Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
How SAS Does Employee Advocacy
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Employee advocacy. Everyone’s talking about it. But who’s actually doing it and have a story to tell?

I’ve spoken to Alli Soule of SAS, a global software company to learn more. Have a listen below or keep reading for a summary of our conversation.

And don’t forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Tell us about SAS and what you do there?

SAS is an analytics software company and we are based in Cary, North Carolina. We’re a global company, we have offices all over the place and our specialty is, analytic software so very much a tech company. We create and sell and market all of our own software here in-house. So that’s a little bit about what we do and what I do here is I’m not technical at all, I have a background in public relations, communications and specifically my job here at SAS has gone down a social media path, so my job is to train people on social media and how to use social media in their jobs to make their everyday processes a little bit more efficient. I am constantly giving Twitter 101 training and looking for the newest tools and tips and trips and hacks and things like that to pass along to our employees.

What prompted SAS to launch an employee advocacy program?

Back in 2014 we actually launched a social media survey to all of our employees and we had somewhere in the range of 14,000 employees. And we’d never really taken the temperature on social media at SAS, we were sort of guessing and using anecdotal evidence, and so we wanted some real data. And we heard back from almost half of our employees, we knew that social would be a very polarising topic and that people would either love it or hate it and that definitely came through in our survey. But what we heard in our survey which was really useful was that a lot of people were really asking for training and that they were reticent to use social media in a work related capacity because they were afraid they were going to do something wrong or they were going to tweet something and get fired, just were sort of scared. And so we sort of took that feedback and said okay, what can we do on a scalable, organised, coordinated effort to sort of help with this issue? And that was really the genesis of our employee advocacy program. We wanted to do something that was a little bit more heavier on the training and the personal branding and the development, individual development side, we feel like that’s what differentiates our program a little bit from other employee advocacy programs. For us it’s not so much about just sharing SAS content or branded content, it’s about sort of figuring out okay, who are you on social media and who’s your audience, who do you feel comfortable with? And let’s equip you with the training that you need and then we’ll teach you how to find content that matches with what you want to sort of stand for and be associated with and the people that you’re trying to connect with. That’s how it all came together.

Did any specific use cases emerge with employee advocacy?

You know the cool thing about this program is that we wanted to do a very clear cross section of the company. I think when people think about social media they automatically think about sales and marketing and individuals like that. And we really wanted to sort of make that very broad. So we have people from our HR department, we have a work life department here at SAS, we have people there. And again we just wanted to give them sort of a foundation base knowledge of responsible social media use. Things as basic as do you know our guidelines and policies? Do you know that you can’t have SAS in your Twitter username or if you see something negative on social media about SAS did you know that there’s a process for it? So there were some basic foundation information that we wanted to pass along to this group. Again that we had heard a lot through our survey and that we had seen anecdotally.

What types of content can we see in this program and what has garnered the most engagement?

Our program is sort of chronological so we start with the very baseline education about your profiles first and then we move into engagement, so the liking, the sharing, the commenting, sort of those small significant actions that say that you’re paying attention. And then eventually we get to the content piece. And what we’ve done, we’ve actually purchased an employee advocacy platform that we made available to our participants in the program and we put both third-party content and SAS brand content in there. Having third-party content in there was key to us because again for us it wasn’t about everybody turning into little SAS parrots or little SAS robots, we wanted them again to be finding the right content that would resonate with people in their networks and oftentimes that’s not SAS content. If you’re a graphic designer, heavy duty analytics blog posts are not going to resonate with your audience, so it was about figuring out the right ratio of things to add.

And what we found is that the content that’s resonated best has been analytics content that is usually tied to some sort of top of mind area. So for example we had an article about SAS and the Zika virus and how SAS is being used to help figure out how to combat the Zika virus and that had huge pick up with some of our folks in the program. Because again, it’s top of mind, everybody understands Zika and to know that there’s a SAS connection in there is sort of a universal thing. Other things that we had that were very popular among our employees were things around our SAS events because again those were more universal in nature so everybody could sort of jump on the bandwagon because they have some sort of tie to a SAS event. So that’s really what’s done the best and we always find that company culture type of content just does great. Our company is known for being a great place to work and people never leave SAS, we have a very low turnover rate and so I think a lot of people always want us to pull back the curtain and show you what it’s like to work here, so any time we show the campus off, anytime we celebrate some ridiculous holiday like World Emoji Day, anything like that that always gets good pick up too.

