When it comes to marketing, nothing works better for a brand’s representation, than a recommendation from someone who has experience or practical knowledge of the organization. Although this is probably the most effective when coming from an entirely impartial source, employees can also work as reliable advocates for a company and social media is the perfect platform for exercising this.
In the digital age that we live in today, social media plays a huge role in the marketing and promotion of a brand and digital communication is paramount to reach the broadest market possible. Content shared from a company’s official accounts can be effective to a degree, however, it can lack sincerity, and by encouraging employees to get involved in the endorsement of the company, their message may come across as being more genuine and as less of a marketing ploy. Employee advocacy is the fastest growing means of building brand engagement, and by prompting staff to post relevant content on their social network accounts and to generate discussion surrounding topics to do with the company, they can assist in sharing a different perspective on the organization and communicate their values. It is probable that a large number of employees already have their online social networks with whom they interact, meaning preformed audiences that are available to be accessed.
In order for employee advocacy to work, however, it is vital for staff to have confidence in the brand and to have the desire to work to make things better; because after all, if you can’t sell your company to your employees, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to sell it to your customers. For this reason, employee engagement is essential, which can be achieved by making the workplace a positive atmosphere and ensuring your employees are happy.
An increasing number of firms are adopting this technique to promote their brands; here are three companies who use employee advocacy:
AT&T, one of the world’s leading communications companies, launched an employee advocacy program called “Social Circle” in 2009, in which they reached out to their social media savvy staff members to become involved in the promotion of the company, using their social network accounts. The launch came as the company recognized the growing benefits of digital communication for marketing and the importance of building a trustworthy and genuine name for themselves. As a large percentage of the staff within the organisation were already active on social media, well established social circles of friends or followers had already been formed, meaning the potential for AT&T to reach thousands of people that the organisation may not usually reach; as well as personalising the brand with the voice of employees, as opposed to corporate channels.
The aim of Social Circle was to boost the reputation, rather than marketing and approximately 2,300 members from within the company voluntarily share and re-share information and news about the firm, giving the organization real human voices. The software boasts elements that make it quicker and easier for the AT&T employees to participate in advocacy, such as a feature called the “Hub” that provides members with preselected content that they are then free to edit and share to their chosen network such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, directly from the Social Circle Hub. This software is available on mobile devices, as well as desktops, so members can choose when and where they wish to use it.
As of February 2014, the results of the program have been good, showing an ROI of an estimated media value of over $1 million; a community of 1533 members, who have produced over 20,000 social media posts and audience engagement is over 400,000. They found that people are much more likely to engage in dialogue with employees of the company than official channels and it gives employees the opportunity to express interesting viewpoints about ongoing matters, increasing engagement and satisfaction within the company.
Another champion of employee advocacy is HP Software (part of Hewlett Packard Enterprises). They have taken the strategy onboard and have over 300 brand ambassadors within the company, of whom work in departments ranging from sales to engineering.
HP Software has incorporated a publishing platform called Everyone Social into their employee advocacy program, which they chose for its ease of use and provision to accommodate their complex business structure. Senior Digital Marketing Manager of HP Software, Zealous Wiley, told SocialMedia.org that they “wanted a platform that could support all of our different business units and that advocates could use to share content from anywhere at any time.”
The platform has been developed to help employers curate content that is shared by their staff and includes features such as a stream of approved material available for edit and circulation on their chosen channel. The software also provides analytics about the effectiveness and reach of the organization’s social media activity and can aid the firm in their marketing strategy by identifying room for improvement. An application version of the software has also been released this month for use on mobile devices, making it even easier for employees to share content directly from their phone or tablet on the go.
In the development of HP Software’s employee advocacy program, they recruited individuals who were already active social media users; however, extensive training was offered to guide employees through the Everyone Social platform and advice on the best techniques for engaging readers on social media. Although some are willing to be advocates of the company, based on their commitment alone, they are considering offering incentives within the company to encourage employees to get on board, such as certification and increased gamification.
IBM is one of the world’s most prominent and most successful enterprises and with over 200,000 members of staff, they believe that their employees are the biggest influencers for their brand. Employees refer to themselves as ‘IBMers,’ which standing alone could work as effective advocacy, implying that the staff is proud to associate themselves with the brand and the pet name somewhat humanizes a company which could otherwise be seen as intimidating due to its size.
IBM has a couple of programs in place to aid their employee advocacy, and one of these is their Redbooks Thought Leadership Program. What this is, is a platform for sharing a range of ‘thought leadership’ blogs on a variety of topics and IBMers are offered the opportunity of taking part in a one week social media residency, in which they are taught how to improve their blogging and social media skills, with the commitment to blog for Redbooks in the future. This benefits the company and employees produce quality content relevant to the organization and share their own stories and experiences. There are currently over 2,000 blog posts available to read from over 500 thought leaders, covering a variety of different business topics and these can be accessed via desktop or the Redbooks app available for mobile devices.
In addition to Redbooks, IBM launched an employee advocacy program called IBM Social Business in May 2014, in which they lined up 200 subject experts from various areas of the business and gave them access to content to be shared share and help them to build an external presence with. Similar to the platforms used by AT&T and HP, the software provides material in a virtual hub, which allows members to share and edit the approved information to their chosen channel at a pre-scheduled time; a helpful tool for targeting audiences in different time-zones. The software also allows IBM to measure how effective their employee advocacy is with analytics of how many shares occur on social media and the engagement they attract.
How you can adopt this strategy within your company:
- Create employee engagement within the company; those who are happy in their job are more likely to feel inclined to promoting the company. Offering incentives may also encourage employees to get involved.
- Provide training and access to tips and tools for your employees. Even if they have previous experience of using social media, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they know how to produce content and engage with others on a level that will benefit the business.
- Provide examples of content for employees to share, or use software similar to those mentioned above; employees are more likely to get involved if they don’t have to take the time to source all the material themselves. It’s also good to set guidelines about the type of content that is appropriate or not.
- Use an employee advocacy platform like some of the examples above; they are great for speeding up and simplifying the content sharing process and can build a social community amongst the staff.
More on this topic at Employee Advocacy: The Ultimate Handbook.