How Vodafone Dials Up Employee Advocacy

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Vodafone. The world’s 2nd largest mobile phone operator. When you’re in the business of connecting people, you have to practice what you preach. So who they gonna call? Employee Advocacy.

I’ve had a chat with Kimberley Harcombe of Vodafone UK to get the inside scoop. Listen to the podcast interview on iTunes, SoundCloud, or keep reading for a summary of our conversation.

Tell us about Vodafone and what you do there?

I work for Vodafone UK, which is a part of the larger Vodafone Group, and it’s a mobile and fixed broadband provider. And we have around 18 million customers in the UK. We also have our roots in the UK, and we’re based in Newbury, and we actually started out here around 30 years ago. And we’re also known for making the first-ever mobile phone call. And as a business, we’re currently going through the stages of becoming a more digitally-savvy organization, as I’m sure lots of our colleagues in other companies are. And digital is a massive priority for us at the minute.

As for me, I work in the Social Comms Team, and I’m responsible for managing our employee advocacy program, Go Social, our day-to-day community management for our social channels, that’s our Vodafone UK social channels, as well as Vodafone Social, which is our official consumer-facing blog. I’m also responsible for working on our campaigns from a social perspective. So I work with the Brand Team, work with our Customer Comms Teams, with Digital, and with our Social Care Teams to bring our campaigns, products, and position or positions to life in social.

What prompted Vodafone to launch an employee advocacy program?

Our team is responsible for Vodafone UK’s social media policy. And after doing some research around employee attitudes towards the policy and whether they understood it, whether they even knew it existed, we discovered that the majority of people we surveyed weren’t sure what they could and couldn’t share through their personal social media profiles. The results also showed the employees would be willing to share Vodafone-related content through their own profiles if it was easy to do so. So we just joined the dots, and that’s when we introduced Go Social, which we work with Dynamic Signal, they’re our partners on it. And it gives us the opportunity to activate those advocates within the business, as well as make it explicitly clear what employees can and can’t share on social as a Vodafone UK employee.

What was the primary goal for the organization?

First and foremost, it was always about reducing uncertainty around the expected social media behaviors, so really coming off the results of that survey. And then, second to that, was supporting the drive to increase ENPS, which is Employee Net Promoter Score, by identifying and mentoring our own advocates. And then, tertiary to that was increasing the organic reach of our Vodafone UK content in social.

What type of content seems to resonates best with employees?

What we found is that we have a plethora of content that we share through Go Social, from a range of different places. So that might be the consumer blog, it might be our enterprise blog and Vodafone news stories from across the Web. For example, this story about the plaque will be covered by The Newbury Weekly News today, and people will love that, so we put that into Go Social. And they’re the kind of stories that our employees really like to share. So that’s what we’re finding. The stories that we populate into Go Social get a really good reaction.

And one of the great things about Go Social as well is the ability for employees to actually submit their own content. If they’ve seen a really interesting piece on, for example, “Do you actually have to put your phone on airplane mode now when you go up in the air?” They could submit that into Go Social and, once it’s approved, the content’s available for everyone else to share, which people really like. So it becomes peer-to-peer sharing internally as well as externally with our social networks. And we found that our employees really like to share the content that demonstrates we’re more than just a brand, and that there are people behind the logo. And we’ve also found the employees tend to care about different things, to media or to what our customers might care about, and Go Social gives them a chance to share those stories with their networks that they might not otherwise see.

What have been the main benefits for the organization and for employees?

For the company specifically, advocacy is a major benefit. So, as mentioned previously, we knew that there were advocates out there, based on the survey that we did, but we didn’t know who they were and where we could find them. And we were really looking for socially-savvy advocates, and those that already used social media in their personal lives, that would know how to use something like Go Social and be happy to share. And we’ve really found those advocates within the business, and we’re still searching out others, but we’ve made a really good start. And the Go Social program allows people to be an advocate of their brands, to say, “Hey actually, I think this is really great, what we’re doing in this space,” whether it’s something like community connection awards, where we give away money to local charities. It really allows them to get behind what we’re doing as a business.

And I’ve also mentioned before, for the company, and it’s both for the company and for the employees actually, this one, is reducing uncertainty around expected social media behavior. So, every piece of content that is in Go Social is 100% okay to share, and an employee knows that and knows that it’s okay to share, “Great, I can share that.” It reduces the number of times that we have to go out and speak to employees on a one to one basis saying, “Actually, you probably shouldn’t have shared this,” because if they’re sharing what’s in Go Social, we know it’s fine for them to do so. And so it just makes it a bit more efficient from that perspective.

And also, obviously, increasing the organic reach of our content, so our employees will share our content, whether that be news or a blog story or a TV ad, through their personal social media profiles. And that reduces the reliance on paid media. And we’ve seen over 20 million impressions to date from a relatively small group of employees sharing that content.

And then for the company, it’s really important for us to know that our employees are happy and that they’re being presented with all of the information about the company that can help them feel good about what we’re doing as a business. So that support to drive an increase in the ENPS by identifying and nurturing our own advocates is really important. And then, for our employees, the main benefit is answering the concerns we know that some of them have around how we expect them to behave on social so they get clarity and reassurance on what they’re allowed to share, which is why Go Social works so brilliantly in conjunction with the social media policy. The policy gives guidance on how employees should act on social media, and Go Social provides that 100% approved and externally shareable content that they know it’s okay to share. Go Social just removes the perceived risk of getting in trouble, I guess.

