Brands often find it difficult to stand out in a crowded space- especially a digital one- because they overlook their best brand advocates: their employees. Some of your employees probably advocate for you online already. Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, a Weber Shandwick study found that half of workers share employer-related content on social media, and one-third of them do so of their own accord.
Now, COVID-19 has led companies to turn their focus inward, leading to a likely increase in that number. Research shows that companies are treating their employees better to help them feel more safe and supported, as people who feel valued are your best advocates.
No business wants to seem promotional in the midst of a crisis, so let your employees' stories guide your marketing efforts. Don't force them to share banal company announcements or spam their connections with your content. Instead, create an employee advocacy program that’s a win for all involved.
Humanizing Digital Marketing
Glenn Gaudet, the CEO of a tech company that helps with engagement and other marketing efforts, recently walked me through the basic blueprint of an effective internal advocacy campaign. The first step is to identify a goal. For example, this might be lead generation or increased website traffic.
Next, create content designed to bridge the gap between your audience and your goal. If you’re pursuing leads, consider creating a webinar with a sign-up page and content to promote it (such as a small sample of what the webinar will teach).
Finally, you need some way to measure engagement related to your internal advocacy efforts. Returning to the webinar example, perhaps you set a goal for 500 people to attend. Sure, you can use paid social or search to drive people to your webinar, but you can also have employees share the link with their networks. Additionally, they could like, share, and comment on your company’s posts about the webinar to influence social network algorithms.
Gaudet suggests that the main goal of an employee advocacy campaign is to humanize digital marketing, which builds trust and credibility. Consumers today increasingly value authentic recommendations from people they know — not traditional paid marketing. Your employees can be that authentic voice, as long as you provide content that they feel is valuable and shareworthy.
Gaudet also reminded me that advocacy campaigns benefit employees, too. When your team members regularly share branded content, they become more visible to their networks as thought leaders. By providing the tools to have genuine, authentic conversations with their networks, they can foster digital relationships that eventually become business partnerships.
Now that you know the basics of building an employee advocacy program, how do you make it a success? The following steps will ensure your efforts position you positively and improve your brand’s reputation:
1. Identify your company’s subject matter experts.
You probably have subject matter experts at your organization who have deep knowledge surrounding business-related topics. The subject matter expert designation often lands on company leaders, but it doesn’t have to!
Figure out who these employees are, because they’re valuable assets who can offer their expertise to your audience through a personal lens. This person must be able to educate your industry; she’ll serve as the face of your company and offer advice, experience, and knowledge. It seems right that a subject matter expert should be outgoing and bubbly, but this isn’t always the case. Just make sure she’s totally immersed in your industry and can share valuable wisdom.
This approach earns you authenticity points and provides your audience with a trusted source of company information. Nearly 80% of people have become more concerned with the trustworthiness of content sources in recent years, so earning your audience’s trust is incredibly valuable.
One simple way to engage your subject matter experts with the outside world is by encouraging them to find and join relevant conversations happening on LinkedIn and other social media channels. They can share insights on market trends and research, helpful customer case studies, and other useful content. Having your employees actively engage with and seek out third-party content is the cornerstone of a solid employee advocacy program. When your employees chime in on these online conversations, they boost their own expertise, improve your brand’s reputation, and drive earned media back to your company. It’s a win-win.
2. Expand your thinking beyond employee advocacy programs.
Your internal advocacy program doesn’t have to stop at employees. In fact, you can also include anyone with an affinity for your brand or company. To include these brand advocates, segment them into different groups — your biggest fans won’t get excited about the same things as your employees.
While your employees are behind the scenes, your biggest fans watch your company from the front row. Their perspective will differ from your team’s, and it’s important to remember that. Your messaging should look different (consider the time a Wendy’s megafan became an immediate brand advocate for the restaurant chain overnight), but the goal is still to shed light on the great things your company does. If you want to build strong connections with fans, launch a dialogue and show that you care. Fans are the best consumers you can have, which means their feedback is crucial to your success and improvement. Use their input to shape how you approach marketing strategies and the products you create.
By including your top customers in your advocacy program, you turn them into brand ambassadors while deepening their relationship with your company. The business world has caught on to these benefits: International Data Corp. research found that 10% of B2B information technology businesses had customer advocacy programs in 2016. The following year, that number skyrocketed to 67%.
3. Set realistic expectations for employee engagement.
To set reasonable expectations for your advocacy program, consider your company culture first. If you have a company policy banning employees from using social networks while on the job but you want them to leverage those networks to push earned media back to your site, consider updating your rules.
Your culture will also determine how eagerly employees will get on board with your plans. If they’re proud of where they work, you can expect high engagement and for them to post about your organization: The same Weber Shandwick study found that 21% of employees are already advocates and that 39% have shared positive comments about their employers online.
If political maneuverings and conflict plague your organization, though, you likely won’t see the same results. So what’s reasonable? You can expect an engagement rate of up to 60% in general — and admittedly, achieving 100% engagement is a pipe dream.
Whatever your goals for engagement are, don’t expect to hit them during the first month of execution. Your program will grow over time, especially as you finesse it according to the data you receive about how and why employees participate (and what results you can expect).
If rooted in empathy and strategy, an employee advocacy program will help you navigate the mid- and post-pandemic business landscape. Your brand gets earned media and positive recognition, and your employees position themselves as knowledgeable thought leaders. Your employees are already your biggest asset. Why not let them tell their own stories?
For nearly 30 years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. For 20 of those years, he has owned and run an agency. Additionally, Drew leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small- to medium-sized advertising agencies on how to grow and build their profitability.