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It’s common knowledge that people don’t trust brands – they trust other people. All too often, digital marketing can come across as cold and lifeless. But it’s not hard to warm up your digital marketing, and win the trust of prospects and customers.
Why? Because your company consists of people: people who probably have a healthy appetite for sharing their thoughts via social media.
At the risk of lowering the temperature, I shall now introduce one of those frigid-sounding marketing terms: employee advocacy.
But really, it’s a term with a lot more warmth and appeal than you might imagine.
In a nutshell, employee advocacy is the promotion of a company by its people. It involves them talking your business or brand up on social networks because they want to… and it helps boost your company’s visibility and credibility by showing you have a strong relationship with your employees.
Many brands don’t encourage employee advocacy, but they should. If you’re not empowering employees to advocate for your company, you’re missing out on a huge PR opportunity. The conversion, retention and engagement potential is huge.
Check out just some of the benefits companies claim they’ve experienced from employee advocacy, courtesy of a study conducted by Hinge Marketing and Social Media Today.
Data from Smarp, an employee advocacy software company, indicates the average employee advocate has approximately 420 Facebook friends, 400 LinkedIn contacts, and 360 Twitter followers. It’s easy to see how getting them to give you a shout-out on social media has the potential to dramatically amplify the reach of your company’s messaging.
Here is Smarp’s formula for estimating potential reach boost via employee advocacy. It makes a compelling argument.
“Employees who share company content on social media… and spread the good word around can do wonders for your employer brand,” notes Smarp’s Content Manager, Annika Rautakoura. “Employees who feel empowered and in charge of their work will gladly advocate their work and the employer to their social networks.”
Smarp’s platform helps marketers promote internal communication and employee-driven content sharing with features such as a gamified leaderboard and data-rich analytics that can help calculate advocacy-based ROI.
Employee advocacy also overlaps a great deal with employee engagement. “When employees become brand ambassadors, they feel a vested interest in the company’s success and are therefore engaged in exceeding the stated requirements of their job,” writes Sapir Segal on the Oktopost blog. “And the more employees feel engaged, the more they want to continue talking and promoting the company’s brand.”
Providing an end-to-end solution for enterprising B2B social media marketing, Oktopost’s employee advocacy tools enable marketers to post content to themed sharing boards which aggregate to dedicated mobile apps as well as the employee’s web browser. Marketers can easily browse through the platform’s content curation and social listening modules to find the most relevant and fresh content to push to these boards.
Oktopost’s “Social Advocacy” mobile apps make it easy for employees to find relevant suggested content to share, which marketers can organize by topic.
But team members aren’t necessarily going to share content about their employers without a dedicated employment advocacy program to encourage them to do so. “[Employment advocacy] requires proper training, a significant time investment, and the appropriate software tools,” the authors of Understanding Employee Advocacy on Social Media point out.
“The most effective way to motivate employees to advocate the brand on social media is to explain why they are being asked to do so. Both managers and advocates agree that this communication is the biggest motivator, more so than gifts, monetary incentives, or public recognition of performance.”
So what’s a marketing organization to do to foster participation in its employee advocacy program? The following 12 steps are bound to give it wings.
1. Gain buy-in from the top
You want to begin by securing organizational buy-in from C-level executives. LinkedIn’s Sean Callahan recommends that you:
- Convey the importance of employee advocacy and emphasize the low up-front costs and increased ROI.
- Present how employee advocacy can increase engagement resulting in higher productivity and customer satisfaction.
- Show how it will lead to increased revenue.
2. Create a strategy
You need to create a program with some degree of structure. That is, you want to document your goals and a framework for measuring them. One of the best things about employee advocacy is that it’s scaleable. Goals might include:
- Increased website traffic
- Increased social shares
- Lead generation
- Event registrations
However, you don’t want to dictate exactly what, when, where and how your employees share content on social media. Just give them encouragement and a healthy dose of latitude.
3. Create a policy
Obviously, there are risks involved with employee advocacy. As such, you’ll want to document a policy outlining acceptable protocol. The idea is to provide direction regarding social etiquette and tone, not iron-clad rules.