What have been the benefits of this program to the company and also to individual employees?

I’ll start with our employees. What’s been really gratifying is that we surveyed our employees before, during and after our program and we’re going to continue surveying them to get their feedback. And what’s been nice is that we hear things like I was intimidated by social media but now I’m not. Or now I know when I see an issue I know the person I can contact. It’s just been this nice empowering feeling I think for a lot of our folks here. On top of that, one thing’s been incredibly gratifying for me personally is that when we started our program we invited a lot of people with varying degrees of social media knowledge. So we had some really exceptional, smart, experienced social media practitioners and we heard back from them and they said they still got something out of the program and they weren’t bored to tears or completely tuning us out. So that was really gratifying to know that even the most advanced people could actually get something from our program. So that feeling of empowerment and pride in what they were doing on social was really, really excellent, and we heard that over and over again.

And in terms of the company, sort of along that same line, the company and our leadership is incredibly proud of our employees because we have some really smart people and social is such an easy way to shed light on those people. I mean what better way to show your credibility as a brand and a company than to spotlight your employees who are just exceptional and doing good work? So for the company it’s just been a nice indirect way to sort of brag a little bit. And on top of that just when we reach out to our leadership to basically run the idea of this whole program by them, no vice president or chief of XYZ is ever going to balk when you say “Can I please train your employees on how to be more responsible on social media?” They all are in favour of that, in fact, a couple of them said “Can I do it too? I’d like to be involved.” It’s just, I hate the term win-win, but it really has been definitely that for sure.

Looking back at your employee advocacy program, is there anything you would have done differently?

Yeah. For me specifically two things come immediately to mind. The first for me I was the program coordinator and so I sort of needed to keep my finger on the pulse of everything that was going on. And one thing that I plan to do a better job of as we scale this program is setting up a Twitter list of all of our participants and making sure that I’m going in and engaging with their content, giving them shout outs and praise for when they do the right things or they’re doing something exceptional. We found that that was a huge motivator. People like to have an attaboy or attagirl. And especially when they’re learning new skills, and so I want to do a better job of that personally. I didn’t do enough of it. And also we want to be sure that we’re elevating that type of thing. So for example, if we see someone who has just a really cool post on LinkedIn for example, our brand could share that. So by me being a little bit more in tune with some of those posts we could do a better job of sort of celebrating those employees again and what they’re doing.

And the second thing is I would spend more time doing profile reviews. So I’m going to be, or not profile reviews, but more profile workshops. So for us, having a solid profile before you even get started is critical because on social there’s for every post you make, every thing you do, there’s always a link to your profile right next door basically. So everything can lead back to your profile and having that good profile is very important, so just spending a little more time on that and digging into it. Because we had some people who were really invested in their profiles and others who just made minor changes, so which one will be a little bit more consistent about that.

Are active employees in this program in general more successful, more informed or more engaged than the average employee?

Yes I would definitely say so. One interesting statistic that we were able to pull after the program ended is we have a pretty involved social listening program here at SAS and we’re using social to measure a lot of different things and one thing that we do is we try to keep track of our employee conversations around SAS and around the brand and how much they’re contributing to it. And we were interested in sort of okay, of every SAS employee that we know is on social media talking about SAS and talking about the brand, how much of our employee advocates are participating in that conversation? How much are they making up of that conversation? And we found that it was about 88%. So this group of employee advocates was 88% of the conversations, the employee conversations around the brand, were coming from these employee advocates. So we’ve definitely found them to be highly influential, definitely contributing to these brand conversations and they just continually sort of elevate their status online.

In what functions do you typically find these employees?

