Employee Advocacy: Could it be your competitive advantage?

by Thiago Leite - January 3, 2019

What was the last great experience you just had to share with your friends? Did you have a mouth-watering meal at a restaurant or watch a suspenseful new movie? Usually, when people have better-than-expected experience, they want to share the story with the people around them. Particularly in the age of social media, people want to share stories that make them look good, or let people in on a new experience that they recommend. According to Researcher and Customer Strategist Esteban Kolsky, 72% of customers will share a positive experience with 6 or more people. That’s valuable word-of-mouth marketing that could spread awareness of your brand. A personal recommendation is a powerful mark in your company’s column. That’s why reviews on e-commerce sites can make-or-break the sales success of a product.

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By definition, employee advocacy promotes an organization through its staff. It takes the concepts used in traditional word-of-mouth marketing and turns them inward. As brands might foster loyalty through rewards and referral programs, employers are now establishing systems through which they can encourage employees to spread positive messages about their company. Your employees are the human face of the brand. They build your products, live your corporate culture, and invest years in your company’s mission. An employee’s anecdotal experience is more trustworthy and compelling than any ad campaign. Your employees bring your brand to life.

Employee advocacy programs have benefits both internal and external to your organization. An employee’s recommendation can persuade talented job seekers to apply with you. Some job candidates may even accept a lower salary because they believe your corporate culture is better aligned with their values, thanks to what they’ve heard from an employee. Referral programs with attractive incentives keep your employees on the lookout for desirable candidates in hard-to-fill roles. Externally, your employees can positively shape the perception of your company by acting as an expert and informal spokesperson. They can recommend your products to friends and family, and win-back former customers who may have had a negative experience. Your employee’s personal investment in your company is the X-factor that can nudge skeptics into doing business with you.

You may have seen some of the more conventional approaches to brand advocacy. Many companies will gift their employees company swag–t-shirts, water bottles, and hats branded with the company’s logo. Branded swag can be a great photo opportunity, expanding your brand’s reach exponentially through each employee’s social network. However, it’s not enough to slap your logo on a white t-shirt. To get the most out of your swag, make sure that your branded items are well-designed. If your company’s logo is going to appear on Instagram feeds everywhere, the swag itself needs to look like something your employees would actually buy in a store. It’s not worth the cost of requisition if it collects dust in an employee’s junk drawer. Try to think outside the box, beyond tote bags and baseball caps, to give your employees swag that’s functional and looks great.

Some of the most successful companies cultivate employee engagement by creating opportunities for employees to show them off. Let’s take a look at how a couple of the biggest names in business take employee advocacy beyond a branded mug:

Zappos

As a company known for its freewheeling, highly-engaged corporate culture, Zappos takes pride in giving their employees the freedom to share details about their work on social media. Whether it’s the Monday morning staff meeting or after-work drinks on the terrace, Zappos is happy to have employees post their work-related thoughts with the hashtag #companyculture on EyeZapp, their employee-centric Twitter account. They even post a leaderboard showing the staff’s current top social media performers. This transparent approach to online culture helps Zappos connect to customers who admire their ethic and job seekers drawn to their organization.

Dell

Dell’s social media marketing strategy has enjoyed support from upper management since the beginning, almost guaranteeing positive returns on their creative investment in company culture. As an early adopter of social media monitoring, Dell was also quick to allow employees to share their own content, instead of restricting them to the posts provided by the company. Their strategy urges employees to focus on sharing content they’re passionate about, aiming for a 20% quota of posts relating directly to Dell. And it’s done wonders: Participating employees have accounted for innumerable clicks back to Dell’s website via hundreds of thousands of shared blog posts and other pieces of content.

How to build an employee advocacy program

  1. Start by selecting a small group of engaged staff within your organization. The buy-in of these employees is important, as you can expect them to be early adopters and content sharers of your program.
  2. Amongst those engaged employees, identify the natural leaders. They can usually be found pushing their teams to collaborate on creative work. Regardless of position or title, these should people that others consistently gravitate toward–whether it’s to seek their input on a recent piece of work, or their participation in an upcoming project. Their role as your initial brand advocates will be integral to bringing other employees onboard.
  3. Reach out to these employees and collect their input on what they feel an engaging advocacy program would look like. Pay particular attention to any popular internal communication tools, such as blogs, bulletin boards, and office newsletters.
  4. Initiate a small-scale pilot program using those influencers’ suggestions. One method might be a weekly newsletter that spotlights the company’s best content, upgraded to include click-to-share links to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites that make it easier for staff to share.
  5. Do what works. Open yourself up to criticism, and pay attention to what posts get shared more. Solicit suggestions company-wide from all employees on what they’d like to see more of in future posts and run with their ideas.
  6. Consider taking content submissions from all employees. Other employees might be inspired by what they see and want to express themselves in this new outlet, too. While it’s a good idea to assign compiling and creating content to a single person for quality and consistency, employees are much more likely to share content that they or their friends and coworkers had a hand in creating.
  7. Don’t expect employees to share everything that comes across their desk. Instead, encourage employees to spread around the content they feel most strongly about. That might be projects they’ve had a hand in, blog posts they thought were funny, or job listings they feel might suit a friend. When employees feel like they have control over what they share, they’re much more likely to be passionate about the things they decide to pass along, and there’s less chance of their shared friends seeing the same content come across in a deluge of identical status updates.
  8. It’s not all about work. While it’s a great idea to bust out a nod to your company’s core values every once in a while, that photostream of the office dogs is as important in its own way as the newsletter post about your recent charity event. Remember, this is as much about developing and sharing a healthy corporate culture as it is about highlighting the good work your company does.
  9. Be patient and be generous. A good employee advocacy program takes time to grow. Trying too hard to influence its organic growth can have long-lasting negative effects. Pushing too hard for likes can permanently sour your employees on the idea, and forcing out content may make it seem artificial. Instead of applying pressure to generate more content, make sure there’s something in it for the employees who participate. A public display of appreciation in the internal newsletter or attractive incentives like gift cards for content creators can reward employees that put in the effort.

  10. An employee advocacy program is a great way to leverage your employees’ personalities to spread your brand. It can also be a motivating side project that adds a little variety to their daily tasks. It gives employees an opportunity to be creative and think differently than is necessary for their role. Embrace their individuality for your culture, for your employees, and for your competitive advantage.

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