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.
What is Employee Advocacy?
“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.
Employee Advocacy: Why?
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.
First Steps to Employee Advocacy:
Ready to start with employee advocacy? Here are the steps you need to get started.
1) Trust and Freedom:
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.
- Trust motivates shares, it encourages genuine conversations, and it builds the confidence in your employees that you trust their judgment. A specialist employee advocacy tool can’t make that for you – it needs to come from within your brand before any further steps.
- Freedom is closely tied with the previous point of trust: while you may want your employees to advocate for you and your brand, you have to recognize that you can’t force them to do so, and that’s ok. One of the benefits of employee advocacy is that people will trust your employees more than they trust your brand, as long as your employees have the confidence to share your content freely, out of their own will.
2) Set KPIs:
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:
- Who do you want to reach?
- What is your target audience?
- Do you want to reach your existing demographic, or do you want to reach out to a different demographic?
- Do you want to increase brand awareness?
- Do you aim to increase the positive perception towards your brand?
- Do you want to focus on customers (including potential customers)?
- Do you want to drive more traffic and leads?
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).
3) Set Clear Guidelines:
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:
- It supports your brand
- It’s share-worthy
- It has value to them
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.
4) Employee Advocacy Tools:
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:
- Addvocate (addvocate.com);
- Circulate.it (circulate.it), which also integrates with Hootsuite;
- Command Post (getcommandpost.com);
- Dynamic Signal (dynamicsignal.com);
- Everyone Social (everyonesocial.com);
- People Linx (peoplelinx.com);
- Social Chorus (socialchorus.com);
- Socialook (socialook.net); you can see Socialook in action here with live coverage of influencers for #SMWF (Social Media World Forum – North America);
- Sprinklr (sprinklr.com), mainly thanks to the acquisition of Dachis Group, bringing even stronger ‘brand analytics, content optimization and employee advocacy to Sprinklr’s industry leading Social Relationship Platform’;
- Voicestorm (voicestorm.com), which also integrates with Salesforce.
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:
- Content syndication (to make sure there’s always content available for your employees to share);
- Content publishing (the tool needs to be able to integrate with your employees’ social profiles);
- Gamification for your employees (for rewards, perks, and recognition);
- Performance management;
- Collaboration with other advocates;
- Social monitoring;
- Advocacy monitoring (to quickly identify the top advocates; most tools that allow gamification will also have this embedded in them);
- Analytics (measuring engagement and performance).
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?
How To Measure Employee Advocacy:
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:
- So they can see how much the impact of their efforts: currently they’ll only be able to see the effect in terms of engagement (e.g., likes/ favorites, comments/replies, and reshares). However, a social analytics tool can also tell you the impact regarding reach and impressions, sentiment, etc.
- So they can see how their efforts fit in the overall brand scope (e.g., how many of their shares have contributed to more sales? How many of their shares have helped increase total traffic to your site?)
- So they can learn from what worked and what didn’t.
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:
- What metrics to track
- Why you want to follow those metrics
- How to track those metrics
- Who to report those metrics to
Here are a few examples of metrics you can track, to get you started:
- Traffic driven
- Sales and ROI
- Employee conversion rate (how many of your employees have “converted” to being advocates?)
- Employee activity (who are the most active advocates? How often are they engaging?)
- Employee influence (how has this programme helped boost your employee’s online influence?)
- Impact of advocacy (how does employee advocacy affect your online channels? This can be anything from follower/fan growth to general engagement towards your accounts and digital assets)
- Sentiment change (towards your brand; this can also have a direct impact on your brand’s NPS score)
- Reach (is employee advocacy boosting your organic reach?)
- Demographics change (are you noticing a shift in demographics due to employee advocacy? Are your employees bringing in a new group of fans and followers?)
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.