Employee advocacy must be treated like a legitimate business initiative and not as a ‘nice-to-have’.
In the digital age, marketers leverage a host of tactics and channels in order to promote their company. From social media to email marketing to complex advertising campaigns, there’s no shortage of ways to generate new business for your brand. But among these various marketing channels, there’s one initiative that often gets overlooked by businesses— and that’s employee advocacy.
In the past, employees relied solely on word-of-mouth to promote their company’s products and services among friends and peers. But the rise of social networking and online interaction has enabled this form of brand promotion, to the point that employee advocacy is as omnipresent as the tried-and-true marketing tactics we encounter every day.
If you think employee advocacy is helpful but ultimately inessential, think again. Just take a look at these statistics:
- Brand messages reached 561% further when shared by employees vs the same messages shared via official brand social channels.
- Content shared by employees receives 8x more engagement than content shared by brand channels.
- Leads developed through employee social marketing convert 7x more frequently than other leads.
One thing is clear: employee advocacy must be treated like a legitimate business initiative and not as a ‘nice-to-have’. So, if you’re not sure where to start, today’s blog post is for you. We’ll take a deep dive into the different ways you can kick-start a successful employee advocacy program for your own company. Let’s get into it!
What is an employee advocacy program?
Employee advocacy refers to the strategic promotion of a brand or company by the company’s own employees. Since the advent of social media, modern employee advocacy typically involves staff sharing and promoting brand-related content, news and information to their personal social media networks.
As its name suggests, an employee advocacy program is a structured system to enable, encourage, and monitor employee advocacy. Rather than informally asking for staff participation, companies with a formal employee advocacy program take specific steps to grow and maximize advocacy within their organization.
What are the benefits of employee advocacy?
We’ve already offered statistics that prove the value of employee advocacy— but it’s important to understand why an employee advocacy program is uniquely effective. Believe it or not, promotion that comes from your employees can help your business in ways that no other marketing initiative can. Here are some examples:
Increase brand awareness
Each one of your employees has their own personal network, which means that, collectively, their reach far exceeds the reach of your corporate social media accounts. One study suggests that brand messages reached a 561% bigger audience when shared by employees, vs. the same messages shared via official brand social channels.
Modern customers have so many ways to research and learn about a brand— and as a result, their trust in messages that come directly from a brand itself are at an all-time low. In fact, only 55% of consumers consider corporate marketing materials to be a credible source of information.
On the other hand, a potential customer is far more likely to trust a promotional message that comes from someone they know— 84% of consumers value recommendations from their peers above all other forms of advertising.
Attract top talent
79% of job applicants use social media for research during their job search (source). On the surface, the expanded reach you gain from employee advocacy will get your job listings in front of a higher quantity of qualified candidates.
But, high-quality candidates are not simply looking for job listings; they also seek evidence that a company is a great place to work. Employee advocacy is a tell-tale sign that a business’s employees are engaged and committed to the success of their employer. As a result, employee advocacy can have a huge impact on your employer brand.
Improve social selling efforts
Not only will employee advocacy expand your brand’s reach, it’ll also benefit the employees who become brand advocates. Statistics show employees who participate in a social employee advocacy program organically grow their own social networks by 10%+ per year (source).
Given the rise of social selling, sales teams often take a professional approach to growing their personal social media presence. The added boost they get from sharing branded content can have a major impact on their sales performance. In fact, an employee advocacy program can drive 16% better win rates, double sales pipeline, and deliver 48% larger deals (source).
Boost employee satisfaction
In most cases, an engaged employee is a happy employee. When you involve your staff in the promotion of your brand, you show them that they’re a valuable asset to the success of your organization. Studies even show that socially-engaged employees are more optimistic, inspired, connected and tenured (source). What more could you ask for?
How to Launch an Employee Advocacy Program
Now that you understand the benefits of employee advocacy, it’s time to kick-start your own employee advocacy program. Keep in mind: there’s no one perfect method to increase employee advocacy — the structure and results of your program will vary depending on the specific qualities and preferences of your employees. But, the following steps make up the perfect structure to get your employee advocacy program up and running:
Determine goals and KPIs
Before you put your plan in motion, you must decide what the objective of your program will be. Do you want to leverage employee advocacy to boost brand awareness? Generate more leads? Improve recruiting performance?
While you may answer “All of the above”, it’s important to determine your primary objectives so you can accurately assess and measure the success of your program. For example, the metrics you’d keep track of to assess lead generation are different than the ones you’d track to measure brand awareness. Set clear, specific goals prior to launching your program, and use those goals to inform every step of your strategy moving forward.
