Currently, many brands are struggling to prevent authenticity from being perceived as inauthentic due to the overuse of that word and many other buzzwords/superficial initiatives. And there’s a strong business case for making sure that authentic recommendations are taken seriously, as research indicates that 76% of people surveyed said they trust recommendations from regular people over brand accounts.
The most effective and loyal brand advocates are a business’ own employees. After your product itself, they are the ones who play a key role when it comes to inspiring customers to become champions for your brand. Extremely engaged employees connect with your audience and promote the brand and its values in an informed and holistic way.
Employee advocacy is the practice of turning employees into superfans who will buy into, and champion, your brand values.
Studies have found that content shared by employees can receive 8x as much engagement than content shared by brand channels and 64% of participants in a formal advocacy program credited the practice with discovering and developing new business.
The average consumer reads 10 online reviews before making a purchase decision, with 88% of consumers trusting user reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Employees should be very familiar with the brand and its products and services. In addition, they’re extremely in-tune with company culture and values, and thus are able to articulate those concepts effectively and with enthusiasm (assuming your organization’s brand values and culture are aligned.)
Another core motivator for creating an employee advocacy program is that if you’re not implementing such a scheme, your competitors probably are.
Share of voice is becoming more and more critical for brands. For the past few decades, many companies have been investing millions of dollars in external teams to win the hearts and money of targeted consumers. There’s no doubt that employees in most businesses can be the strongest voices for increasing brand awareness.
Below are three considerations to take into account when building out a culture and framework that creates strong employee advocacy:
Employee advocates can work across many communication channels but, chiefly, they’ll be cooperating with your content marketing team on social media.
Social media is the current space most suited to employee advocacy, and so any business that wants to make employee advocacy work for them must align their advocacy program with the social media content marketing department. It’s vital that workflows and posting approvals are set to make sure everyone knows their roles and that there are procedures in place.
Employee advocacy functions mainly within the realm of content marketing – as advocates share branded content across their personal and professional networks – and partly within the realm of customer service, as they support community building and problem solving.
Social media has utterly transformed advertising and customer services for businesses, which can now reach larger and more widespread audiences than ever before with more sophistication than has ever been possible.
This has allowed businesses to develop a myriad of ways to both reach and retain new customers while creating a culture of agile and rapid-response in their customer care and service.
Brand evangelism has grown in influence in the digital marketing world and, as mentioned, much of your employee evangelism efforts will take place on social media. In fact, skilled and charismatic employee evangelists can build their own personal online brand associated with the business’ brand and use it to attract even more fans to the business.
Both employee advocates and customer/brand advocates can be encouraged to create their own user-generated content and post it on social media profiles. This is the ideal situation where a brand can find real insight and spark conversations around their values and products, with no active investment needed from their end.
J.Crew is a good example of strong employee advocacy. The retailer has begun featuring its employees in its social content initiatives. Its magazine features the current selections and outfit ideas from staffers, and the J.Crew Style Hacks Hotline video series gives customers the chance to ask the company’s stylists and designers fashion questions.
The retailer has put their employees front and center, which has not only added another more relatable layer to their brand, but created a stronger sense of community amongst the employees.
Preparation is key and there are several steps to implement before your employee advocacy program is fit for purpose.
Businesses should be able to sustain and scale their programs into the future if they are well-planned, agile, and based on robust data and processes.
Here are some steps that are absolutely fundamental to implementing a program that’s effective and measurable.
It should be clear, but to implement an authentic employee advocacy program, your company culture needs to be in good health. It’s key to remember that advocates are communicating your brand values, culture, and key messaging and if they are forced to spread false information, resentment could quickly build.
Brands must have defined values and those must be truly reflected in their work culture. Those who have an unhealthy company culture are in the dangerous position of using dissatisfied employees to amplify their messaging who may, instead, spread negative sentiment around the brand.
There’s no easy way around the crucial relationship of company culture and employee advocates. Either a company creates a program based on authentic company values or it fails.
Businesses who hide an unhealthy culture behind a false image, and who expect employees to spread this false image, will not be able to achieve sustainable success nor scale up in any meaningful way.
Businesses that don’t know what they want to achieve with their advocacy programs will benefit from increased brand perception, but without a direct link to business goals and objectives, employee advocacy is not being used to its full potential.
It’s crucial to decide what the objectives are. Is it to increase brand awareness or web traffic? Is it to increase sales? Decide on your business objectives because that will be crucial when you set strategy and KPIs further down the line.
Businesses should already understand who their audience is, their likes, affinities, habits, online behaviors, networks, motivations, and obstacles.
It’s important to know an audience intimately, and smart businesses will have already created a customer persona. That will help create an effective community building strategy, and personalised marketing materials that speak directly to your audience. Such assets will be used to arm employee advocates with everything they need to achieve the business objectives.
Market research is, of course, a valuable method of becoming more familiar with your audience but in the advent of social media, where the bulk of a businesses’ advocacy will happen, the landscape has massively shifted. Social media is where companies mine a lot of their audience data, (which we’ll discuss further, in the section about analytical tools).
Only once the audience has been defined can a business make good decisions about which brand values and aspects of company culture are most attractive to their audience.
