Your employees are talking about your company. Whether they’re posting them to Twitter or not, they have opinions. As scary as that might sound, those opinions are some of your most powerful branding and recruitment tools—when leveraged correctly.
For employer brand teams wanting to centralize and activate those employee voices, a brand advocacy program may be your answer. “Brand advocacy, at its very foundation, is about how people are talking about the company,” Briana Daugherty reminds us. Daugherty is the Employment Brand Specialist at Cox Enterprises, where she’s built a brand advocacy program with exceptional engagement.
Cox built out its program by fine-tuning its nomination, training, content creation, engagement, and measurement processes. Daugherty and her team’s approach serves as a valuable roadmap for other organizations (perhaps yours?) eager to build brand advocacy programs of their own.
Daugherty first tapped Cox’s recruiters to join the brand advocacy program. These employees were already used to serving as the “face” of Cox to the public and had relationships across the organization’s many divisions.
After bringing the recruiters onboard, Daugherty turned to Cox’s employee resource groups and division leaders. She asked for the names of employees who were already visible and enthusiastic contributors to Cox’s volunteer initiatives (like Cox Conserves, a sustainability project). Daugherty’s team invited these nominees to an open house-style informational meeting about the brand advocacy program and gave out a more formal application.
The employer brand team presented its pitch to these prospective brand advocates: an opportunity to share their experiences with Cox while elevating their own voice and personal brand, getting access to exclusive trainings and career growth opportunities, and earning prizes. The pitch was effective, and Cox soon had a brand advocacy program with strong cross-divisional representation and momentum.
Effective brand advocacy training offers clear guidelines while leaving room for personal expression. Daugherty’s team selects content for the brand advocates to share, distributes the selections via Cox’s internal communications platform, and encourages the advocates to post to their personal channels using a selection of branded hashtags (including #lifeatcox, #makeyourmark, and #coxbrandadvocate).
The employer brand team also organizes cross-divisional trainings to help the brand advocates hone their skills. Some of the most popular have included trainings with the Diversity & Inclusion team, as well as an intimate talk with a senior marketing lead on storytelling.
Because the program values authenticity so highly, it also gives its advocates the flexibility to express themselves more personally, especially during COVID-19. “We understand if your kid pops into a meeting while you’re on a conference call,” says Daugherty. Those kinds of stories about adjusting to the virtual workplace are encouraged, and employees have embraced the opportunity to bring their full selves to their advocacy work.
Cox’s employer brand team identified three types of content that make for effective brand advocacy: company culture stories, employee testimonial blog posts, and industry news. These kinds of content all come with compelling reasons to promote them: Their value is specific, and they leverage brand advocates’ natural desire to celebrate their peers.
Daugherty noticed an interesting and unanticipated side effect of this content strategy. “The recruiters who are part of the brand advocate program are using the content in other ways. They might take an employee spotlight about someone in a technology position, and if they’re recruiting for a technology role, they might take that story and share it on LinkedIn and in some of their conversations,” she says. “They’re keeping candidates warm.”
Every brand advocacy program will experience highs and lows. An amazing speaker might leave advocates feeling fired up, but three weeks later, the daily grind inevitably causes a dip in engagement. The key to sustaining enthusiasm, Daugherty says, is keeping it simple.
“Gamification helps charge up the engagement,” Daugherty found. Cox gamifies its brand advocacy program with a leaderboard, updated every few weeks with fresh data on who’s leading the charge in shares and impressions.
Recognition, via quarterly and annual prizes, also fuels the friendly competition. “I would definitely encourage anyone who’s building their program to consider a budget for prizes. It goes a long way, even if it’s just a gift card,” Daugherty says.
Appreciation for your brand advocates doesn’t have to be monetary or even tangible, however. Cox’s program saw a resurgence in engagement after hosting a simple virtual happy hour for its advocates. Face-to-face connection during socially distanced times, Daugherty says, “takes the load off and reminds them that, hey, this is a program that is fun and engaging, but we want to remind you that this is something you do off the side of your desk.”
From a quantitative standpoint, the team looks first at shares and impressions on the content its brand advocates share. This data informs campaign strategies, like the recent #BehindtheCode campaign spotlighting Cox’s technology positions. Cox’s brand advocates alone drove up organic engagement to over one million impressions, not including paid promotion.
From a more qualitative perspective, Daugherty has noticed increased interest in the brand advocacy program from senior management. Leaders have become heavily engaged in how the advocates are faring, and some have asked Daugherty to present to their own teams. These changes, Daugherty says, are all encouraging signs of a growing employer brand: “Our employer brand today is evolved and a little more mature, and I’m proud to stand behind it.”
Cox’s brand advocates set a powerful example for other organizations getting started with advocacy programs of their own. But sustainable advocacy is not just the job of a hand-picked few, Daugherty reminds us. “Even if you’re not a part of our program, we believe that every employee at Cox is an ambassador because you’re telling the story wherever you go.”
“People want to be heard,” she says. Employees will find an outlet for their voices; if your team has been listening closely enough, a rewarding brand advocacy program can meet that need.
To follow more of Briana Daugherty’s work in employer brand, connect with her on LinkedIn. For a clearer picture of how your company compares with others in your industry, reach out to us—our Employer Brand Index uses 16 key attributes to measure your employer brand.
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