The marketer's job keeps getting harder. In one way, modern marketing technology empowers marketers to connect, reach, engage and measure results like never before. The problem is that without a sizable ad budget, the marketing department's reach is limited. The solution isn't to ask for more headcount or more ad budget. The solution is the employee population. The solution is employee advocacy.
When Mark Schaefer published his article titled Content Shock, he shocked the entire marketing industry, especially those passionate about content marketing. Schaefer's key point is premised on supply and demand. We're living at a time where brands have produced so much content (supply), that it's simply too much for our audience to consume (demand) because the volume of content has accelerated, and continues to skyrocket. Schaefer doesn't make the case that brands should abandon content marketing. He argues (logically) that brands need to acknowledge the limitations of their reach, and consider ways to overcome the content shock factor. In a follow up post, Schaefer says:
"I sincerely believe that "be more human" is the killer app for Content Shock. The best way to build long-term relationships that lead to business benefits isn't going to be through backlinks, sponsored posts, or native advertising. It is going to be through authentic human connection."
The Connected Age
It's been said that we live in the digital age. That was truer in the last decade. Now, we live in the connected age. The connected paradigm spans our personal and professional lives. We connect with people on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Beyond these three social channels, the person-to-person connection has permeated virtually every other social channel. Even my email system, powered by HubSpot's Sidekick is smart, allowing me to see the social media attributes of any person that emails me. Connecting with people online one-on-one is not just easy. It's normal behavior. The impact of this behavior on brand's approach to marketing is huge. People don't want to engage with a "logo." People want to engage with other people. This means that when your marketing department distributes any form of communication, whether it's an awesome piece of content, or an awesome ad campaign, it's being received by people as coming from your logo....Unless....
Person to Person (P2P) is The New Marketing
Your employees use social media. Hopefully, that's not a news flash to you. The culture of your company can range from very open, permitting employees to use social media, to very closed where social media channels are blocked through the corporate network. Employees easily access their social media accounts through smart phones, with or without your permission.
Employees represent the largest marketing potential based merely on their sheer size and reach. Consider how many full time people work in your marketing department. Calculate the percentage they represent of your employee population. If your marketing department has 5 people, and the total employee population is 100, the math is obvious. Ninety-five percent of the employee population is outside the marketing department. Next, consider that within that 95% there is more domain expertise pertaining to your company's products or services, industry, competitors, partners, governance, systems, etc. Not only does your 5 person marketing department represent just 5% of the employees, it doesn't contain nearly the core expertise that the remaining 95% contains.
Harnessing the collective wisdom of the employee population for marketing value becomes a matter of logic and survival. The bridge to this paradigm though needs planning. Simply asking employees to become social marketers is a flawed approach.
Start with a culture check. If you're one of those companies that blocks social media, you'll score low on the social business culture meter. The C-Suite must understand the importance of employee advocacy by embracing the convergence of employee branding and corporate marketing.
Once your culture supports employee advocacy, it's time to develop processes. This might require creating a governance policy that communicates to employees how you want them to engage in social media while representing your brand. Allow the governance policy to build confidence, not fear. Training is also very important. The biggest reason employees don't advocate on behalf of your brand today is because they don't know how.
Train your employees on best practices. Make the training about the employee. Offer it as a benefit to the employee. For example, conduct a LinkedIn Optimization workshop to help employees become LinkedIn power users. By helping employees understand both the "why" and the "how" of using social media in a professional setting, many will willingly advocate for your brand. Consider offering certifications or badges for employees who complete a series of training exercises and demonstrate acumen for advocating for your brand. Recruit domain experts to contribute to your content strategy. In other words, help some of your employees build their personal brand. Embrace it!
Employee Advocacy is not just a marketing strategy. It's a business strategy. In order to build an employee advocacy plan, the C-Suite should embrace it and lead by example. At least one person in the C-Suite should be visible in the use of social technology in advocating for the brand. Even if leading by example is limited to internal social networking through an enterprise social network (ESN), this method allows the executives to engage P2P with employees. It will inspire employees to participate in social in productive ways.
In the connected age the lines are blurred between the personal and professional brand. Rather than fight a battle that can't be won, embrace employee advocacy as a business strategy. I welcome your thoughts on this topic.
Photo Credit: Employee Advocacy/shutterstock