How to Get Started with Employee Advocacy

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

How does a company get started with employee advocacy? I recently had a chat with Ben Donkor who is a Social Media Analyst at Microsoft and chief blogger at Link Humans.
You can listen to the audio podcast on below and make sure you subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast. Questions by me, answers by Ben.

What is employee advocacy?

Employee advocacy is not just a buzzword. It is an expression that people use when they are referring to the exposure you can get when staff and employees share your content as themselves on their personal channels. Usually, the personal channels are social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc and can also include other assets. That goes from email to chat to their own blogs perhaps, anything that’s online as well as share of voice, of course.

Why is employee advocacy important to companies?

The main reason why it’s quite important for the company I work with [BT] is that employees can go into various other social channels that are not in our brand social strategy. For instance, at the moment, your strategy might just cover Facebook and Twitter, whereas your staff are on other channels, like Reddit or Pinterest. At least you have that extended reach. Of course, you also have that trust and loyalty that you get when your employees talk to their own friends and relatives. It’s that loyalty and that factor of trust that you may not be able to get as a brand, but your employees can definitely get it for you.

Is it a benefit to have a company with lots of employees?

It is. Actually, we are part of a big company, a global company but our digital team is relatively small, compared to other ones anyway. It is still a program that we run and has actually been really great for us. At the moment, we are using it mainly for, surprisingly, Reddit, and it is a huge driver of traffic to us. It is only a traffic driver because we started with employee advocacy. You could identify that as a great channel to post content and drive that traffic, but also to build those relationships with the employees that you do have, so why not utilise that for BT as well?

How is employee advocacy of use to employees?

Various reasons. First of all, you are being seen as the guru, as the go-to person if someone needs anything about your brand. For instance, people will come to me if they have any issues with the broadband at their own house. They don’t just see me as someone who works for BT, but also see me as the information hub for BT. So, if they have any questions on our latest offers or perhaps they think I can get any deals for them, any exclusive news about BT or any of our products, they will come to me because they know that I can provide that. So, it’s useful for employers to give that knowledge to employees, as people from outside will already see your employees as that kind of hub.

What if all your friends come to you with broadband issues?

It could be an issue if you’re just doing it as a one-man-band. However, there are various examples of other brands like Dell, for instance, who have their own knowledge available for all employees. As soon as someone comes to you with a question, you can just go back into that application or forum. Just type in keywords like ‘broadband faulty.’ You’ll have a list of links you can then share with them. This is not a tedious task for you to go through. Also, it can be useful links for yourself as well. That aside, it’s not just about people able to come to you with information. It is also about being able to be seen as an influencer around that. Perhaps it may not sound appealing to be a BT influencer, but at least an influencer when it comes to the latest deal, or the latest gadget, the latest phone, things that you might want to be personally. So, now you have your own brand pushing it and giving you that content to enable you to be just that.

Do employees get rewards for being advocates?

There are options to get a few badges on your profile. So, for instance, at BT, we have an internal Sharepoint. Next to each name, you collect a few badges, kind of like the army, really. Whether you’ve completed an internal scheme or a really quick campaign that your MD wants to reward you for, you start getting those buttons next to your name. It goes a long way when it comes to recognition, not just in terms of wages and money or prizes but also in terms of anyone can look up for you and see that you’ve got this many badges. That aside, you also start building that influence, not only outside, but also within your own company. So, that all comes in as part of your rewards, really.

Where should a company start with employee advocacy?

I would usually say start with KPIs, but employee advocacy is a fairly new campaign that companies are starting to do. The first thing you’ll need to do is get senior buy-in. Get your senior management to actually buy in and trust that employee advocacy is useful. It might even be worth pointing out that your other competitors are doing something like that. So, you can say, “Our competitors are doing that. We could be even better if we were to do something like that.” Also, help them understand that, if you have a team, like a social team or digital team that is speaking on behalf of the brand, then you can trust your employees to speak around the brand and about the brand as well.
After you’ve done that, definitely start to do KPIs. Look at why you want to embark on employee advocacy. Look at what you want to achieve from it, as well. That could be metrics from reach or target audience. You may have to go for a tool that can give you that demographic data. You may also want to increase your brand awareness, your brand share of voice, all of these KPIs and targets need to be set before you start. Otherwise, employee advocacy can be quite easy to just spin out of control if you don’t know how to properly measure, or if you don’t know how to say whether it was successful or not successful.

What are some of the best tools to use?

