How Employee Engagement Drives Employee Advocacy

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Why is employee engagement critical to boosting employee advocacy? What are the benefits of employee engagement? How do you measure ROI on engagement? I’ve spoken to Dave Hawley who is the VP of Marketing and Sales Development at SocialChorus to get the answers.
You can listen to the podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud (embed below) or keep reading for a transcript of our conversation.

You’re “on a mission to bring work to life”?

Yeah, for sure. One of the key things that we look at SocialChorus is how can we get better information to employees? How can we allow employees and the enterprises they work for to better connect? One of the problems that we’ve noticed, and we’re solving for large enterprise customers, everyone would agree that employees are your greatest assets, but it’s difficult for them to keep up with the amount of content. They’re largely not engaged with the enterprise mission, values, and priorities – lots of research out there on that topic. And they certainly generally are not empowered to represent, advocate, or refer for the enterprise, and that costs the enterprise billions.
The good news is that mobile has changed how we live. Your personal life, you have a smartphone, you’ll get your news, your recommendations, your files, your social networks, your apps. You can organise those in a way that you can see the signals from the noise. And it’s very easy for the average person with a smartphone that’s using them to go ahead and say “These are the things that are important to me, and that I want to stay focused on in my life.” Your enterprise life does not do that for you. Company updates, access to people who have the information, getting to files, getting your business apps all happens really on the desktop across a series of different applications. It’s not easy to find what you’re looking for. It’s not easy to surface the signals from the noise.
And so, that’s really what we do with SocialChorus – we build mobile employee engagement applications that allow you to connect what’s happening in the company; the people, the value, the experiences, to be more engaged with relevant content and projects at your work life. And to help you as an individual grow as an employee, which of course has a myriad of benefits for the enterprise itself. And so that’s how we think about it – bringing work to life.

You head up both marketing and sales development at SocialChorus?

Yeah, there’s both the marketing, and fresh sales development is very much identifying and working with organisations and people – mostly communications, marketing leaders, sometimes HR, sometimes IT – to really figure out if this is the kind of investment that makes sense for their brand. And so, that starts at the top level with getting the story out about how employee engagement both impacts enterprise goals as well as employee goals. And we do a lot of that through digital marketing; mostly webinars, ebooks, information, where we go out and we mine from our customers the things that are working, both the best practices and the benefits, and we share that as broadly as we can. We’ve got a couple hundred thousand people we reach every month through those digital marketing mechanisms.
And then the Sales Development team is really spending time on the telephone answering particular questions about everything from regulations to social media policies, to IT questions about how do you log in and how does this get set up. And once we’ve found a good match with someone who’s very excited to move forward, we then pass those folks onto the sales team who work really closely with our customer care organisation to make sure that once someone’s decided to move in with employee engagement with our news app, that it is configured, customised, and branded to meet the goals of that enterprise.

What are some of the benefits of an engaged workforce?

There’s actually a couple of very clear benefits. So the first one, if you think about it, is time. Again, employees in any modern enterprise today are looking at intranets, they’re looking at emails, they’re looking at the company blog, they’re looking at Twitter handles from executives, they’re looking at HR systems, the list kind of goes on, and on, and on. It’s difficult to look at all those systems to know everything you need to know. And so what our app does is it brings, it aggregates all that information into a single feed, it allows the enterprise to say “These are the things my employees need to know today.” And it makes it really simple and easy for them to access that information, to know what’s prioritised, and when its appropriate to share that information with their social networks as well.
So just that amount of time that employees spend, hours daily just sifting through email – that’s disengaging, no one really enjoys that, and it takes a while to find the information. So that’s probably one of the biggest first benefits that our customer see. So you get that speed, you get faster action. Employees know where to focus, they know what’s important, they know what the executives are looking to do, and they know what’s happening more broadly in their network.
Another key point of this is aligning, again we talked a little bit about aligning to the employee, aligning and bringing work to life. You know, one of the things that we see consistently is that organisations use intranets that were never really designed for news communication to send information to their employees. That and email were the primary methods. And if you ask any employee how they’d like to get the information, well, they’d like the enterprise to meet them where they are. For us that means providing that kind of information in a mobile news app that they can read in two minutes a day, while they are at line for coffee, and they can know what’s important, and kind of move on. And they can access all the other applications they need when they need them, but they’re not digging through lots of applications as well, and this saves lots of money for the enterprise, in terms of making sure there’s no confusion, there’s no misunderstanding of what’s happening.
And the last benefit really, here, is what a lot of people call employee advocacy. So once you have an engaged employee who has relevant content and you’ve answered the question “What do they need to know today?”, many organisations will then make it easy for their employees to go ahead and share. There’s tons of data around this, you’ll see employees, their reach is more trusted, and it’s about 10 times your brand’s reach as well. So there’s lots of benefits for both the employee, and for the enterprise with what we call a news apps, which drives more engagement.

