What is employee advocacy?
Employee advocacy is the unpaid promotion of a brand by an individual who works there. It happens when an employee shares a positive message about the company or brand with other people in their social circle, mainly through word of mouth, on the internet, and by using branded items.
To make employee advocacy more effective, companies create employee advocacy programs. An employee advocacy program deliberately empowers and controls the initiative to both amplify performance as well as align it to the marketing goals.
Studies have shown the potential of employee advocacy programs based on the level of reach, credibility, and influence of employee messaging compared to that of the brand. For instance, combined, employees have, on average, up to 10 times as many social media followers as their companies.
Additionally, employee posts get considerably more engagement. This is partly because users tend to trust promotional messages from people they know. However, undirected, the marketing power of the workforce remains untapped. Employee advocacy programs allow companies to harness this power.
The success of an employee advocacy program depends on the strength of the strategy. The employee advocacy strategy is essentially a marketing strategy designed to encourage more employees to participate, make advocacy convenient for the participants, and achieve marketing objectives.
Why is employee advocacy important?
There are three main reasons why employee advocacy is vital to an organization:
It utilizes the extensive employee network
Employee advocacy gives the company access to an extensive employee network. Each employee is a network center comprising potential customers, hires, suppliers, and partners, among other connections that may become valuable in different ways.
This network can be leveraged for brand interest, the second step in the customer journey after awareness. This augments the marketing efforts. While Marketing may be faster at creating brand awareness, employee advocacy builds interest more quickly.
It can also be used for customer acquisition, the second-last step in the customer journey before retention. Acquiring new customers is expensive because it is difficult for Marketing to move consumers through all the stages. Employee advocacy moves things along by tapping into the existing familiarity between the customer and the employee advocate.
Further, the extensive employee network is a way to mobilize social change. Employees, being the face of the organization, are the best way to demonstrate desirable cultural shifts in sustainability, environmental management, and DEI.
It builds brand reputation with employee credibility
It’s agreed that employees have a higher level of credibility than brands. While the brand is perceived in one dimension – a money-making machine – the employee has several other dimensions: Relative, friend, acquaintance, etc.
Employee advocacy is a way to turn things around and improve the existing perceptions of the brand. Consumers are more likely to enhance their perspective if someone they trust works and openly vouches for a brand.
Employees are also in an excellent position to help the company attract talent by sharing their experiences. Potential hires will be receptive, whether shared one-on-one or indirectly through social media or reviews.
Employee credibility can also be cashed in during times of reputational crises making sure the people’s opinion of the brand isn’t shaken.
It enhances internal marketing efforts
Internal marketing refers to the company’s efforts to promote itself to its employees. This includes communicating the mission and values clearly and frequently and helping employees believe in the quality of the products and services.
Employees getting behind these values or tactics and outright promoting them is not only the best indication that they are dialed in, but it’s also a way to cement that confidence. And this inspires others to use their extensive network and credibility, further supporting the brand in various ways. So it has a snowball effect that amplifies employees’ FOMO, but in a good way— and it’s powerful!
Types of employee advocacy
1. Social media
This is arguably the best platform for employee advocacy. This is their entire social circle for most employees, as even their relatives and friends follow them on social media.
Social media advocacy starts with the employee’s profile, to their posts, and inside their DMs. Whether it’s an intern happy to be associated with the company or a seasoned executive whose tenure represents just a fraction of their career, the positive things they say promote the brand.
An extension of this is review sites where employees review and rate their current and former companies. Effective employee experience management can influence even former employees to become brand advocates.
2. Events and conferences
Industry events where the employee is sent to represent the company are a great source of promotion. But there are other events and conferences where employee advocacy can play an even more significant role. Such include TED talks and local meetups, webinars, trade shows and product launches where the company is not participating, comedy nights, etc.
All these are avenues that employees can use to promote their companies, whether through passing remarks or a deep dive into their work.
3. Content creation
Thanks to global connectivity, content creation is easier than ever. At the same time, employees can create many types of content to promote the brand. That said, employee advocacy programs don’t require employees to create content or do anything. They simply encourage.
Employee advocacy is blended into the types of content they are creating or find easy to assemble. For example, appearing on a podcast, writing guest posts, and making shorts are some great ideas to consider.
4. Community involvement
Employees can also participate in company-led community initiatives to show their support for the community, the brand’s decision-makers, and the overarching company values. Such opportunities include feeding the hungry, catering for the sick, fundraising for various causes, etc.
5. Swag and merch
Employee advocacy can also take a more “silent” approach. Branded clothes, accessories, utensils, and other items are a surefire way to promote your brand without saying a word. This approach demands very little from the employee as they don’t have to buy those items or talk about them; they just use and wear them.
6. Internal advocacy
And let’s not forget that how employees behave at the workplace and talk to each other about the organization can significantly impact their colleague’s perceptions. Employee advocacy can be used effectively for internal marketing as well!
Benefits of employee advocacy
To the employer
Employee advocacy offers many measurable benefits for an organization, including:
1. Better employee engagement
Employee engagement measures the connection employees feel towards their organization, marked by their motivation to sustain their work effort. It is a strategic goal for modern organizations that have realized their role in employee performance, job satisfaction, and retention.
The motivation to promote their brand is a positive sign of the employee’s relationship with their work environment. By encouraging employee advocacy, organizations foster and strengthen that sense of connection, leading to additional benefits.