There are some specialist tools out there like SocialChorus for instance or there are some all-in-one tools and those are tools that cater to employee advocacy, but they also embed other tools in, like social analytics and social publishing, because they understand that most teams that would start and kickstart employee advocacy are social media teams.
One great tool that can help you with that would be Sprinklr. They have that employee advocacy facility within the platform. So, you can have your own reporting, you can have your own publishing for your community manager. Next to it, you can also see how much traffic has come through our employees and which employees have been bringing in the most traffic and let’s see how we can reward them.

They give the employees unique tracking codes, but do you have to share via them?

Actually, some let you share through this tool, as an app. You don’t actually need to log on to a computer and then log in with a username and password. You can just have an app on your phone and look at this knowledge base of content and you can choose what to share. It will append all the tracking codes next to it because let’s be honest, you might forget to just append them ourselves, so at least you have a tool that can do that for you. Secondly, yes, you can also have tools that can just put that tracking code at the end. In the same way that Hootsuite, for instance, will do for you if you just want to do basic campaign tracking.

What pitfalls should companies avoid?

The first pitfall is when you are setting guidelines, you might be tempted to impose those guidelines on employees. It’s fine to have barriers and boundaries just so you know that, “Okay, beyond this point, you do not share,” and it could be sensitive information or perhaps news you are not allowed to share with the public just yet. Just make sure those are reasonable guidelines and don’t appear as restrictions. Otherwise, it will just look like just another task or another duty to people.
Employee advocacy needs to be something appealing, something that your staff will want to do anyway. You’re just giving them a tool to do it, instead of turning that fun activity into just another chore they need to do in their 9-to-5.
Another pitfall is making sure that those guidelines cater to everything they pretty much everything they don’t want to happen, things like improper sharing, whether it’s speculations or sharing sensitive information. If your staff participates in any controversial conversations, those are things you don’t want to ideally deal with. So, make sure you have guidelines for that and also backup plans in case any of that happens. So, that could be a pitfall, that you’re not prepared for the worst. Always hope for the best, but just make sure you have a backup plan just in case anything happens.

How would you measure the results of an employee advocacy program?

There are some soft metrics and, by soft metrics, I mean those based on metrics like reach or impressions, traffic, how much traffic are we directing. There are a few metrics that are more of interest to other teams, like your sales teams. How many sales have been driven by employees? When it comes to things like that, you need to stick with a currency value when you are talking to them. That would also fit into your ROI of employee advocacy.
Other really essential metrics would be NPS, Net Promoter Score. That measures the sentiment or brand perception around you as a company. You need to, first of all, measure that before you start the employee advocacy and then keep on measuring it on a regular basis throughout your employee advocacy program. Then, see how that employee advocacy scheme is helping you improve NPS as well as your share of voice out there as well.
Another pitfall, and that’s kind of back to the previous question, would be that you’re doing your social listening as one separate report from your employee advocacy reporting. Perhaps you might see a spike and all this great, positive sentiment and your NPS is going out the roof and everything, but you don’t correlate that to employee advocacy. That’s why it is important to be able to measure that before you start it and then while you are running it. Definitely NPS, any revenue related metrics, so you can prove that it is actually useful as you’ll have to go back to your senior management to tell them this is the plan we have done. This is how many people have been involved within the company and these are the results as well, in terms of money, too. So NPS, ROI, and any soft metrics you can find, including bridge, traffic, impressions.

What companies are doing this right?

There are quite a few of them. Most of them are actually in the technology space. The ones I can think of are Sprint, the US mobile network. They actually call it the social media ninja program. It’s actually quite common to see all of these employee advocacy teams called fancy names like that, just to call your employees a really fancy tag, just so they feel like they are part of this exclusive club or whatever. In this specific program, they encourage employees to share news about the company and they only have five rules. Don’t speculate. Don’t talk what you don’t know. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. Don’t talk about anything that hasn’t been announced yet, anything exclusive. Don’t participate in controversy. Those are the only guidelines they have for it and that covers pretty much all of what they do.
Then, of course, if you mention employee advocacy, you can’t forget about Dell. They are a really stellar example of employee advocacy done right. They are a global company, as we all know, and they have a program for over 10,000 employees, all advocating for the company but it’s not everyone who can just join in. You need to actually request that you want to be part of it. Then, you’re taken through a course to teach you about social media which, if you think about it, it actually makes sense because if you want your whole company to work through it, not everyone works on a social media team. So, you may have to train people on guidelines or best practices, what to do, what not to do, even if you’re using just your personal assets, because you’re using them for your company. So, once you’ve educated them, then they get a certificate, some kind of certification and then they can start being part of this program. It is actually a very well done program. It is all measured, as well.
More on this topic at Employee Advocacy: The Ultimate Handbook.


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