4. Appoint a leader
Designate an employee advocacy leader who you believe can help generate favorable results. The leader might be given specific responsibilities such as:
- Generating interest in the program
- Sharing ideas with employees
- Helping you understand the employees’ point of view
- Collaborating with employees to come up with new ideas for employee advocacy and ways to improve the program
The ideal person will encourage and guide employees, not boss them around. Employee advocacy relies on goodwill and trust.
5. Use alphas as guinea pigs
Rather than roll out the program to every employee at once, start with specific employees who have demonstrated that they are interested in participating and in providing feedback.
“Our research found that 77% of those employees who do advocate is a manager or above, so clearly brands have not yet figured out how to tap their broader base of individual contributors.”
~ Ed Terpening and Aubrey Littleton, Altimeter
6. Incorporate social media training
Don’t assume your employees know how to use social media effectively for business purposes. Deliver training and learning resources. Make them engaging and fun.
Potential topics to address in training may include:
- Reasons to participate
- Social media guidelines, and do’s and don’t’s for your company
- How to use a specific social media dashboard
- How to engage on specific social media networks
- Tips and tactics to build relationships on social media
- Techniques for personal branding and influencer marketing
- Best practices for effective copywriting in digital media
- Success stories and testimonials
7. Support personal development
Your employees may enjoy positioning themselves as subject matter experts. Support this idea. Serve employees by helping them raise the status of their personal brands and/or development.
8. Recognize achievement
Reward participants in your employee advocacy program with the recognition they crave. Create programs to showcase and reward the accomplishments of your leading advocates. Consider running contests. Top participants can be rewarded with money, gift cards or a day off.
9. Provide top content to share
Obviously, sharing useful content is central to your employee advocacy program. You want your employees to spread the word about your company’s blog posts, eBooks, infographics, videos, podcasts and more.
Marketers can work toward encouraging the sharing of relevant content in a variety of ways:
- Create an employee advocacy hub where approved content can be easily discovered and shared.
- Provide employees with a link, image, and suggestions regarding what to write.
- Share examples.
- Recruit key employees to participate in the content planning and creation process.
The list of content types you can use in your employee engagement program is long. Need ideas? Here you go:
- Company blog posts
- Company news
- Media mentions
- Promotional offers
- Industry developments
- Industry research
- Behind-the-scenes photos
- Client work and success stories
- News about specific employees or company leaders
- The company’s community activities
These are the most common types of posts shared by employees, as reported by Altimeter in Social Media Employee Advocacy: Tapping into the power of an engaged social workforce.
10. Get the right tools
There are several social sharing tools you may want to consider equipping your employees with. Consider free and/or subscription-based platforms such as AgoraPulse. Highly effective tools that are dedicated to employee advocacy include the aforementioned Oktopost and Smarp, as well as GaggleAMP, LinkedIn Elevate and Social Chorus.
Smarp’s analytics reporting can demonstrate impact per content item or per team member.
11. Host events
Give employees something fun to share with their followers and they will, so take them out to the ballgame! Host theme parties! Bring in speakers or entertainers! Do whatever you can to make sure they are quite literally a part of the party.
12. Offer cool swag
Give employees some cool branded swag such as shirts, water bottles, backpacks, etc. You might want to throw a custom hashtag for sharing it on social media as well. Just sit back and watch what happens.
Your employees are the human face of your brand and they have valuable connections across LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Plus, because they’re real people rather than a faceless brand, they’re more trusted than anyone in your C-suite or marketing department.
Marketing leaders should no longer think of social at the department level only, and recognize the company’s workforce as a tremendous asset for social media marketing.
Reaching new levels of achievement in employee advocacy comes with numerous challenges, including: winning buy-in from leaders and the workforce; managing risk; building skills; making content available; and using metrics to prove value.
Overcoming these challenges takes a systematic approach to employee advocacy. And now is the time to take action, build a strong employee advocacy program, and inspire employees to share content regularly.
Guest author: Barry is the author of The Road to Recognition and SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans. Barry operates Feldman Creative and provides content marketing consulting, copywriting, and creative direction services. He contributes to top marketing sites and was named one of the 25 Social Media Marketing Experts You Need to Know by LinkedIn. To get a piece of his mind, visit his blog, The Point.