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Employees give your brand a voice—on social media

 

The best marketing comes from people who have experienced your brand and want to tell the world about it. While not entirely impartial, your employees have the most experience with your brand—and they support your brand when they show off where they work on social media.

In employee advocacy, your people use their own personal social media profiles to share company information—blog posts, news, special events, hiring announcements and more. Advocates boost employer visibility and defuse criticism. Sharing brand messaging and insight on their professional lives turns employees into thought leaders. And, this also reflects well on your brand.

This Blue Paper will explore employee advocacy, including its benefits, administration of an advocacy program, employee advocacy case studies and best practices for success. When you let your employees speak for you, your culture and bottom line both grow!

Why to embrace employee advocacy

What do you get from employee advocacy? An “[increased] share of voice and online visibility” without resorting to exposure from third parties.[1] Advocacy pumps up the reach of your brand. Based on a Pew Research Center® survey that showed the average U.S. citizen has 200 Facebook® friends and 61 Twitter® followers, you could estimate that a small business with just 20 employees could reach an average 5,000 people through employee advocacy.[2]

Research shows that prospects are 66 percent to 90 percent of the way through the sales funnel before they contact your sales team. Employee advocates can share your brand with prospects earlier in the sales funnel, establishing themselves as experts.[3] Prospects trust experts, and trust can influence buying decisions.

Recruiting employees to an advocacy program and supporting them with training and tools will help them feel more attached to your brand. Engaged employees “feel closer to the market, closer to their customer’s daily challenges and more motivated to perform.” Dale Carnegie Training® reports that companies with engaged employees outperform companies with disengaged employees by more than 200 percent. Plus, engaged employees attract high-quality referrals, which is good for human resources (HR).[4] Advocacy helps build your brand from the inside out.

Employees drive the efficacy of an advocacy program. According to global research of 33,000 customers, 52 percent called employees extremely credible or very credible.[5] And, social media messages from employees are likely to come off as more sincere and less a marketing ploy versus posts from the official brand profiles.[6] Your authentic brand comes through in the personal brands of your people.

Employees are a brand resource waiting to be tapped. Half of employees post messages, pictures or videos about their employer on social media, and of that 50 percent, 33 percent post without any encouragement from their employer. Only one-third of employers encourage employees to share news and information about the organization on social media.[7] There’s a big competitive advantage out there for brands that have employee advocates.

Millennials, who came of age on social media and will be 50 percent of the workforce by 2020, likely are good candidates for employee advocates.[8] Now is a good time to establish an employee advocacy program in anticipation of that generation of talent.

How to run an employee advocacy program

How do you know if your organization is ready to start an employee advocacy program? Check for these indicators:[9]

  • Your leaders are active on social media. Leaders who walk the talk set advocacy as a norm.
  • You have a social media policy in place. Training mitigates risk.
  • You allow some social media use on the clock—if it relates to work.

So, if your culture shows evidence of being ready, willing and able to launch an employee advocacy program, here are the next five steps:

 

1.) Nurture your culture.

A great culture and socially active leaders are the foundation of a successful employee advocacy program. Employees won’t share a mediocre workplace on their own personal social profiles.

To grow your culture, give team members an opportunity to socialize with each other through team sports, hobby-based activities and more, and recognize employees who work on building camaraderie. An internal social network also could be an inexpensive way to connect team members.[10] Make work about more than a paycheck and benefits.

Employees who are engaged are more likely to share company goings-on.[11] Advocacy is a form of engagement, and it perpetuates culture building.

 

2.) Train your people.

Training starts with a social media policy. Let team members know what it means to represent your brand online. Set standards for polite behavior, how to reference products and where to find answers to questions posed online.[12] Be clear about when it’s OK to use social media on company time. Identify risky situations (and how to handle them), and spell out penalties for misuse.[13] A written social media policy is the best way to mitigate social media risks.

Emphasize to employees that they’re helping current—and future—customers when they use their own social profiles for spreading the word about your brand.[14] Consider the following training tips:[15],[16],[17],[18]

  • Make social training part of your onboarding process.
  • Give examples of social postings that align with your company’s core cultural values.
  • Share the expectations and benefits of a program and how employee advocacy campaigns support business goals.
  • Show how to use social tools, including best practices for audience engagement, on each social network.

