Employee advocacy - everyone's talking about it, but who's actually doing it and have a story to tell?
I recently spoke to Alli Soule of SAS, a global software company, to learn about their approach to social media and advocacy. Have a listen on iTunes, or keep reading for a summary of our conversation.
What prompted SAS to launch an employee advocacy program?
"Back in 2014 we actually launched a social media survey to all of our employees, and we had somewhere in the range of 14,000 employees. And we'd never really taken the temperature on social media at SAS, we were sort of guessing and using anecdotal evidence, and so we wanted some real data. And we heard back from almost half of our employees. We knew that social would be a very polarizing topic and that people would either love it or hate it and that definitely came through in our survey. But what we heard in our survey, which was really useful, was that a lot of people were asking for training and that they were reticent to use social media in a work-related capacity because they were afraid they were going to do something wrong or they were going to tweet something and get fired, just were sort of scared. And so we sort of took that feedback and said okay, what can we do on a scalable, organized, coordinated effort to sort of help with this issue? And that was really the genesis of our employee advocacy program. We wanted to do something that was a little bit heavier on the training and the personal branding and the development, individual development side, we feel like that's what differentiates our program a little bit from other employee advocacy programs. For us it's not so much about just sharing SAS content or branded content, it's about figuring out, okay, who are you on social media and who's your audience? Who do you feel comfortable with? And then let's equip you with the training that you need and then we'll teach you how to find content that matches with what you want to sort of stand for and be associated with and the people that you're trying to connect with. That's how it all came together."
What types of content can we see in this program and what has garnered the most engagement?
"Our program is sort of chronological, so we start with the very baseline education about your profiles first and then we move into engagement - so the liking, the sharing, the commenting, sort of those small significant actions that say that you're paying attention. And then eventually we get to the content piece. And what we've done, we've actually purchased an employee advocacy platform that we made available to our participants in the program and we put both third-party content and SAS brand content in there. Having third-party content in there was key for us, because again, it wasn't about everybody turning into little SAS parrots or little SAS robots, we wanted them to be finding the right content that would resonate with people in their networks, and oftentimes that's not SAS content. If you're a graphic designer, heavy duty analytics blog posts are not going to resonate with your audience, so it was about figuring out the right ratio of things to add.
And what we found is that the content that's resonated best has been analytics content that's usually tied to some sort of top of mind area. So for example we had an article about SAS and the Zika virus and how SAS is being used to help figure out how to combat Zika, and that had huge pick up with some of our folks in the program. Because again, it's top of mind, everybody understands Zika and to know that there's a SAS connection in there. Other things that we had that were very popular among our employees were things around our SAS events, because again, those were more universal in nature so everybody could sort of jump on the bandwagon because they have some sort of tie to a SAS event. So that's really what's done the best and we always find that company culture type of content just does great. Our company is known for being a great place to work and people never leave SAS, we have a very low turnover rate, so I think a lot of people always want us to pull back the curtain and show you what it's like to work here. So any time we show the campus off, anytime we celebrate some ridiculous holiday like World Emoji Day, anything like that that always gets good pick up too."
What have been the benefits of this program to the company and also to individual employees?
"I'll start with our employees. What's been really gratifying is that we surveyed our employees before, during and after our program and we're going to continue surveying them to get their feedback. And what's been nice is that we hear things like "I was intimidated by social media but now I'm not", Or "now I know when I see an issue, I know the person I can contact". It's just been this nice, empowering feeling, I think, for a lot of our folks here. On top of that, one thing that's been incredibly gratifying for me, personally, is that when we started our program we invited a lot of people with varying degrees of social media knowledge. So we had some really exceptional, smart, experienced social media practitioners and we heard back from them and they said they still got something out of the program and they weren't bored to tears or completely tuning us out. So that was really gratifying to know that even the most advanced people could actually get something from our program. So that feeling of empowerment and pride in what they were doing on social was really, really excellent, and we heard that over and over again.
And in terms of the company, sort of along that same line - the company and our leadership is incredibly proud of our employees because we have some really smart people and social is such an easy way to shed light on those people - I mean what better way to show your credibility as a brand and a company than to spotlight your employees who are just exceptional and doing good work? So for the company, it's just been a nice indirect way to sort of brag a little bit. And on top of that, just when we reach out to our leadership to basically run the idea of this whole program by them - no vice president or chief of XYZ is ever going to balk when you say "Can I please train your employees on how to be more responsible on social media?" They're all are in favor of that - in fact, a couple of them said "Can I do it too? I'd like to be involved." It's just - I hate the term win-win - but it really has been that for sure."