2. Increased social media visibility
Frequent posting is a way for brands to increase their social media visibility. But it can cross the line when the content gets monotonous, and users can block it from their timelines. Employee advocacy allows the brand to keep its visibility with fresh content and new audiences.
3. Improved brand perception
Gaining consumer trust is a big problem for many brands. Most consumers view most branded content as inauthentic, i.e., not created organically. But “authentic” content is hard to come by, and it needs to be mixed with the branded “unauthentic” content to sustain the brand’s marketing efforts.
Employee advocacy improves the perception as employees can post in their own voice, giving the brand promotion the edge it needs. Additionally, employees humanize the brand by merely being associated with it, let alone promoting it.
4. Cost-effective marketing
As mentioned at the outset, employee advocacy is unpaid promotion. And even though incentivizing is a crucial element of a successful employee advocacy program, the total benefit to the organization far outweighs the costs it might incur.
Not to mention that putting employees on the payroll for promoting the brand would essentially give them two jobs. Employee advocacy needs to feel more like a hobby or mental break, which is one of the benefits it offers the employee.
To the employee
These benefits to the employee can be communicated as part of the incentives to encourage employee advocacy:
1. Mental relief
One of the main concerns for employers about creating an employee advocacy program is that it will encourage people to use social media at work. But employees already use social media while at work – between 7 and 10 hours every week. And while excessive use can affect productivity, it can still be used productively.
Most employees log in as a mental break or to relieve boredom. Rather than scroll aimlessly, employees can use the chance to promote the company while getting the mental relief they need by sharing and interacting with different users.
2. Career development
Another reason to make that 7 to 10 hours a week productive is that it opens the individual to career development opportunities. Employee advocacy demonstrates the individual’s work ethic and commitment to those outside the organization. As a result, they may improve their industry reputation and attract potential employers or partners, becoming thought leaders.
Employee advocacy can lead to promotions and more practical tasks within the company. This can be tied into the recognition program. Further, as they develop their interest, the employer can provide training, giving them skills that enhance their career.
Examples of employee advocacy
In practice, employee advocacy might look like this:
1. A radio show guest invited to shed some light on cyber security and data privacy is introduced as an expert on the subject, along with their full credentials, including the company they work for. The company is a security provider, which piques the interest of some listeners who have already started their purchase journey.
2. An Instagram user posts a picture of their workstation, and on the desk is some branded merchandise. A commenter notices the brand and visits the user’s profile, and the bio shows they are the head of a department the commenter has been trying to reach through a generic email. So now the DM will do.
3. A neighbor shares her experience living with a chronic condition when she learns that her new neighbor works for a healthcare institution specializing in that condition and works out a payment plan with the patients.
Tips for Launching an Employee Advocacy Program
Employee advocacy is best when the organization recognizes its potential and creates a program to support it. The program recognizes and formalizes the efforts of those already promoting the company and encourages more to participate by setting up a structure. In the future, newcomers will find an established culture that they can quickly adopt.
To make sure your employee advocacy program is set up for success, here are a few tips to guide you:
Set clear guidelines
The program’s goal shouldn’t be to make employee advocacy rigid and less fun. Instead, it should be a guide to make the exercise even more accessible and more fun for the participants. Guidelines give employees a broad canvas but clarify that there are margins.
Meaning, avoid negative publicity (it defeats the purpose), asking questions when you’re not sure, avoiding profanity (unless it’s that kind of an organization), and pointing consumers to the right colleagues and departments.
The best way to motivate employees is by offering incentives and rewards. Incentives before, rewards after achieving notable results. You should be clear that there is no pressure to perform, as that is not their primary job while motivating them to do their best.
Motivation can also come from seeing the rewards of other people. So, ensure that when you recognize the best performance, you do it loudly enough for others to hear.
Learn how rewards and recognition can improve employee engagement
Make it easy
Imagine how easy it is for an employee to naturally promote the brand without anyone over their shoulder. That’s how it should continue with the employee advocacy program in place. The program can step in to offer content and suggestions.
Authenticity is easy and will ensure your employees don’t start sounding like robots pushing the agenda. Encourage participants to be themselves always – unless it goes against the guidelines. Even when Marketing provides the content, they should be able to put a spin on it to make it reflect their personality.
Establish a plan for measuring success
Finally, you need to have a way to measure success. Notice we didn’t start with goal setting. Establishing milestones for the employee advocates comes very close to making it a second job.
Employee advocacy is part of the overall marketing objectives. To measure success, you only need to determine how much better your marketing performance is because of the program.
How to measure employee advocacy success
To determine the success of your program, here are a few ideas:
Employee participation and activity
This involves calculating the number of employees participating in the program and their activity level. It could also include the top performers’ success level calculated by various metrics such as the number of posts and audience growth. You can also track brand mentions across the internet.
This can help reveal the difference between the reach and appeal of branded messages vs. those posted by employees.
Personal accounts and testimonials
Keeping a log of the personal accounts and testimonials you get can help you determine the effectiveness of your program.
For instance, you can ask job candidates where they heard about the opening, and some will tell you it was from an employee. Similarly, customer testimonials may include information that tells you the program is working.
Overall, the effort you put into creating an employee advocacy program will reflect back at you via employee participation, so be sure to start out strong and stay consistent! Reach out, and we can help you maximize this implementation!