All brands, big and small, want to achieve social media success by increasing their reach and engagement. Having a great content strategy, resource to be reactive and timely, and a budget for social media promotion can all contribute. But there's a free resource all around you that can help to strengthen your social media presence & your company's employees.
You've probably heard of the term ‘brand advocacy’, referring to customers, partners and others who support and actively promote brands with little or no encouragement. Almost everybody will have acted as a brand advocate in their lives - recommending a favourite brand or product to friends, family and colleagues – but how often do we recommend or promote our employers?
Employee advocacy is the practice of encouraging staff members to become advocates of their employer’s business, using their own networks, both real-world connections and online channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, to share their employer’s brand to a wider audience.
First things first: Why bother?
There are several reasons why organisations should care about employee advocacy. The opportunities are significant, but it's important to work out what you’re trying to achieve first. Employee advocacy can support a number of business strategies: Brand awareness, communication of core messages or values, talent acquisition and lead generation. However, take the time identifying goals from the outset.
Tactically, one of the ways in which employees can help support business strategies is by maximising the impact of content. Having invested in the creation of quality branded content, getting it front of as many relevant people as possible is the next goal. Posting on your brand’s website and official company social media accounts is a start, but having your content shared by employees, especially those with a large social following, will amplify your brand’s reach and authenticity significantly.
To take the example of talent acquisition: Regardless of the industry, it is important. Attracting individuals with the right attributes and skills is fundamental to business performance and growth and, as such, recruitment is never far down the agenda of most businesses strategies. Employee advocacy undoubtedly supports talent acquisition, helping to spread key messages, organisational culture and values to extended networks with relevant interests and skills. Your employees’ contacts are potential future employees, and that is a powerful resource to tap in to.
It’s a win-win strategy
While it looks like a one-way deal – a company encourages its staff to share stories and content via their own channels for its own benefits - employee advocacy is definitely a two way street.
For staff who have an area of expertise – sector specialists, sales and new business teams, marketing professionals – having a stream of relevant, interesting content to share can help them demonstrate thought leadership and improve their online reputation and influence. In addition, engaging in employee advocacy programmes enables employees to demonstrate ambition, to position themselves within their own organisations, to stand out as committed members of the team.
Put simply, taking part in employee advocacy programmes will improve opportunities for employees, empowering them to drive their own professional advancement.
As I mentioned, take the time to identify goals and desired outcomes of employee advocacy, developing the strategy from that point. It’s important at this stage to secure leadership buy in, and put in place necessary policies designed to protect the brand and business or organization.
Mitigating risk is an important part of employee advocacy. And risks typically arise when people aren’t aware of policies or haven’t been given the training required. So make training and internal communication a priority and invest in it to avoid any embarrassments or pitfalls.
With everyone prepped and ready to go employee advocacy relies on having a steady stream of quality content available for staff to share with relevant audiences. It’s always tricky to maintain momentum, however this is key to effective employee advocacy. Creating quality content takes time and creative input, so factor that in from the beginning to avoid a flash-in-the-pan programme.
Tools of the trade
Encouraging brand advocacy can be as simple as emailing some articles to colleagues and encouraging them to share via their own social media channels. Simple, free and in some cases effective.
But when you apply scale to that process, it becomes more challenging. What if certain articles only apply to certain employees or teams? How do you influence what people say when they share content? How do you measure what impact the content curation and distribution is having?
Managing the community of advocates
As with many company initiatives and promotions, it’s often easy to get people to sign up and get excited at the start, but maintaining energy and participation is the real challenge. This is where community management comes in to play.
If you can measure the social media impact of individual advocates, it’s worth dividing them into groups based on activity and performance – communicate expert advice and success stories to “expert users” to encourage them to get more from the programme, while offering a helping hand and encouragement to those who haven’t shared much content or have a low impact.
So you've invested time and resource into an employee advocacy programme. You might have invested in specialist software to help you manage it. But how do measure a return on this investment?
Every piece of content distributed to employees should be tracked. You’ll then be able to determine the performance in terms of engagement, reach and impact. It’s not necessarily the most shared articles that generate the most impact. You might have one incredibly influential Twitter user amongst your employees and a single share from that person could have more impact than 5 shares from those with smaller audiences. Bear this in mind and harness this intelligence to plan future content curation.
If appropriate, share results and create an advocate league table to instil a sense of competition among colleagues. While it might not be appropriate for every business, it may encourage more people to participate in the programme and add a little fun into the initiative!
In any case, it is good practice to share employee advocacy results with the individuals involved. It helps put their efforts into context, enabling them to see and understand the impact of their efforts and shows how their social media activity fits in to the overall marketing mix.
Making it work: Incentivisation
Apart from having an abundance of content to share and helping to improve employees’ personal brands on social media, rewards for the most active and influential advocates can motivate further.
Monetary and high-value rewards such as bonuses, prizes or gift vouchers will of course prompt greater levels of participation. However, “softer” perks, such as invitations to events, internal recognition or brand-related exclusive rewards are equally effective. Perks and rewards are only limited by your imagination… and of course budget!
So there you have it, if you’re looking to supersize the impact of content marketing, attract the best of the best in terms of talent and generally ramp up the reach and visibility of your brand, employee advocacy programmes can play a part in delivering those key business objectives.
If you’d like to learn more about how employee advocacy can help your business, get in touch.