How does employee engagement boost employee advocacy?

Over the course of about 100 of these deployments of our technology, what we’ve seen is very simple. Your average employee does not wake up asking “What do I need to share today?” They wake up and ask “What do I need to know today?” And when you build employee advocacy and employee engagement applications, if your goal is simply to get the employees to share you will drastically limit your appeal to the employees, and you’ll limit your ability to roll out enterprise wide. And so what we’ve said is without truly engaging your employee you’ll never get the benefits of employee advocacy beyond a small group of people who are already inclined to socially share – typically that’s marketing and sales.
I think that it’s a big miss for large and mid-size enterprises to only look at what’s usually less than 5% of their employees as potential sharers of information. The other 90%, 95% of your employees will not share. They’re not naturally inclined to do so unless you give them something that’s valuable to them, because when you give them something valuable for them, for example the news and content they need to know on any given day, then they’re very likely to say “Hey, my network would benefit from this”, and they start sharing. And we’ve seen that time and time again. And so, really what we’ve found is that you can’t have one without the other, and you’re very much better off starting by engaging your employees with the news and content they need, rather than sending them information you want them to share with their personal networks.
dave hawley

How do you launch an employee engagement and advocacy programme in 30 days?

What you want to do is you wanna start with a group that is inclined to learn more. So you wanna start with a motivated group, you want to sit down, and you want to engage them with the kind of content, the information that they’re looking for. You want to provide it on a regular basis, so everyday there’s a place for them to go to see what the news and content is, you want to get their feedback very quickly. So you can see both if they’re in there, if they’re reading the content, if they’re sharing the content.
And we do things like support surveys in-app, so you can start to get a sense of where they’re headed for. And you want to make sure that they’re trained, and that they understand the social media policies – what to share, what not to share. And if you can, as you do with our app, there’s certain information you can and you can’t share. And then you want to roll it out company-wide. So sort of one, two, three. Start small, very quickly get feedback on the content that the employees want, make sure they’re trained on how to use the application or your process, and then get feedback and roll it out. That’s essentially what you want to start in the first 30 days.

Can it take longer than 30 days for large organisations?

Absolutely. I mean, we’ve seen this a number of times. So, larger organisations will start by looking company wide and trying to find who are the groups that would most likely to benefit from this. And then that’s where we help, where we tend to stay more focused, and obviously as a start-up we work pretty nimbly. So I think it depends. Size of organisation does not always mean it goes slower. We’ve seen very large organisations move very quickly simply by focusing on where they think its going to have the biggest impact, and then creating a desire in the other departments and other parts of the world to have this application because it’s available in Europe, for example, or it’s available in the Consumer Packaged Good Division. But yes, absolutely true, sometimes large organisations work a little bit more slowly.

What are some of the typical pitfalls that companies should avoid?

The biggest one is providing information that you want them to share only. We see that time and time again, where there’s a new product launch, there’s a message from the CEO, there is corporate social responsibility content. That is all great content, absolutely, and you want your employees to be aware of it, but we see it time and time again, that people just put that content in there. So that’s one. You wanna look more broadly, you wanna think what’s on the mind of the employee, things like what’s happening internally, company culture, what’s the competition up to, what does the broader market landscape look like and how is it changing. These are the kinds of things that employees want to read as well. So you have to really balance it with things you want them to share, and things that they need to know, that’s number one.
Number two is they don’t update the content frequently enough. And if you think about it, it’s actually pretty simple. If you want a news app and you wanna keep your employees informed of the news, well, if they go back to the same application, they go there one day to get some news. They come back to the application the next day and it’s the exact same information, you’ve probably lost a lot of them right away because they expect real time updates, they expect the information to be curated, and they expect it to be timely. So number two is speed and making sure.
And then number three is make it easy. Right? I think if you look at the average enterprise application user, if they can’t figure out how to use your platform in 20 or 30 seconds, you’ve probably lost them. People are stretched for time. They have a very, very high bar for their consumer applications. If you look at something as simple as Yahoo! Weather, it only does one thing but it does it really well – it provides you the weather. If you look at things like Flipboard, wonderful news magazine, very easy to use, you can get what you’re looking for from a personal perspective. And the average enterprise user is going to bring those expectations that are set very high by application providers on the consumer side, and if they don’t get that same experience they’re very unlikely to use it unless they’re told to use it, they have to, for things like HR, for example. So I think those are probably the big three.

