Businesses pour an incredible amount of time and budget into creating positive buzz on social media. While tweeting, liking and sharing have been largely the domain of marketing and social media teams, more companies are encouraging their employees to become brand ambassadors using their personal social networks.
It’s called employee advocacy, which is not a new concept, but adding a social media component has amplified the effects. What makes the employee voice so powerful? Employees have more credibility than the CEO on social media when it comes to the company’s work environment (48% versus 19%), business practices and crises (30% versus 27%), according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, the global communications marketing firm’s annual trust and credibility survey. The survey respondents also stated that, on social media and content-sharing sites, they’re far more trusting of family and friends (78%) than a CEO (49%).
Culture Drives Advocacy
The idea behind employee advocacy is that employees are so impassioned and excited about their company’s products, culture and workplace, they will actively talk to others about it, encourage them to buy the company’s products or apply for a job, says Christopher Hannegan, Edelman’s executive vice president, U.S. Practice Chair, Employee Engagement.
Naturally, employee advocacy is rooted in the culture. “You have to have an engaged workforce before you can expect employees to go outside of the company and start talking favorably about what it’s like to work there and how great the products are,” Hannegan says. “Employees need to understand and feel good about where the company is heading, their role within the company, what they can do to make a difference, and they need to have a good relationship with their manager.”
There are a variety of checklists, assessments and surveys to help companies to determine the drivers of employee engagement, and gauge the current level of engagement within their workforce. You can also look at the current buzz about your company online. For U.S. companies, Hannegan recommends the website Glassdoor, which offers a database of company reviews by employees about the work environment, interview process, salaries, benefits and CEO approval ratings. “Looking at those statistics will give you a pretty good sense about whether it is a healthy culture,” he says.
Exit interviews are also a good indicator of whether employees will be open to and feel positive about an advocacy program, or if you should focus on fixing core culture issues first.
John White agrees that there must be a high level of trust within the culture. In companies with secretive or fear-based climates, employees typically are afraid to share content, or they may have been told that they cannot engage in social media or mention the company on their personal social networks. “It boils down to a lack of trust between upper management and the employees,” says White, chief marketing officer at Social Marketing Solutions, a firm that specializes in online branding. “They don’t trust their employees to be the experts, or to advocate their brand on social media.”
Getting companies to recognize their employees as thought leaders and advocates comes down to a paradigm shift in culture, he says, adding that the shift has to start with company executives. “They have to be the ones who campaign for employee advocacy, and they have to actively participate in order for it to work at the company level,” he says. “Once they start the process, then it can be implemented at different levels of the company.”
A mindset change also needs to take place within the rank-and-file. There is often a disconnect on the employees’ side, White says. “Employees don’t realize the impact they can have. By simply liking, tweeting or sharing a blog post written by the CEO or content that is on the company website, it gets more people to read it and to engage with it.” For instance, White recalls working with one client who was interested in creating culture around employee advocacy. To get the employees thinking about the value of their social networking activity, he asked them how many times they had posted comments on Facebook about their favorite sports team. Next, he asked how many times they had posted content from their company site on their Linkedin account. “Then I asked them to think about which one they posted more frequently. One person admitted to a ratio of 100-to-1 in favor sports posts on Facebook over company-related posts on LinkedIn,” he explains. “To make my point, I asked them how many times their favorite sports team had paid their mortgage, help put their kids through college, or bought them dinner out on a Friday night. I could sense that they began to see social media in a different light. Many of them confessed to having their priorities screwed up. They realized that their social media activities were doing more to line the pockets of wealthy athletes and powerful franchise owners than to help the very people that were providing them with a paycheck every two weeks.”
Elements of an Employee Advocacy Program
If you are considering rolling out an employee advocacy program, there are a few critical core elements that need to be in place to be successful. Hannegan says it boils down to four areas:
The content and information that you want employees to share.
The technology to enable the sharing.
There are many tools available, but when assessing platforms, it’s important to be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish with your program before selecting the technology,” he notes, adding that, many times, companies will choose the platform before they’ve figured out why they’re launching an advocacy program.
Cultural expectation setting.
Make sure that employees not only understand that it is OK to share the content, but that it is view by the company as a positive activity. Importantly, they need to understand that it is optional and not a requirement. “If, for some reason, they’re not comfortable advocating for your company, they don’t have to,” Hannegan stresses. “That is especially important if you have a workforce represented by unions.”
A way to measure the results.
How will you know if your employee advocacy efforts are making a difference? Understand how you are going to measure what you’re trying to accomplish—whether that is increased sales of a certain product, more job applications from top talent or higher engagement with a particular blog post or other online content.
Common Missteps to Avoid
While a successful advocacy program can boost your company’s credibility, visibility and even revenue, the reality is that many companies attempt to launch one without ensuring that the key elements are in place. The following are some of the more common mistakes to avoid.
- Not having a clear gauge of employees’ views of the company. Some companies make the mistake of trying to launch an advocacy program when employees are not likely to be positive advocates, Hannegan says. Measuring your employee engagement is critical to avoid misreading your audience.
- Assuming that employees don’t want to participate. Some companies take the opposite view that employees would not want to talk about them online or that there would be no value in it. “What companies sometimes overlook is that, if for nothing else but to help find talent and to help burnish your overall reputation, there is an incredible power in having your employees talk about you,” Hannegan says.
- Not providing employees with adequate training on how to use the social media tools or on the guidelines for sharing.
- Launching an advocacy program because “everybody has one and we should have one, too.” Companies need to clearly define the purpose of the program, Hannegan notes. Is it to sell more products? Improve the company’s reputation? Attract better talent? “Define the use case upfront so you can then develop the right programs, select the right technology, and build in the appropriate KPIs and the right measurement for it,” he says.
Consider an Internal Advocacy Program
Employee advocacy can be very impactful if there is a really clear and articulated business case for the program, and if every element of the program is anchored in the business case, Hannegan says.
Most companies think about employee advocacy as making it possible and desirable for employees to talk externally about the company and its products. An often-overlooked opportunity is to apply that same mentality within the company, he points out. “Having employees talking to each other about how great it is to work at the company or how excited they are about a product launch is powerful. It creates a positive cycle from within and reinforces engagement. That in turn helps to make the external advocacy even more compelling.”
To Learn More About Employee Advocacy, visit:
Edelman’s Employee Engagement site ( ee.edelman.com ) offers numerous blogs, research, articles and white papers on employee engagement and advocacy.
Social Marketing Solutions’ blog ( socialmarketingsolutionsllc.net ) offers tips on how to use social media to grow your business, and social media courses for businesses.