What if your biggest marketing asset was looking at you right in the eyes? Like, literally looking at you – your employees.
Social media is so ubiquitous these days that we don’t bother to take the time to understand what it truly is. We think we understand it. But do we, really?
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like are all fantastic media-sharing platforms, but their “social” facet is often overlooked. Not least by marketers, who often forget that social networks are platforms for people-to-people interactions and not just another venue to broadcast branded content. It’s time to go back to basics – and acknowledge that social media is people-driven.
Content performs better when it’s shared by people. Genuine people, like you and me. Not businesses. More specifically, recent studies have found that advocacy generated by employees is particularly powerful to shape brand perception.
In the eyes of consumers, employees are a relatable, neutral source of information unlike other commercially-motivated messages shared through official brand channels: press releases, marketing activities, websites, you name it.
Consumers rely on their peers: people who have similarities with them (e.g. social status, age, origins). People they can relate to. Findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer 2017 report recently revealed that “A person like yourself” is now the most credible spokesperson while trust in CEOs is hitting an all-time low.
Source: Edelman Trust Barometer, 2017
The performance of a piece of content will vary widely depending on who shares it – that’s when the credibility of the source is instrumental. For example, content shared by employees receives on average 8 times more engagement than when it is shared by brand channels and is reshared 25 times more frequently. Also, leads generated through employees have been found to convert 7 times more than any other type of leads.
Jump on the advocacy bandwagon – or watch as your competitors do
Employee advocacy is rapidly gaining momentum, and numerous studies point to the same direction: it is time for business leaders to acknowledge the collective power of their workforce. Empowerment is the keystone to generate positive earned media from employees proud to be working for their firm - and proud to shout about it.
However, leaders should steer clear of telling their employees to share branded abundantly and in a “spray-and-pray” fashion. This clumsy approach will end up backfiring quickly as employees alienate their audience. Imagine seeing a friend of yours spamming your social feeds with content from their firm, isn't that annoying?! Not only would they kill their own credibility as a neutral spokesperson but they would end up doing more harm than good to the business too.
For employee advocacy to work, employees’ posts need to be genuine, and in one way or another, add value to the people who will view the content shared by the employees.
Source: Edelman Trust Barometer, 2017
These days, advocacy is becoming the new social currency and it brings not only intangible benefits (brand image and reputation) but also tangible benefits too: according to research conducted by the National Business Research Institute, a 12% increase in brand advocacy can generate a 2x boost in revenue growth.
Employees – what’s in it for them?
For businesses, the benefits of having brand ambassadors within their workforce are pretty straightforward. But it can do some good for employees as well.
By sharing content that’s relevant to their respective audiences, employees can grow their personal brand and establish themselves as knowledgeable professionals - some can even become industry thought-leaders boasting an engaged community.
“Employees have nearly 10 times more followers than corporate social accounts.”
Worldwide, only 13% of the workforce is actively engaged in their work - which is disheartening. Engaged employees are 20% more likely to stay at their company, 27% to feel more optimistic about their company’s future, and 40% more likely to believe their organization is competitive, reports Altimeter & LinkedIn.
Getting started: identify volunteers and start small
Ordering employees to share this article or that video isn’t an option. To deliver value, what’s needed is a well thought-out, stepped approach.
During the initial stages, it is crucial to remember this: social media is not for everyone. A significant chunk of employees will not be interested in joining advocacy initiatives – and that’s okay. The golden rule of internal advocacy is never to force anything on the employees’ end. If you do, tensions will arise and they will disengage rapidly.
“Now, cognitive representations of companies are something that are forged by what members of different publics say, as opposed to something companies can control."
James Grunig, 2009
Your job as a marketer will be to identify social media-savvy volunteers and get in touch with them. Tell them what it is you want to achieve with their contribution, and run them through the shared benefits.
A tailored approach
Once their buy-in is obtained, the next step will be to grab an understanding of what channels they already use and for what purpose. Clear, measurable KPIs need to be set accordingly and, if possible, individually.
The challenge with this phase is to pinpoint an opportunity where the employee could contribute, produce, and share content that is in-line with the company’s goals and is relevant to the employees and their audience. In simple terms:
Finding the sweet spot: how employees can establish themselves as relevant community contributor
Measure and refine
Benchmarking performance against KPIs should give a reasonable idea of how things are working. At this stage, employees are in a position to provide feedback given the experience that they’ve gained. With this, possible areas for improvement should be identified and exploited.
Naturally, we just provide a simple rule of thumb here. In practice, much of your approach will be determined by the main protagonists – the employees.
Depending on factors like age or industry, bringing social media-savvy people on board will prove easy or difficult. Likewise, some employees may be reluctant to give their employer exposure on social channels that they want to keep “friends-only”. But regardless of the challenges that you will come across, you want to avoid confrontation by any means. It’s absolutely vital that you respect your employees’ choice if they refuse to participate.
How to reward employee advocates is still very much in debate as there is a risk of creating tension among employees who do not wish to join the program. Monetary compensation is judged by industry experts as a no-go, so leaders should think of rewards that employees actually want. Note that these wants can vary from one employee to the other.
As you’ve seen throughout this post, the rewards for successfully implementing an employee advocacy program are so big that they might determine which businesses tank and which thrive in the future. In the words of Boudreaux & Emerick, the social employees “will soon become a basic fact of life” – and they may very well be organizations’ most powerful assets.