If you started this program all over, what would you do differently?

For me personally, I would put more folks on getting senior leaders in the business using Go Social from the start, as I think it really greatly increased the number of employees wanting to join. You know, who wouldn’t want to say that they’ve beaten the CEO to the top of the monthly leaderboard? It’s that gamification aspect of, “Oh, I’ve just beaten, you know, my board member for the month.” But I also have to be realistic with that, about how much time and focus it would’ve required from the offset because there’s no guarantee that senior leaders would already be using social media in their personal or professional lives. So it would’ve been as much a social media education as an introduction to Go Social, and that may well have taken time and effort away from other aspects of the program.

And that’s why we’ve taken much more of a grassroots approach. We’ve gone straight to the employees who already use social media in their personal lives, which cuts out the need to explain how to use it or the benefits of doing so. And it’s just given them access to a great platform that makes it easier for them to share interesting stories and content with their friends and families. So, it’s a bit of a balancing act, but that’s the one thing, I’d say.

Have you found a correlation between employees who are active members of this program, do you see that they’re more informed or engaged?

We’re very lucky that we have a highly engaged, a core group of Go Social users, and these are the guys that share every day. They’re the ones that have conversations with their friends about the content they’re sharing, you know? They’re not just putting it out there and not going back to people that have commented back to them. And they’re the ones that submit content to Go Social daily for others to share. And I regularly get feedback from employees, so we do quarterly surveys to make sure that they’re getting the kind of content they need, that the program is running as they’d like it to if there’s anything else that we could improve on.

And I think that’s because it makes them feel good about the place that they work, and it gives a face to our company and people can see, you know, that the things that we’re doing making a difference to people. And that then has a direct effect on how they feel about working here. I do, actually, have an NPS of the program specifically. So for Go Social, we do a separate NPS and, at the minute, is tracking higher than the overall ENPS score for our guys in Vodafone UK, which tells us, obviously, they’re really enjoying using the program. And the anecdotal feedback shows me that yes, actually, they are more highly engaged, they are becoming a bigger advocate than they already were, by being involved in the program.

What metrics do you use to measure success?

NPS is one of them, absolutely. First and foremost, we use the engagement rate. So one of the great things in working with our partners is that they are able to help us assess ourselves against other programs of a similar nature. And we believe the data, that we’ve seen some other companies running employee advocacy programs, that we’re significantly outperforming in terms of engagement rate, and that was at 83%. And that’s significantly higher, so like 50 percentage points higher, than some of the benchmarks, across the board. So yeah, we’re really, really pleased with that.

We know that our employees are advocates because they’re highly engaged with the program. And, as I said before, I think that we have varying degrees of engagement from our user base, from our employees. I’d say our core engaged base is relatively small. You’re not going to get all of your users sharing daily. But they’re very active, and they drive some really great results. And the engagement rate is going to continue to be a key metric for the foreseeable future. It’s great to have lots of people signed up to Go Social. It’s great to see those user numbers rise, but if they’re not sharing anything then what’s the point, almost, of the program?

Are you able to tie back any of these metrics to actual finance bottom-line ROI?

Yes. So, for us, I think it’s important to say that the decision to introduce Go Social was not about financial return. That was never the primary reason for introducing it. Instead, we look at how successful Go Social is and has been in driving employee advocacy, as we’ve discussed. So, as I’ve mentioned, the NPS of Go Social is high and actually exceeds the business’s overarching NPS. So we know that users like the program, and ad hoc feedback shows that there’s a variety of reasons they enjoy being users of the program, why they enjoy being involved in it. But we do also report on equivalent media spend using a very general benchmark. And we estimate that Go Social has driven the equivalent of more than £200,000 in media to spend in the last 10 months.

And that’s from a group of users that now number over 1,000. So we started off with nobody in September, and we’re now up to 1,000. And our ambition is to break through the 10% figure, which originally came out in the original survey, of 10% of our employees would be willing to share content through their social media profiles.

What’s delighted you the most about this program?

It’s the fact that we’ve had such a great response from different areas of the business, and that every one of our business areas is represented by at least one employee in Go Social, and often many more. One of our strongest advocates of the program has been our Enterprise guys, and that’s not just from a social selling perspective, it’s from the employee advocacy perspective as well. I think what I found is, once you sit down and explain to people why we’re doing what we’re doing, and what we’re doing and how easy it is for people to get involved, the support naturally follows. Nobody turns around and says, “That doesn’t make sense, why would you do that?” So, one of the best things has been that I suppose, collaboration and that willingness to try it and get involved and, as an example of how much that has grown and how the support has kind of blossomed around the business.

We have engagement leads, an ever-growing number of engagement leads around the business, who become responsible for different functions within the business, specifically for Go Social. So, they’ll start managing the content and members, specifically for our Enterprise Team, specifically for our Retail Teams, specifically for our HR Teams, and so on and so forth. So, it makes it a lot easier to streamline the content that matters the most to each of those sections, if you have an engagement lead in place in each of those areas.

And one of the other things that have also been really great is the launch of other programs, based on the success of Go Social. So, for example, we have a sister program here, for our Global Enterprise Teams, which came as a direct result of conversations I’d had with the team about Go Social and how popular and how well it was performing. And now, other parts of the group are also coming to us to hear about our experiences. So we’re leading the charge for employee advocacy and the platforms that we can use to bring it to life, at the minute.

Follow Kimberley on Twitter @KHarcombe.

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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