sharing

Now that you have your entire staff poised to share on your behalf, make it easy for them.
Chris Boudreaux, co-author of “The Most Powerful Brand on Earth,” compiled an excellent review of the leading employee-advocacy platforms. In future, I’ll be taking a closer look at key features that will be must-haves for your organization.

Measurement

If you don’t intend to measure the effectiveness of your employee-advocacy program, don’t bother starting it. Spend your money on something else. Seriously.

You need to know how many times people share every piece of content, how many clicks are generated from the downstream networks and which of your people are the most active and successful sharers. You’ll likely want to know more; the more sophisticated packages provide chapter and verse on every interaction that you generate.

Taking the Next Step

An employee-advocacy program is not something to be taken lightly. You’ll invest a heap of time and money plus a ton of commitment – both yours and your employees’. We’ll walk you through the process in the coming weeks, but for now, let us know what you’re thinking. Do you already have an employee-advocacy program? Are you considering starting one? What obstacles do you foresee – or have you overcome? We’d love to know.

Beyond Engagement is an exclusive Social Media Today column published every other Thursday.

Refs:

1. Stanford University; Ignite Social Media

Image credits:

Column logo by Marie Otsuka

Brand Advocacy, Employee Advocacy by Ilco

greykite

Mike Bailey

Managing Consultant, Grey Kite Resources

Mike Bailey is a content strategist and business advisor. During more than 30 years in industry he enjoyed regular, first-hand evidence of the impact of employee advocacy and is convinced of its power as a highly effective business practice.

Mike works one-to-one with a limited number of B2B clients, specializing in the small-business and start-up sectors. He also consults for SmarpShare, a leading provider of employee-advocacy software for forward-looking organizations.

Mike has been writing about Social Media and Content Marketing for several years - mostly for other people! He has clients in most English-speaking countries and welcomes connection requests on LinkedIn or .

See Full Profile >

Comments

khalidraza9
Posted on April 3rd 2014 at 7:24AM

Good read Mike. I agree how advocacy has a far reaching impact than just brand image. And we all know that once employees and customers too, are engaged, they will become the ambassadors out there for the organization. Their interactions outside the work environment will create the brand, which your corporate communication has been killing itself to do. Social makes it authentic, it makes it real. And this level of engagement in social will result in attracting the right people. Let me share this blog, Three steps to make your organization open/social, for your read. Would be interested in knowing your thoughts there.

greykite
Posted on April 3rd 2014 at 12:42PM

Thanks Khalid - we're clearly thinking along similar lines. Judging by your blog post you seem to be part of some major changes in IBM too ... interesting move by Big Blue, sending young leaders to emerging markets to put the theory into practice.

MCCCODE
Posted on April 3rd 2014 at 7:04PM

excellent article

I do want to add some experiences i had te pleasure and discomfort to live while harnessing the power advocacy.

the good side of the story is that people not related to the pure marketing scheme give a fresh sound to the brand, things that may not be obvious to a marketing department because the experience comes from a different angle. In some cases it comes by opening streams of know-how and knowledge that are not the natural reference to your brand; and yet attract a different audience.

the sad part of the story is that you have keep a certain overview as over-advocacy can lead to places that are not in the best interest of your company.

greykite
Posted on April 4th 2014 at 5:44PM

Thanks for reading Daniel – I agree absolutely that non-marketing people bring a fresh angle to almost any topic. It’s essential to have a cross-departmental approach to advocacy to get the flavor right.

Effective training and a clear explanation of your policy on social-media governance is essential to keep the program within limits. As you say, “over-advocacy” can be counter-productive.

mick_twomey
Posted on April 4th 2014 at 6:07PM

Great post, Mike.  That stats you quoted really articulate the value of the digital word of mouth that occurs from employees, fans or advocates on social media.  The key is making it simple (while authentic) for employees and others to share their views and experiences with their friends.  Many people would like to help out but may need tools and processes to make it sustainable.

Thanks for sharing.

greykite
Posted on April 5th 2014 at 7:41PM

Thanks Mick. It’s such a great fit that I often think that social media could have been invented for advocacy. In times past, word of mouth was as widespread as it got – and it was worth putting in the effort for that.

You’re right to mention authenticity; people soon see through anything forced or staged, although some folks are apprehensive about participating to start. A great champion is essential to get over these hurdles.

