Brand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Column logo by Marie Otsuka
Brand Advocacy, Employee Advocacy by Ilco