Are intranets only successful because you have to use them?

Yeah, and those have been successful because of that, because you’re forced to use it. If you need to get a pay stub or you need to change your insurance policy, or you need to file PTO, these are important things. So there’s never any impetus to make it user friendly. Right? People had to do it. I think when you see today is you have to think about your employees more like an audience, especially when they’re widely dispersed. And again, that pressure from the consumer world is really putting a lot of pressure on enterprise apps to think about the user, design from the user experience. Just about every intranet out there has been designed to ensure that people can get the information, but the idea of making it easy or entertaining, or informative, for example, those are not high on the list. And I think anybody who’s used a corporate intranet would say just about the same, with a couple exceptions I think.

What did Nestle Purina learn about employee engagement and advocacy?

Nestle is one of our largest customers, the Purina division, it uses the app as well as other divisions as well. They’re predominately focused on the pet food area as well. Couple of key lessons. So, employees are better at communicating certain messages. And I talked about it before, your employees are trusted by the people they’re sharing in social networks. If you’re talking about corporate social responsibility, and Purina does a ton of great stuff, it comes across so much better when the employee shares that they’re doing things like taking care for dogs, or doing the kinds of things that a company should be proud of. When the employee shares a “Hey, I’m excited to be a part of a company that’s going out and doing things that are good for the world”, it’s so much more authentic then when the company does it. When the company shares that, there’s some natural skepticism. When the employee’s there, actually going to the soup kitchen, or raising money, or doing a 5K run, and they’re really proud of it, those kind of messages come across so much better from the employees themselves.
Another big one, and I alluded to this as well, is feedback is crucial. And trying to please 10…, maybe as many as 20,000 employees with the different kinds of news and content all of them would like to see in any given day, it’s very difficult to predict that. And so what we’ve built into our application is the ability to survey, to get feedback, and actually look at what content’s being read, and what content…how long folks are reading it for, and how much they’re sharing it. So to be able to get that feedback both digitally, but also give the employees a chance to say what they’re looking for, it’s been huge. Because if you think about it, if you just produce news and content everyday but didn’t, of course ask your audience if they were getting what they were looking for, you probably wouldn’t…you wouldn’t have a great news programme.
Promotion is important too, never stop promoting. Always be talking about this. When we first learned that Nestle Purina was actually doing things like hanging up posters in the break room, and having a persistent button on the intranet and things like that, and this was a couple of years ago, we were very excited to see that they’re thinking about it as a marketing programme. You’re really marketing software and news and content to your employees the same way that the news on television pops us and reminds you “It’ll be on at 6:00 tonight.” Right? There are important things that you need to know everyday, and so to continually promote that, make sure your employees are aware that there’s a value-add programme and application here. Very important to watch and to ensure that the usage and the growth continue, and you get the productivity benefits that every enterprise is looking for.

Related: How Nestle Use Social Media for Recruitment [Case Study].

How do you measure your return on investment?

I think the first thing is that you’re going to see a more engaged workforce. And if you read any of the research out here, certainly in the United States, but across the world as well, the number of disengaged employees ranges anywhere from 70% to as high as 90%. What this means really is that employees are in there, they’re not engaged with their work, they’re not really sure what’s going on, what’s happening. What this really leads to is lower productivity and higher attrition. So people do less and they leave more often. And any business leader will tell you those are two things that can kill a company. So what you really want to look for is people reading the information, understanding what the organisation stands for, and what the near-term goals are, and then you’d see more employees falling in line with those visions, those goals, and making sure that their work is aligned.
And it’s not just the productivity benefits but also the speed at which information gets moved around the organisation. We talked about this a little bit earlier, about having to look at logs, and emails, and intranets, and HR systems, and external blogs, the list goes on and on. Never mind, again, spending several hours in email a day, just being able to get the information you need to know today. And what we talk a lot about here at SocialChorus is surfacing the signals from the noise, so actually understanding what the organisation wants you to do, what’s happening more broadly, get you as an employee to a place where your day starts earlier, you can get more focused, and you actually can get a lot done. So productivity benefits, attrition benefits, as well as speed benefits. I think those are the things that we tend to look at, and certainly the benefits actually go on from there. Again, a lot of people talk about employee advocacy, so you have a marketing and communications benefit in that employees are sharing information with an audience about 10 times as big as your brand’s audience. So that’d probably be the big fourth one as well. Well, marketing, certainly communication leaders love to see the reach, the trusted reach, and the impact on positive sentiment.

