What drives your brand? A website is a great starting point, and if you’re on social media, that’s even better. Perhaps you’re running online and offline campaigns on a regular basis, to drive sales, traffic, or maybe better visibility and a more positive perception of your brand. What about your employees?
While often overlooked as “the people who work for the company,” employees are the most significant marketing asset that a brand can have. Employees can be a brand’s most prominent advocates, yet they’re often an untapped territory. Here’s where employee advocacy comes into play.
“Employee advocacy” is a term used to describe the exposure that employees generate for brands using their online assets. While social media is often the main medium for employee advocacy, these “online assets” include email, chat, forums, discussion boards and more.
While I’ve already mentioned that your employees can be your best and biggest asset, several reasons justify this. Some of your employees might hold more online reach and influence than your CEO – perhaps even more than your own brand! However, regardless of their influence or reach, your employees can all help you achieve your brand goals and KPIs.
Before we dive into the ins and outs, here’s a quick note on reach and influence, two metrics that play a significant role in employee advocacy.
The reach of your employees combined can easily span beyond your brand reach, and beyond the platforms you’re currently on. While you’re focussing your efforts on Facebook and Twitter, your employees might already have a presence on other social networks you haven’t explored yet, like Reddit, Tumblr, Path…the list goes on.
While “diluting” your online presence is often frowned upon (i.e. being on so many social networks just for the sake of presence), your employees are probably already on these platforms, so your reach can expand thanks to them, and you won’t have to make any compromises on your existing social strategy.
Additionally, with more people and brands joining social networks every single day, networks like Facebook will favor people’s reach over your Page’s reach. If you’re already paying for ads or promoting your content on Facebook, you’re paying to have a reach similar to your employee’s unfiltered reach. That in itself is a great asset to have!
Influence goes beyond a Klout or Kred score; influence isn’t something that can be gamified via a score or a sophisticated algorithm. Influence comes with authenticity, trustworthiness and reach. Additionally, bear in mind that offline influence is rarely counted into online algorithms like Klout: your employees may be influential with what they do outside of social networks, sometimes more than they portray on social media. So, while you can keep an eye on Klout scores, Kred or other influence algorithms, you’re only looking at an indication of their online influence, not their overall influence.
Ready to start with employee advocacy? Here are the steps you need to get started.
An employee advocacy plan will only work if your company has a transparent culture of trust and freedom. Advocacy can’t be forced, nor can it be bought.
Just like with everything else in marketing, start this program by setting goals and KPIs, i.e., what you want to achieve, and how you will measure your achievements. These KPIs will tell you whether you’re reaching your goals, and how well you’re doing so. KPIs aren’t just any metrics – these are key metrics you’ll rely on to tell you how your plan is performing.
So, what are your goals? What do you want your employees to advocate for? More importantly: what do you want your employees to share? Besides “spreading the word”, perhaps you want your employees to share your latest deals or your upcoming products.
The good news is if you already have clear marketing objectives and brand KPIs, you’ve already done half your homework. Your employee advocacy objectives feed directly into your existing goals:
These are just some examples of objectives, but they’ll differ for every company – while some brands focus on ROI and sales, others focus more on traffic and sentiment, leading to the infamous NPS (Net Promoter Score).
Have clear guidelines, but not too restrictive to counteract our first point on trust and freedom. Don’t impose guidelines, but if you can, crowdsource them. Make the guidelines easy to understand, easy to follow. You need guidelines that enable advocacy instead of restricting it: guidelines on what to share, how to share, ideas on where to share content, and an outline of the incentives that employees can benefit from.
Don’t neglect training and support: feel free to appoint a point of reference (an “employee advocacy champion” if you wish) who can assist and give advice should your employees need it. Make sure everything’s covered.
Of course, one of the first things to consider is: what would you like your employees to share?
Remember: what your employees want to share is entirely their prerogative. Whether you want them to share your latest deals, information about your products and services, or the most recent articles from your content site, it needs to be something that your employees consider relevant to them and their followers. If your employees don’t feel that your content is relevant to them or their network, the chance of a share will be very, very small. This is why you need to make sure that the content you want to be shared encompasses an array of interests, to reflect the diversity of interests, opinions, and voices among your employees. This diversity has the potential to increase engagement, making sure that there’s a diverse selection of content available to your employees, content that’s fit for them and their own social/online networks.
So, how do you find content for your brand and your employees? For your employees to share your content, this needs to tick at least one of the following criteria:
If your content doesn’t tick any of those three boxes or at least strike a good balance between them, rest assured that your employees will not share your content – it’ll look uninteresting, spammy, and unlike them.
There are several employee advocacy tools out there. Do you need one? Not necessarily.
As long as you have ways to measure advocacy and return on investment, nothing is stopping your employees from using great tools like Buffer or HootSuite to share content. However, a tool dedicated to employee advocacy makes it a lot easier for you to view our performance, and for your employees to share your content.
If you’re looking for a tool, or if you’re interested to see what an employee advocacy tool can do for you, here are a few personal recommendations to get you started:
Some of these tools can help with content distribution and sharing, enabling you to share content with your employees and enabling them to share it with their networks. Other tools specialize in gamifying advocacy, so their primary focus is on rewarding employees rather than helping them share content.
Like with most tools, there’s no best tool, but you can find what’s best for you. An ideal employee advocacy tool merges content sharing, publishing, monitoring, gamification, and analytics all in one platform. However, some of these features might not be essential for you (e.g., gamification), so make sure you note down your main requirements when shopping for an advocacy tool.
Here are some of the features to look out for:
While it’s easy to see how you can benefit from employee advocacy, this raises a question: how do employees benefit?
Give your employees something exclusive, something their friends and followers can’t get anywhere else. Enable your employees to be the go-to person in their circles for any information and content related to your brand. It’s likely that your employees’ friends already approach your employees if they have an issue with your products and services, yet chances are your employees will either refer them back to your website or your help desk, or give them the same information they can find on your site. Your employees shouldn’t be a stepping-stone or an extra-step to the current process – they should be an enabler.
As for perks, whether you choose to give out bonuses, exclusive access to events, “virtual badges” (like on Foursquare) or internal recognition, the size and potential of these perks are purely limited by budget, company policies and imagination – without going overboard, of course. If you don’t know where to start, why not crowdsource a few ideas from your employees?
Lastly, let’s have a look at analytics and the best ways to measure employee advocacy.
As useful and rewarding as employee advocacy can be, it can quickly get out of control if you let it run without measuring it. Track how it’s performing, as that’s the only way you can tell whether it’s working or not. Then, share the results with your employees, mainly for three reasons:
You need to measure advocacy. Unless you have a clear way of identifying and measuring advocacy, you should not start an employee advocacy program.
So, what can you measure? There are so many metrics you can track, and that is precisely the reason why you need to focus on those that are more relevant to you. These metrics can have an impact on several aspects, from engagement to reach, from sales to ROI and beyond. Once you’re ready to choose the best parameters for you, make sure you’re clear on:
Here are a few examples of metrics you can track, to get you started:
Last but not least, I recommend merging these metrics with your existing sales metrics. This will make it easier for you to prove the ROI of employee advocacy, which you may have to report on eventually.
Earned media is an important metric to look at, but sometimes you’ll have to justify paying for an employee advocacy tool, or perhaps just the need and power of social media.
More on this topic at Employee Advocacy: The Ultimate Handbook.
Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.