In the very best companies, marketing is everybody’s business.
Think of an organization like Apple or Starbucks. The employees of these companies are also their biggest fans. They are proud of where they work, and are excited to share the latest company or product news with their friends. In short, they act as natural advocates for their organizations, spreading awareness of the brand through their personal networks.
Today, more and more companies are realizing the importance of employee advocacy – and for good reason. When harnessed effectively, your employees can be the single most powerful marketing channel at your disposal.
In this article, we’ll explore the many benefits of employee advocacy, and how you can develop a successful advocacy program in your organization.
Employee advocacy is an extremely strong signal booster for your company’s existing marketing efforts. According to research from Cisco, the average social employee has 10x more followers than their company’s own network, and their posts generate 8x more engagement than corporate posts. As a result, employee advocacy can increase overall brand awareness by 14x.
Remarkably, this is not just the case for small startups or old-school corporations without an active social presence; it can work just as effectively for well-known companies who already have a strong following.
Prior to launching its advocacy program, Fujitsu already had three corporate social platforms with 1 million followers. But within 6 months of launching the program, over 23,000 pieces of content were shared by employees on their personal networks, expanding the company’s reach by 70%.
Social media plays a major role in modern sales. Today’s consumers and B2B buyers are not content to simply buy whatever you have on offer, they are looking for thought leaders and trusted advisors who can offer relevant solutions to their most pressing problems.
Social networks provide a powerful way for your salespeople to engage with customers, share valuable advice, and establish a relationship of trust before a sale is even on the table. Over time, this builds their visibility in the market, allowing them to naturally attract qualified leads and make more sales with less effort.
And these gains are not just limited to a select few social superstars either. A study by Aberdeen Group found that companies with employee advocacy programs enjoyed a 26% increase in annual revenue.
The positive effects of employee advocacy are not just limited to your customers. Increasingly, the best talent is turning to social media to determine which companies they want to work for. Companies with a high degree of employee engagement on these channels will be a lot more attractive to potential recruits.
This is because nothing showcases your company culture more effectively than the genuine enthusiasm of your employees. After all, if the people who work at your company are proud to share what makes their workplace great with their friends, family and colleagues, you must be doing something right.
In fact, Linkedin found that companies with a strong employee advocacy program are 58% more likely to attract and 20% more likely to retain the best talent – and that specific hires could be traced directly to advocacy initiatives.
If you want to get the best results from your employee advocacy efforts, simply telling your people to share your content is not going to cut it. The most successful advocacy programs treat employees as more than just loudspeakers for your marketing department.
What you really want is to cultivate an environment where employees feel excited to share work-related content on their own terms. To do that, you’ll need to design an employee advocacy program that provides enough structure and support to be empowering, but not so much that people feel stifled.
Here are four simple steps to do that:
Because we use social media so much in our personal lives, it’s easy to assume that advocacy should be similarly natural. But the reality is that blending the personal and the professional comes with its own set of challenges, and many of your employees won’t be sure how to represent your brand appropriately without clear guidelines.
Developing a social media policy will allow you to define key rules of engagement for sharing company content. Not only will this reduce the chances of a public relations snafu, it will also help employees feel more confident about advocating for your brand without accidentally going “out of bounds”. In other words, you’ll get more participation with less risk.
While employee advocacy is essentially a bottom-up approach to marketing, it can certainly benefit from effective leadership. For this reason, you should put together a core team of 8-12 employees to spearhead your advocacy program.
The core team should be made up of employees who are already highly active on social media and who clearly understand the value of brand advocacy. Ideally, every major department in the company should be represented in this team, as they will be responsible for evangelizing your advocacy program to their colleagues.
Aside from acting as in-house influencers for your advocacy efforts, your core team can also act as “beta testers” for any new advocacy initiatives you’re planning to introduce. This will allow you to iron out the kinks in such new initiatives before rolling them out to the rest of the company.
Employee advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint. In order to maintain employee engagement and improve their performance over time, you’ll need to invest in ongoing training and coaching.
These training efforts should be focused on developing new skills while reinforcing a consistent set of fundamental guiding principles. In particular, we suggest you reinforce these four key themes in your training:
An advocacy program can only succeed if your employees are intrinsically excited about your brand – but offering a few external incentives certainly doesn’t hurt.
These rewards don’t necessarily have to be financial. When Electronic Arts decided to launch its “EA Insiders” program, the company made extensive use of leaderboards, sweepstakes and promotional items to encourage a spirit of friendly competition across departments. They also started a blog called “EA Insider of the Month”, which featured top advocates sharing how they achieved success in the program, and what they loved most about it.
Thanks to these efforts, EA now has over 1,000 active employee advocates and a reach of more than 1 million followers.
Developing an effective employee advocacy program doesn’t need to be complicated, and the rewards can be considerable. By following the simple 4-step plan discussed in this article, you’ll be able to turn your people into passionate brand advocates, strengthening your company culture while opening up a whole new world of marketing opportunities.