Susan Emerick
Posted on April 5th 2014 at 1:04AM

Hi Mike, great post and thanks for the shout out on our book. Chris Boudreaux and I will be hosting an Employee Advocacy Summit on September 15th as part of the Social Shake Up 2014. I hope the readers of this post will considering attending. There is no question about the power and potential of employee advocates, no matter the size of the company. I have led employee advocacy at IBM since 2010 and as a passionate program champion, I've come to appreciate how much tenacity it takes to not only lead the way, while garnering the necessary support but also the essential need demonstrate value in order to scale and keep the momentum going. It is possible! We've been able quantify that trusted subject matter experts are able to drive 2-3 times the conversion rates to a call to action as compared to branded accounts. The ability to quantify such performance outcomes is a game changer in many ways for both the employee and the brand. But, it won't just happen, it requires careful planning, coaching, training, governance, recognition and most importantly intelligence gleaned from analytics to effectively mobilize the right employees for effective engagement. 

greykite
Posted on April 5th 2014 at 7:54PM

Hi Susan – thanks for reading and for sharing your experience. I’ve always believed in the power of great people as the foundation for achieving anything you set your mind to. The really successful companies I’ve worked in have been those where everyone was on-message and comfortable participating – it didn’t matter whether you worked on the factory floor or in the C-suite, you could contribute. They were also the happiest ... coincidence? I think not.

I know exactly what you mean when you talk about tenacity. I’ve had plenty of first-hand experience, flying the flag for initiatives in the face of friendly fire – but if you get enough people believing, you generate the momentum to keep going and to succeed. Today, with all the capabilities of social media and its massive reach, it’s an even more complex task, as I discover repeatedly from my client work, but one that requires just as much persistence and drive.

gdecugis
Posted on April 5th 2014 at 6:29PM

Awesome post Mike and exactly the trend we see happening with more and more of our enterprise clients at Scoop.it (I'm one of the founders): while a lot of companies are still in a command-and-control mode with small marketing teams in charge of every aspect of outbound communication, we see a growing number of organizations realize they need to leverage their employees so that their communication becomes much more effective as you described.

Content plays a key role here: you not only need to have content hubs for that to happen but they need to be easy to curate, share and publish. As often, adoption is key and you need systems where employees can easily take ownership through a rewarding experience which seems to be what's driving more and more demand to use Scoop.it internally within the enterprise

greykite
Posted on April 5th 2014 at 8:07PM

Thanks Guillaume – glad you enjoyed the piece. Content generation/curation/creation is a subject area that I intend to cover in some depth in a later article. I listed to a great webinar on the topic recently, presented by Ahava Leibtag on BrightTALK; she focused on the use of cross-departmental teams, hand-picked to include content enthusiasts at all levels of the organization. Maybe we should compare notes, as I’m looking to examine different approaches to this vital element of an advocacy program?

gdecugis
Posted on April 5th 2014 at 9:10PM

Would be happy to. I'm Guillaume at scoop.it.  

urbanlindsay
Posted on April 7th 2014 at 1:02PM

Great article - in many cases, employees can be the best ones to get your brand message across in an authentic, yet on brand way. They're also more relatable and identifiable than 'the brand'.

At Urban Adventures, a day tour company with 265+ tours in 92 cities worldwide (and counting) our tour guides are the face of the brand, and our biggest asset, hands down. We've managed to mobilise a great many of them on social media (particularly Instagram) by doing many of the things you've discussed in the article. 

For us, the steps that have had the most impact have been properly training them on the platform, arming them with knowledge about our content strategy (ie. what kinds of photos/experiences people want to see and why), and then encouraging/thanking them for their efforts. We've also had a handful of early adopters that have acted as leaders for the rest of the guides, and we've been able to use examples from those guys to help illustrate everything to those who were less confident/unsure of the benefits.

Another thing we've been able to do is incorporate the guides work into global marketing efforts by doing 'The Local Takeover' once a month on Instagram, where one guide/team in one destination around the world takes over the global brand Instagram account for a week and shares local life in their city, through their eyes. It's been a really fun way to reward employee engagement, but also to further authenticate our brand message.

Can't agree with you more about the power of employee engagement on social - we've seen the benefits firsthand!

Cheers
Lindsay

greykite
Posted on April 7th 2014 at 9:23PM

Hi Lindsay – the work you’re doing sounds terrific. It really underscores the power of motivated people when given the chance to be part of the corporate message – whatever organization they work in. What a great idea you have in your Local Takeover ... I just peeked at your Rio pics.

Your comment also reminded me that your choice of target social networks will vary between organizations, depending on the nature of the content they have to share. Yours is a highly visual industry, so Instagram make perfect sense.

Do keep us updated!

dspann73
Posted on April 7th 2014 at 5:09PM

Great post Mike. Your observations were spot on. It takes more than just one person excited about employee advocacy to drive it forward. It is a village approach and you need support from the top down for it be successful.

There's more to employee advocacy than just posting curated content on a portal for employees to share. You need your star advocates carrying the banner to drive engagement and motivate their peers to get involved - and stay involved. It also means educating your executives and your employees on why an internal advocacy program is important. You can't just build the vision. You need your star employee advocates to drive the value further while providing them with content that's engaging to their core connections - both company specific and third party.

greykite
Posted on April 7th 2014 at 9:36PM

Thanks DeShelia – you’re so right. My client feedback suggests that this is the most common problem organizations face when introducing advocacy programs – and it doesn’t seem to depend on how big or small you are. Finding someone with the persistence to champion the project at all levels and to win over others to keep up momentum is crucial. Even if you have a committed leadership team, without the day-to-day drive you won’t get far.