Beyond internal rules about social media use, your organization has legal rules to follow, too. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says employees must share their relationship when they post about their employer. And, employers are obligated to tell employees to share the relationship. What’s more, employers must monitor employee compliance with broadcasting their relationship.[19]

Following are examples of adequate and inadequate disclosures (Figure 2):[20]

P1 4imprint_EmployeesAdvocacy_BP_2

Figure 2: Employee disclosures[21]

 

According to the FTC, the employment relationship must be clear. The agency, however, does not provide explicit wording for social posts.[22]

If an employee’s post does not include a disclosure, the company should “remind

the employee of existing company policies and ask him or her to either remove the post or amend it to adequately disclose his or her relationship to the company.” The FTC says that the company—not the employee—is responsible for what’s posted on its behalf.[23]

Of course, confidential and proprietary information never should be shared by employee advocates. But, it’s best to make this explicit in your social media policy. Consult a legal advisor for organization-specific guidance.

To ensure compliance with employee advocacy posts, employers should:[24],[25]

  • Train team members on these legal rules. Go over details during new hire orientation.
  • Remind them of expectations. Share reminders about your employee hashtag and other disclosure language via internal communications.
  • Monitor employee activity. Set up a social listening program. For example, Zappos® encourages team members to share company info on their social media profiles (LinkedIn®, Facebook®, Twitter® and personal blogs). The company aggregates employee Twitter feeds, which it uses in recruiting, word-of-mouth marketing and monitoring.

When it comes to training, industries such as healthcare, financial services and legal services may have unique compliance landmines that call for special care.[26] Teach employee advocates how to identify red flags—and what to do in these situations.

 

3.) Have goals.

Generating awareness isn’t a clear enough objective for employee advocacy campaigns. Get specific about the goals for reaching a target audience.[27] Align campaigns with business goals, and determine relevant metrics—for example, site traffic or lead generation—to track progress.[28] Specific objectives can help direct advocates’ social activity.

Match internal company events (e.g., a new product release, hiring blitz, etc.) with a goal-driven advocacy campaign. For instance, if you want to earn a trending topic spot on Twitter, create a hashtag and organize team members to tweet with it. If you want to earn share of voice, incentivize posting across several social platforms.[29]

If you’re struggling with strategy, tie social activity to an inspiring goal. Focusing only on economic measurements can suck the humanity out of employee advocacy. Instead, reach for something big to fire up the troops—earning a specific number of fans, overtaking a competitor on a social platform, etc.[30] Team members will turn to a big goal as a touchstone.

 

4.) Make sharing easy.

Advocates are doing your brand a favor. Give back to them by removing barriers to sharing. Check out these tips to ease sharing:[31]

  • Have a library of pre-approved content for employees to share.
  • If possible, develop a one-click sharing system for social messages.
  • Remove unnecessary steps. Even asking employees to copy and paste a URL could drive down participation.

After you’ve made sharing easy, make content worth sharing. Not all brand content is created equal. New product features, promotions and company updates could feel too salesy for employees to share on their own social channels. But, market-level content—thought leadership blog posts by the CEO, brand-narrative news about acquisitions and growth milestones—could feel more genuine.[32] If you suggest content for social sharing, broader interest usually is better.

What else makes for great social fodder? Exceptional team members! Highlight passionate subject matter experts and team members who went the extra mile for a customer.[33] When employee advocates share authentic stories, they show off your brand on a big stage—and build internal culture.

Not all social content should be about PR or serving customers. Posts that provide a peek into company culture—employee participation in charitable activities, a day in the life at XYZ Company, break time ping-pong tournament stats, etc.—show the world (including potential new hires) what it’s like behind closed doors. For example, Hootsuite sponsored a kids’ computer coding camp that inspired 45 percent of employees to create a related social post and generated about 500,000 social impressions.[34] Because social media is built for sharing human stories, more employees will be likely to amplify your message if the content is human interest.

 

5.) Measure and refine.

As you learn more about your employees, marketplace and technology, shift your plan to best fit your goals. And, feel empowered to change key performance indicators (KPIs) as your program evolves. Advocacy KPIs may include:[35]

  • the number of employees participating in the program
  • the volume of posts, clicks, comments and conversions
  • the increase in your brand’s reach and influence

Learn and optimize—and keep measuring your progress. As you report on a campaign, also take note of how you can improve social messages and advocates’ participation incentives (if applicable) for the next mission.[36] Make progress public so team members can see for themselves how advocacy is working.