Secure executive buy-in
Here’s the hard truth: employee advocacy will only be successful if your business leaders and executives make it a priority. You can’t assume the leadership at your company will get behind your employee advocacy program — you’ll need to win them over first. Executive buy-in is essential to acquire the resources, budget, and support you need to get your program running and build momentum over time.
We recommend you bring your executives a brief pitch that showcases the value of employee advocacy. Explain your objectives and provide an estimated ROI for your employee advocacy program if you reach your target goals.
Be sure to reinforce your request with statistics and examples of how employee advocacy programs have helped grow other businesses in your industry or space.
Select an optimal employee advocacy platform
For certain initiatives, technology would be the last thing we discuss, as a supplementary tool to make your efforts more efficient. But in the case of employee advocacy, the platform you choose will dictate your entire approach. As a result, you must be strategic when selecting an employee advocacy platform.
Again, there’s no right answer here; the market has many high-quality tools to choose from, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. You’ll want to perform substantial research to identify the tool that works best for your organization. Here are some characteristics to consider before adding an employee advocacy tool to your technology stack:
- Easy to use: Without question, ease-of-use is the most important consideration when purchasing an employee advocacy platform. Your employees won’t use a tool they find confusing or frustrating to use, plain and simple. A good employee advocacy platform automatically connects with employees’ social accounts and facilitates quick and simple sharing capabilities.
- Integrative: It’s critical that your employee advocacy program integrates with the systems you use to publish content. This will allow you to seamlessly and consistently add new content for your employees to share every day, without eating up a ton of your time.
- Engaging: Last but not least, we often forget that employee advocacy tools should be engaging and even fun to use. Consider a platform that includes gamification feature, like leadership boards where employees can compete with one another and earn points for sharing branded content.
Now, as with most business initiatives, it is possible to run an employee advocacy program without investing in a designated employee advocacy program. However, we won’t sugar coat it— having an employee advocacy program or platform will make your life significantly easier.
If you don’t have the budget for an official platform— consider running a similar initiative using email groups or chat channels. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
Select a group of core advocates
By this point, you’ve secured support from your executives and selected an employee advocacy platform. Now comes the hard part: getting your employees on board and turning them into official brand advocates. Unfortunately, this step is one where many new programs fall short. Simply announcing your new employee advocacy program to the entire company makes sense in theory, but in practice it won’t generate the immediate results you’re looking for.
Instead, we recommend you start with a small group of core advocates. These might be employees who have already shown a commitment to promoting your brand, have a large social following, or who have a strong social influence over others within your company.
This group of core advocates will serve as the foundation on which you’ll build your program. As you promote the program to your entire organization, your core advocates will both lead by example and help raise awareness among their teams.
Train your employees
No matter how intuitive and easy to use your advocacy tool is, don’t assume every employee will know how to use it without any help. When you announce your program, include a comprehensive — but concise — guide to your program and advocacy platform.
From there, schedule brief training sessions to help your employees get comfortable with the advocacy platform you’ve selected. Offer several different session times so employees can select and attend the session that best fits their schedule.
Post consistent content updates
Consider this scenario: an employee logs into your advocacy platform and shares one of several pieces of branded content they see in the feed. They log in again the next day, but see the same content they already shared. The next day, same thing. Why would they continue to take the time to log into the platform if there’s rarely new content to share?
This problem is a common one, and it’s why you must provide employees with new content to share as often as possible.
Monitor progress and reward top advocates
Throughout this post, we’ve made it clear that employee advocacy should be treated like a legitimate marketing channel. With that designation comes a necessity for thorough tracking and data analysis.
Once you get your program running, revisit the goals and metrics you set at the start. Also keep track of general metrics related to employee participation — what percentage of employees at your company have used your advocacy tool? What is the average number of posts employees have shared? What impact has your advocacy program had on lead generation, brand awareness, website traffic, and any other goals you selected?
Determine what tactics have worked to promote advocacy, and what needs to be changed in order to continue growing your program. Finally, identify employees who have gone above and beyond or contributed the most to your advocacy initiatives.
Encourage further participation by rewarding these top advocates — whether it’s a tangible reward or something simple, like recognizing them in a company-wide email.
Key Takeaways about Running a Successful Employee Advocacy Program
Your employees are an increasingly valuable marketing asset— but don’t take them for granted.
A great employee advocacy program requires much more effort than simply asking employees to promote your brand and content. A great program makes your employees want to become advocates.
The platform you provide, your training, incentives, and every other aspect of your program should make employees feel invigorated and excited about advocating for your brand. While an employee advocacy program might seem like a lot of work to encourage a relatively simple action, the results will prove to be worth the effort.