"With billions of people on social media, leading marketers are quickly learning that they don't have the resources to engage in every brand conversation on every channel. While some brands have caught on and are empowering advocates to share stories on social channels, many brands are overlooking one of the most valuable types of advocates - their employees.(1)"
What is employee advocacy?
Simply put, employee advocates defend their organisation against criticism and champion their organisation, online and off. Employee advocacy programmes actively encourage employees to share brand content through their own networks. Social media is not the only way for them to do this, but it's a clear channel to promote and measure success. The potential benefits are huge, providing another channel to your market through thousands of personal networks.
With many companies fearing the risks of such lack of control, you'll need leadership on board to make this happen. You'll need to have great content to share and encourage use of technology and training. But most importantly, you'll need to empower employees from top to bottom to share their personal experiences both within and outside the organisation, with integrity and authenticity.
Isn't it risky?
Many brands try to restrict how employees use channels such as Twitter and Facebook to share company information. The reality is that the internet allows a potential for open dialogue which can't be stopped. Consumers are sharing their experience about brands and employees are able to share their ideas, whether we like it or not. Our job is to embrace and leverage this opportunity, not to be scared of it.
That's not to say the risk of damaging tweets, blogs or posts is over, but with the right training and guidelines this can be minimised.
The need for a plan
Weber Shandwick, a PR firm in partnership with KRC Research, conducted a global study of 2,300 employees at organizations with more than 500 employees. They found that 33 percent of employees post messages, pictures or videos in social media without any encouragement from their employer. Only 45 percent of employees have a clear understanding of what they should and should not do on social channels when it comes to company-related topics.
We can capitalise on this opportunity by having a plan and policy to guide employees, encouraging active use of social media. It requires commitment from leadership, involving employees and ensuring ongoing analysis, feedback and improvement.
Having a plan isn't just about making sure you have socially- interesting content to share with employees and tracking how they use it. It's about helping employees to see that it has real and practical benefits and the vital role they have to play.
People trust people, not corporate messaging
Word-of-mouth marketing still trumps company marketing. An employee advocacy programme means your marketing messages can reach far and wide through employee's personal networks. As well as people trusting the content, there is a far better chance that people will consume it if shared by a personal connection. Furthermore, personal connections are far less likely to unsubscribe or unfriend. (2)
A global study by Edelman found that employees are trusted more than CEOs, well-known personalities, elected officials, and celebrities.The study found that 72 percent of the general public trust social media content shared by friends and family.
However, for employee advocacy to work it is important that employees have confidence in your brand and organisation and the desire to support it.
Engagement is a team effort
The groundwork for this needs to be a team effort across the organisation including HR, corporate communications, marketing and IT teams, all of whom own different pieces of the communication jigsaw. It is vital for internal communications to collaborate across all these teams for success. Above all, senior leadership need to engage employees in order for your advocacy efforts to thrive.
Authentic senior leadership is vital
Weber Shandwick's study found that leadership is the most important factor in encouraging employee advocacy. If employees can trust what leadership are communicating, feel a personal connection and have an opportunity to ask questions and give feedback, they will respond positively. Employees need to feel appreciated. They need to feel it is their organisation, understand it on their own terms and contribute to it. This means giving them a voice, not just telling them what to think, do and say. As a communication professional, your job is to support and coach your leadership team to help make this happen.
Make it personal
The key to employee advocacy is allowing employees to share personal stories about company activities. It will add integrity and authenticity to your brand. Providing signed off messaging for sharing reduces risk, however this is a cumbersome and slow process and stops you from reaping the benefits which will come when the message is more human and personal. Allow your content to inspire people to respond and support it in their own words.
“Not only do your customers want to talk to real people inside your organisation, but your employees are desperate to talk with real customers. They want to tell them the truth.(3)”
Consumers are becoming increasingly cynical and less trusting. They say what they think about companies and they are looking for the real story behind company doors. Allowing employees to communicate in their own words gives consumers an insider view, which will fuel trust and belief in your brand.
Sense of purpose
Encouraging employees to do this isn't about them receiving financial rewards or gaining extra responsibility. It's about being trusted, empowered and driving the organisation forward.
Five ways to encourage employee advocacy:
Encourage use of social media for employees to share company information and news. Provide access to social media at work and make it easy for them to stay connected and informed.
Provide messages, pictures and video content they can easily share on social media.
Be brave. Trust and empower them to add their own voice. The more human the message, the more influence it will have.
Walk the talk. Make sure leaders connect with employees. Ensure actions match rhetoric. Any lack of authenticity can leak out of the organisation.
Measure and share success. Have a clear plan and policy. Keep leaders informed about the results. Thank employees for their valuable efforts.
Three Key Takeaways
Unleash untapped potential. Consumers want to hear from your employees. Not supporting and encouraging your employees to share company content misses one of the biggest opportunities in social media.
Ensure authenticity starting at the top. Consumers are looking for the real story behind company doors.
Move from control to collaboration. Collaborate with teams across the organisation and have a plan and policy in place. Stimulate people to be courageous and share their own stories. People trust people, not corporate messaging. It will have much more power and reach.
This is an excerpt of our 222-page book Disrupting the Function of IC - A Global Perspective. Click here to download.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Saskia Jones is a strategic communications professional with wide-ranging experience. Based in the UK, her latest role was Head of Communications Engagement at Oxfam. Engaging over 5,000 staff and 22,000 volunteers around the world, her team communicated with staff and volunteers in over 50 countries and 650 shops in the UK. Saskia has a particular interest in employee advocacy and digital employee communication and her team has won multiple awards for initiatives in this field. Saskia's contribution to internal communication has also been recognised by the Institute of Internal Communication, who awarded her Internal Communicator of the Year at the IoIC Icon Awards.
(1,2) 5 reasons why an employee advocacy program should be one of your top priorities, published on www.notified.com
(3) Ind, Nicholas (2008) Living the Brand: How to Transform Every Member of Your Organization into a Brand Champion, Kogan Page Ltd, London p. 21.