Let's cut to the chase. Research by Gallup shows that businesses with a high number of engaged employees achieve 147% higher earnings per share than competitors. Additionally, productivity in these businesses is higher by an average of 21 percent.
A successful employee advocacy program relies on engaged employees becoming brand ambassadors - how much convincing do you need?
For now, set aside the excellent financial returns from employee advocacy. I'll return to that topic in a later column. Let's look at the practical contribution that a well-structured program brings to a business.
What Can Advocacy Do For My Organization?
As I outlined in an earlier article, employee advocacy unleashes the power of your employees' social networks, transforming them into highly effective business-communication channels. People in successful companies amplify brand-related messages, reaching audiences that would otherwise be inaccessible to their employers.
Most organizations embrace employee advocacy with one of four use-cases in mind:
- Awareness - brand development, community outreach
- Campaigns - promotions, products, events
- Support - customer service, subject expertise
- Talent - recruitment, employer reputation
In their definitive work, "The Most Powerful Brand on Earth," Susan Emerick and Chris Boudreaux identify five measurable business outcomes that overlay these use-cases: branding, marketing, sales, service and support, and recruiting. Yes - measurable; otherwise, you may as well be pouring your time and money into a hole in the ground. You need to calculate the value of employee advocacy in your company, starting from known benchmarks.
As With Your People, Choose Your Use-Cases Carefully
Let me give you a taste of what you're facing. Employee advocacy doesn't just happen - feedback from those who've lead successful programs paints a daunting picture:
"It takes more than just one person excited about employee advocacy to drive it forward ... you need support from the top down."
DeShelia Spann, Eaton Corporation
"It is a continuous effort to listen, learn, and take action ..."
Cosmin Ghiurau, Radio Shack
"... as a passionate champion, I've come to appreciate how much tenacity it takes ..."
Susan Emerick, IBM
Apprehensive? You should be - so set your objectives wisely. If you're still wondering whether the results will justify your time and effort, read on ...
Social media's ability to drive brand awareness and engage with external communities isn't in dispute. According to the February 2014 CMO Survey, social-media spending as a percentage of total marketing budgets is set to increase by nearly one-fifth in the next five years - a clear indication of its business value.
That's why HomeAway.com, a leading online marketplace for the vacation-rental industry, operates an employee-advocacy program coupled with a rigorous approach to content-testing. According to Jennifer Stafford, the company's Social Media Manager, during 2013 the program "increased content engagement by 74 percent year-over-year" and "drove up social-media referring traffic by almost 100% in the [critical] June to August period."
Promotions and campaigns, particularly in consumer markets, are made for social media, and even more so for advocacy. Altimeter Group's report, The State of Social Business 2013, shows that 40 percent of businesses have "scaling social programs" at the top of their list of priorities, along with a similar number citing "internal [social-media] education and training." That sounds like advocacy to me.
Maybe that's why Dell launched its 2013 Super Bowl ad using only digital channels, including social media. As part of its advocacy program, Dell has trained more than 10,000 employees to become employee advocates. Unsurprisingly, the ad garnered more than 6.5 million You Tube views.
I don't understand why organizations still locate customer-facing employees - the employees who engage most effectively - away from those customers. Empowering those people to share with their personal networks increases the level of product awareness and understanding among your customer base - massively.
Better still, elevate your experts to become product gurus - you'll be following the example of one of the Internet's biggest businesses ...
Readers following the evolution of Google's search algorithm will recognize Matt Cutts, head of Google's Webspam team. Cutts is a high-profile employee advocate - he communicates not only on official Google social-media channels but also on his personal networks, with a massive following on both. For many, he has become the public face of Google.
Who hasn't been part of an employee referral program at some point? Referrals are one of the top sources of external hires, according to CareerXRoads, and employee advocates are perfect referrers. A recruitment campaign driven entirely by advocacy can have an on-cost that's close to zero ...
I'll share my own experience here. Some years back, working in the manufacturing sector and managing around 400 production operatives, I headed up several advocacy-type initiatives, although social media wasn't yet on the horizon. We had great people working for us and the company was reckoned to be one of the best - if not the best - local employers.
We never advertised production jobs. It took only a single notice (yes, that long ago) in our canteen, and the word was out. We generally had five or more great applicants for every job going - now that's the power of advocacy.
Where Does That Leave You?
Convinced? Then tell us where advocacy can score for you. Maybe you've seen other great examples of employee advocacy in action? Do let us know about your experience.
Beyond Engagement is an exclusive Social Media Today column published every other Thursday.
Column logo by Marie Otsuka