All across the company which has been really cool and what we wanted. So when we did our first phase of the program we hand chose people that we knew about and got recommendations feeding us around the company. We knew that we’d have quite a lot of people in marketing but we really tacked a lot of people in R&D and that’s been really interesting because we see how different groups of people use social media and what they trend towards or what they’re not really interested in. And then we’ve gotten people from our HR department as I mentioned before who are doing a lot of recruiting on LinkedIn and using social media in that capacity. We have people as I mentioned in our work life department, we have a librarian here at SAS, she’s been using social media because as you know social is a great way to do research and stumble upon new things that would take you ten websites to find, you can have it aggregated in one place. We’ve definitely seen that pick up from across the company.

How do you measure success and are you able to tie back metrics to ROI?

Great question. So as I mentioned to you earlier we’re doing a lot of surveying so it was important to us to, you know we had some general goals at the beginning of the program, but really we wanted to hear what the goals of our participants were so that we made sure that-what’s in it for them? They don’t care what our goals are for the program. They want to get something out of it. So we tracked a lot of those goals from the beginning and a lot of common goals were things like I want to promote SAS but I want to do it with an authentic voice or I want to get more followers and have the right followers, or I want to help evangelise social media across the company. One of my favourite quotes about that was “I’m drunk off the champagne and I want to get others drunk too.” So those are the types of goals that our participants had. So we found that out at the beginning, we tried to tailor the program to those goals, having specific trainings about things like that and then at the end, we said okay, think back to your goals, did you make progress, do you still have work to do, did you not meet them, etc. And we actually found that 90% of our participants said that they made significant progress on their goals and about 27% said that they met their goals. So those are some of the ways that we sort of measured success.

We tried to stay away from vanity metrics, because as we know that can only tell you part of the story. But we still did see things like, so our program was three months long and on average a new, one of our participants would get I think an increase of 64 connections on LinkedIn and 62 new followers on Twitter. So even though those are vanity metrics we did see numbers like that increase. We also looked at things like, on LinkedIn you can see what percentile you fall in with respect to profile views in comparison to, I can’t remember all the different metrics, but one of them is you can see sort of where you stand among other employees in your company. So what we did is we had our folks check that number and we found that individuals in our program were the top five percentile for profile views among all SAS employees on LinkedIn. So those were some of the metrics that we tried to use.

In terms of ROI that’s a tougher one. We have a social selling program here at SAS, and that revolves around numbers and quotas and meeting things like that. And what they do with social selling is they have certain metrics that they maintain in our CRM that basically ask did social media have any bearing in this particular sale? So a salesperson is able to denote that. And what we did is we invited our social selling leads to be part of our program to see if there was any training that they could use or anything that they could repurpose for their program to again contribute to that bottom line and that’s been wonderful. We already had a really good working relationship with them but they’re repurposing a ton of our training now and they’re making it mandatory for sales and in addition to that as we scale we’re actually inviting a lot more sales people to be part of the program, part of employee advocacy, so that’s probably the clearest ROI, bottom line stat I can give you.

What type of technology is aiding this program?

So we’ve definitely relied on free tools and a mixture of free tools and paid tools, so in terms of free tools, my team is a huge fan of Buffer. So we’re constantly educating people about Buffer and how to use that. Feedly is another big one. As I mentioned before, we have an employee advocacy platform that we really like, Dynamic Signal. We made a part of training mandatory in order to unlock your license to Dynamic Signal so we sort of used that as a carrot almost for our training program. It worked out nicely.

What’s next for your employee advocacy program and where do you think the trends are heading?

At the end of our program we asked everybody “would you recommend this to your colleagues?”. Because if we heard a resounding no we were going to sort of sulk off into a dark alley and luckily we had 94% of our participants say yes, I would definitely recommend this to a colleague. So we took that and ran with it. So now we literally at the end of this month, beginning of next month are launching this second iteration of our program and basically where before we sort of hand selected individuals, in this next iteration we have basically issued an open call and say, “Hey everybody, if you want to be in this program we’d love to have you, here’s what it entails.” In addition to that we actually got recommendations from individuals in our first phase. So that’s how we’re moving forward that way and it’s going to be sort of an always on program. So we don’t plan to sort of stop and start, we’re just going to keep going with training in office hours in all the elements of our program moving forward. Sort of 12 months a year and then just continue on boarding sort of waves of employees as we go along.

Follow Alli on Twitter @AlliSoule and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

More on this topic at Employee Advocacy: The Ultimate Handbook.