We all know that word of mouth is one of the most - if not the most - valuable form of marketing, right? All the studies back this up - 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising, 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision, word of mouth is the primary factor behind why people choose to buy. Marketers everywhere are aware of the value of word of mouth, a factor which is amplified tenfold by the connectivity of social networks. The tricky part, though, is how to fuel it.
As more people refer to social networks to get opinions on what they should buy, who they should buy from, where they should go, it's important that brands make themselves a part of those conversations. But of course, in order to do that, they need to be active on those networks in the first place to even be aware that the conversations are taking place. Social listening is a valuable tool in this regard, but there are discussions happening outside the reach of such options, particularly taking into account the walled in nature of peoples Facebook networks and other online groups.
Realistically, it's not possible for brands to be present everywhere - and even if they were, they still wouldn't be able to actively facilitate word of mouth in such incidences. For that, they need people to be talking about them, rather than them talking about themselves - so how can brands put a focus on word of mouth and ensure they're maximizing the potential reach of their messages throughout social networks?
The best answer is right in front of them - through the people who are already invested in and passionate about their brand and offerings.
This is why employee advocacy is more important than ever in the modern, connected age - because employees who are dialed-in and engaged with your brand message are more likely to talk positively about the work they do within their own social networks. And when you consider, then, that each person has a social network of at least 130 connections on Facebook alone, and multiply that by the number of employees you have, you can start to understand the potential reach amplification you can get through employee advocacy and staff support of your outreach efforts.
The interconnection of an average Facebook network
To better understand the potential value of employee sharing, LinkedIn recently conducted a study to examine the difference between word of mouth messaging from employees, as opposed to official communications via brand channels.
As per LinkedIn:
"The goal was to learn how click-through rates (CTR) differ when employees share versus when their company shares. We looked for instances where employees had shared the same piece of content that their company had, and compared those click-through rates."
So a pretty basic methodology - LinkedIn examined how posts fared when shared from both the company handle and from employees separately. For example:
So what did LinkedIn's research reveal?
"We saw that employees get 2x higher CTRs from their shares compared to company shares of the same content."
That's a pretty glowing endorsement of word of mouth - content shared by employees generated twice the click-throughs of content shared from official channels. If you were wondering whether it's worth the effort of getting your employees more engaged and involved in social media, there's your evidence - imagine if everyone of your employees were generating those types of figures on your brand messaging.
In addition, Linkedin's researchers found that the biggest beneficiaries of employee content sharing were large, enterprise companies with more than 10,000 employees.
"For this group of large companies, the median CTR was over 2.4x higher. Companies with less than 10,000 employees still had a considerable boost with CTRs over 1.8x higher than the original company shares."
LinkedIn also conducted the same analysis by vertical, finding that Professional Services had the greatest lift in click-through rate, but all saw a boost in numbers when employees shared their message.
The results underline that word of mouth can, indeed, be a powerful vehicle for social sharing. And what's more, encouraging this type of activity can also help your employees develop their own personal brand and establish themselves as leaders in their respective fields. As noted by LinkedIn, it's little surprise to see that organizations like Visa, Unilever and CEB are building employee advocacy programs to help achieve their goals around hiring, marketing, and selling. The data speaks for itself on this front.
So how can your brand implement its own employee advocacy program? There is, of course, no exact science behind employee engagement - it's all about getting your staff to buy-in to your core message and view their day-to-day contributions as more valuable than just a means of paying the bills. And while there are complex challenges to implementing a wide-scale advocacy scheme, encouraging your employees to be more active on social does come with benefits for both the brand and the individual, which can make it an easier sell.
To help, LinkedIn has suggested three notes on implementing a successful advocacy scheme.
1. Start small - Identify a cross-functional group of employees who you want to regularly share content.
2. Educate employees on the benefits of sharing - Building their professional reputations and making an impact to the company. Make sure to provide social media guidelines.
3. Make it easy for employees to share - Provide staff with relevant content, along with pre-populated comments to include in their posts, in a weekly email digest.
The key note here is point two, around educating employees on the benefits of their social actions. As with anything, you need to be able to communicate what's in for them, why they would want to take part in any such scheme beyond it being part of their job.
The third note, however, should come with an additional proviso. Yes, providing employees with a pre-populated template of what they can share may prompt more sharing by making it easier to do, but it can also appear forced, particularly if they're looking to share on Facebook. You've probably noticed this yourself - the problem with using generic template messaging is that many people will be following more than one of your employees on social. And if they are, and each of the employees they're connected to is sending out the exact same message, it comes across as fake and likely won't generate as much reach as a result. The best outcome would be to explain to your employees why they should care, from their perspective, why they should share and why it's important that the wording of the message comes from them, rather than the company itself.
While developing employee advocacy isn't always a simple process - particularly for larger organizations - as the numbers here show, the benefits can be significant. In the digital era, where each person is only divided by 3.57 degrees of separation, the capacity for expanding the reach of your brand messaging through this process is amplified more than ever.
It's a challenge, but one that can come with significant rewards when done right.