After the brand values that are to be the base of the advocacy program have been defined, businesses can start personalizing their sales and marketing materials to showcase these values.
Once audience affinities, habits, and touchpoints have been defined, businesses can go ahead and define strategy, comms channels, and KPIs.
Companies should concentrate their efforts onto employee/audience interfaces, the most actionable of which will be social media.
They should set KPIs that clearly indicate whether strategy is working or not. KPIs will show you whether your strategy is on point or whether it needs to be tweaked. For example, good KPIs for brand awareness might be reach and engagement rate.
In today’s world, most evangelism takes place on social media, as it supports content marketing, customer care, community management, and even purchases.
It is also highly measurable, and provides key insights into customer behavior in addition to analyzing employee advocacy performance. There is hardly a data source in existence that provides the kind of detailed information social media provides. So, it should be the major communication channel for advocates.
All this data should be tracked, measured and analyzed, so strategy or content can be tweaked if needed. It’s really the only way to sustain a successful strategy – so brands should invest in the right tools beforehand.
Ideally, a business will connect their web, social media, and offline audience data to mine for insights and define strategy.
There are many great social media analytics tools that allow businesses to get both full oversight of their social media activities, and access more granular insights into their audience. Engagement rate, audience growth, referral traffic, and advocate performance can all be measured and visualized.
Brands who have not invested into marketing software to track and analyze their social media performance will be left behind. Managing, maintaining, and scaling up just isn’t feasible without technology, and so businesses who take employee advocacy seriously should research and invest in a good martech solution.
Brands must be able to measure performance and adjust strategy based upon data or risk losing share of voice to their competitors.
Every brand should have a set of social media guidelines. This should include types of behavior, subjects, and vocabulary that employees must not use, and on-brand phrases that employees should use.
It’s also worth setting guidelines if a social media crisis happens, because they can escalate quickly and permanently damage brand perception. So, it’s vital to avoid such online crises, now that customer opinion holds such power. Here’s an example of a set of social media guidelines.
It makes sense to select employees who have passion for the brand, who have good stories to tell, and who are articulate in telling those stories. Of course, they should be skilled in social media basics.
Give your employees an opportunity to be open about their ideas and emotions around the brand.
Set aside time for employees to attend social media training where fun tasks and quizzes can be conducted, and identify potential evangelists amongst your employees.
The most powerful incentives aren’t prizes or money but empowerment and success, recognition, and praise. It’s key to provide the things evangelists need to be able to succeed.
Creating a fun scheme and fostering an atmosphere of friendly competition may boost performance. Rewards for high performance might include prizes, such as a meal for two, and smaller performance-based financial bonuses.
It’s crucial that employee advocates maintain a close relationship with content marketing teams. Creating online communities and brand awareness relies on personalized, targeted content, which the advocates need to be supplied with.
The advocates’ marketing efforts should be aligned with the overall marketing strategy across channels, and working in lockstep with parallel marketing activities to really maximize results.
Employee advocates love recognition of their efforts and social audiences love seeing behind-the-curtain glimpses into the inner-workings of their favorite companies, starting with the employees. Because your employees work with your product on a daily basis, they possess a deep understanding of the field and the trends impacting it.
It’s important to create a desire to be involved in the program, and in the brand’s social initiatives by praising good performance.
Some brands don’t ask employees to engage on social media because they’re worried they may cross a line or create content that’s not in line with the brand’s values.
That’s why it’s important to align with the marketing department and have a set of social media guidelines. Good training will also help avoid any potential risks.
While most employees will engage with their employer in a strictly professional manner, companies can hold regular social media training. That helps everyone stay current on social trends and updates, and empowers employees to feel more comfortable sharing company successes and news.
Social media has torn up traditional company hierarchies, and everyone from interns to CEOs has the potential to be a positive company spokesperson.
Every employee is different; some are more comfortable sharing regular professional updates on their social profiles than others. For employee social programs to work, they must be voluntary. If employees feel forced into social sharing on behalf of the brand, resentment will brew.
Additionally, forced employee social content will feel forced to the audience and evoke the exact opposite sentiment you are trying to achieve. Unless it is specifically written in the job requirements to post about the company, brands should take a gentle approach to employee social evangelism.
Creating a social army from within is entirely possible, but it’s not something that happens overnight. Brands have to take the initiative to arm their employees with the right training and resources to feel comfortable enough to promote the brand in the first place.
Brands that support and encourage their employees on a daily basis will see higher participation and enthusiasm.
Employee advocacy can provide a lot of benefits but it must be planned and executed properly just like any other marketing initiative for it to be successful.
Advocates can be a crucial driving force behind more successful social media campaigns, great customer care, and growing engaged and active audiences. Encouraging employees to get involved with a brand takes more than just promoting the products and offering basic incentives.
It’s vital to build a community that genuinely believes in what the brand stands for in order to foster the community spirit needed for an effective employee advocacy program that does not come across as inauthentic or insincere.
Just a few loyal and effective evangelists can benefit your brand in a way that snowballs – once they start creating their own content to share stories and information about your brand, a community of creators can start to form, each adding their own personality and individuality to your social media presence.
Understand your audience, create more effective content to engage and grow your customer base, and measure social media’s impact on your business goals.