What are some of the considerations for organisations when choosing the right technology?

It really depends on your goals, and it’s actually pretty simple. All of those companies [Dynamic Signal, LinkedIn Elevate, Hootsuite Amplify] have done a good job creating employee advocacy apps. So if you wanna get a couple 100 people in your company sharing company news and updates, these are fine applications. What we’ve said, and we learned this a couple of years ago, that’s why we redesigned or app as well as our process about a year ago. What we’ve said is that’s great but if you have 10,000 or 20,000 employees, even if you have 1,000 employees, you’re missing a huge opportunity to better engage, not only engage and grow the productivity in your organisation, but to turn people who are not inclined to socially share into social sharers.
You will not do that with an app that’s designed just to share, you’ll turn off 10%, as many as 90% of your audience. And it take a long time to turn somebody who’s not inclined to share company information into a person who would share if you don’t engage them first. And so that’s the big difference between this group of applications that you see here, is that they’re all designed for one goal only, and they’re very clear – we want you to share this information. And again, if you want to get a couple of 100 people sharing socially, it’s a fine app to do it. We’re really trying to get thousands and tens of thousands of employees. And we’ve been able to do this, to engage with this application, everyday, and to share maybe every other day. Those apps are designed to get a couple-hundred people to check in once a week, and maybe share once a week. There was a couple of exceptions in there, but if you look at a company like LinkedIn that’s a little different – they’re a bit more of an ad network, right? So what they’re really trying to do is to get your employees to engage more with LinkedIn. But the rest of them are really looking at creating social sharing apps. That’s kind of the big difference.

What companies are doing great things in this space?

Well, there’s a ton. A couple that come to mind for me is CDW, it’s a big electronics retailer here in the United States, and the way they’re running that programme over there has been great. They did start about a year ago with social sharing, but they very quickly took that group and changed the content up for other types of organisations. So they’re looking at finance, and IT, and accountants, and engineers, and they’re using them purely as a news item. And you know, these are groups that are typically not going to be inclined, and not super socially savvy like their first group, which I believe was marketing and sales. And what they found was that the marketing and sales folks who were sharing the other content actually were more inclined to read the content that was being engaged with the other parts of the organisation.
So, a real nice story about you can start small with some sharing but if you want to go broad in your organisation and appeal to all different kinds of employees, engage them with great content. And they’re seeing some real good benefits there, again, across not only sales and marketing, but finance, IT, engineering, accounting. Just they’re feeling more connected to the organisation, they’re seeing the productivity and the speed of business benefits as well.

A slightly different story, another great one that I like as well about connecting your employees, giving them what they need today is Target, who, when they launched a new product, and a new partnership with TOMS Shoes, you know that’s a big retailer that does a lot for the environment. You know they were very proud of it, and what they did was they used our application to share the press release and all the information with their employees first, before it hit the press. So it gave them kind of this great employee engagement and advocacy story in the sense that the employees had the information, they didn’t read about it in the newspaper. They heard it from the company and leadership first, and because of that they were more inclined to say “Hey, this is news. I’m very proud of this. This is something that’s great about working at Target. I’m going to share this out as well.” And so another good example of if you get the engagement first, and there’s lots of different ways to do that, the share will come naturally and it will be more authentic.

What’s the next big thing for employee advocacy and engagement?

I think you’ll see a lot of these vendors shift over to where we are now with engagement focus. I think they’re going to start to run into small deployments of just a couple hundred folks. So I think that, and that’s already really happening, we’re getting a lot of folks chasing us. I think that’s one. I think then the next challenge for the vendors is to increase relevancy, and to increase personal relevancy. Right? And so that’s certainly something that we’re very close to launching here at SocialChorus is the ability to say “Jorgen, you’re in Europe, you’re working in…”, let’s say you’re working in finance, and a couple of personal things about yourself. “This is the information that’s probably most applicable to you, and here’s your opportunity to subscribe to that information or not subscribe to it.”
Whereas I’m Dave, I’m on the west coast, I’m in marketing, in California, and so I’m going to have different information that I’m looking for as well. So I think that relevancy and personalisation component is going to be huge, in the sense that people, or employees, are able to just kind of cull the information that they want very quickly and easily out of the system.
And I think we’re seeing things like location-based content personalisation as well as the ability to measure this beyond just the share. Again, looking at the engagement that you’re creating, getting feedback from employees, and then tying that to real direct ROI. Something we can do today, and something that you don’t see a lot from the marketplace. So I think that’s going to need to happen in 2016, and I think we’re going to be excited to deliver it.
Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveHawley33 and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.
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.


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