 

Employee advocacy in action

Need more inspiration? Some well-known organizations believe in the power of employee advocacy. Consider the following mini case studies:

 

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Software[37]

HPE Software (a division of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co.) invited 300 socially active employees to become brand ambassadors. Ambassadors were trained on how to create engaging posts and how to use social sharing platform EveryoneSocial, which can be used anytime, anywhere, by team members in any business unit. (A mobile version of EveryoneSocial was released in February 2016.) EveryoneSocial provides a stream of approved content for sharing and captures performance metrics to discover the most successful posts.

The ambassadors represent different disciplines—from sales to engineering and beyond. This gives a well-rounded view of the organization and its culture. To gain more brand ambassadors, HPE Software may offer incentives, such as certification and gamification, for posting to personal profiles.

 

IBM®[38]

IBM employees already self-identify as “IBMers”—a sign that the massive organization (200,000 team members) sees value in humanizing itself. Through the IBM Redbooks® thought leadership program, employees write blog posts and other documents about business issues. IBMers get to tell their stories, and IBM has a huge catalog of brand-building content to share. The content is accessible via a Redbooks app or the website, redbooks.ibm.com.

IBM also has an employee advocacy program called IBM Social Business®. It uses a virtual hub through which team members can share approved content on social networks. The hub software also captures analytics to discover engagement and shares for content.

 

Hootsuite[39]

Hootsuite leverages LinkedIn with employee advocacy. Ryan Holmes, Hootsuite CEO, said the company finds interesting content for its team members to share, should they be interested. Holmes called the voluntary sharing “a two-way street”—“by sharing relevant updates, our employees help us while also building up their own social followings and reputations within their professional sphere.”

This strategy turned Holmes into one of LinkedIn’s top business influencers, with more than 1 million followers. Team members spread the corporate story while building their own personal brand.

Employee advocacy can be worked into the business model of any organization. If your people use social media (and they do!), there’s an opportunity for employee advocacy.

 

Dos and don’ts of employee advocacy

This discipline has many nuances. Following are best practices—and blunders to avoid—as you steer an employee advocacy program: [40],[41],[42],[43],[44]

  • Don’t demand participation. You can’t force it. Only encourage employee advocacy. After all, you’re asking team members to (temporarily) lend their own personal social profiles!
  • Do make it easy. Provide messages about the employer for employees to use in social media. Even if they don’t use the message verbatim, everyone loves an example.
  • Do provide support. Give team members a champion to approach for questions. Entrust a lead employee advocate from each department to communicate social campaigns and incentives and to encourage departmental participation. Provide updates and training on changes in social media so that employees can stay current on the latest tools and uses.
  • Don’t cheap out. Employee advocacy is a marketing activity that needs a budget, plan and central team that can be represented to leadership. Recruit talent from marketing and human resources to best represent your brand to the world.
  • Do pick the right social networks. To start, pick one social network and develop content for it. Follow your customers to the best network.
  • Do commit to the long haul. Employee advocacy isn’t a one-and-done event. It’s a long-lasting program. Building trust on social media takes time and patience—even before you see a return on investment (ROI).
  • Do recruit watchdogs. Ask employees to stay alert to social media postings about the employer. Awareness of brand mentions helps you shift strategy, if necessary.
  • Don’t ask too often. Employee amplification is powerful. But, asking employees too often to share content can cause advocacy fatigue. Monitor employee participation to discover how many requests is too many requests.

Employee advocacy stagnates without regular internal promotion. And, a program won’t live up to its potential without a thoughtful strategy to guide it. Advocacy won’t work on autopilot; a program is work for employees and employers!

 

The gift of employee advocacy

In the end, why should employers care about employee advocates? Consider the following, based on results of a recent employee advocacy study:[45]

“As the [advocate] movement grows at an increasing speed, employers have an enormous opportunity to engage and capitalize on these powerful advocates, or risk missing out on an important group of supporters and, at worst, fail to curtail detractors who have the potential to upend company reputations.”

Most leaders agree that their most valuable resource is the human team behind the brand. Employee advocacy is another way your talent can create value—and contribute toward a better culture across the organization.

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