Companies have a variety of tried and true methods for building brand visibility and value to prospective clients and employees — from public relations and advertising to content marketing and other techniques.
One of the least understood of these methods is a relatively new approach known as employee advocacy.
This strategy relies on an underutilized (and perhaps undervalued as well) asset: the firms’ own employees, and their own outreach efforts that help shed light on the value proposition of their firms.
Of course, the concept is not altogether new. To some extent, it is just an amplification of old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing and relationship-building, which employees have been doing at networking events for decades.
What is new is that a firm’s associates can now serve as brand advocates anytime and anywhere, thanks to digital social media platforms.
What the data says about employee advocacy programs?
To learn more about how organizations are using employee advocacy, Hinge Research Institute recently teamed with Social Media Today.
In a unique collaboration, we conducted a comprehensive online survey of professionals who use social media for business purposes. Most of the 588 professionals who responded (83%) work in the business-to-business (B2B) space (see Figure 1).
Our study explored the potential impact of employee advocacy, and the ways that firms could make well-informed decisions about how to leverage their employees’ expertise and credibility to increase their firms’ brand visibility.
One of the key takeaways of our study was that firms have various levels of adoption of this strategy.
As shown in Figure 2 – 3 out of 10 respondents to our survey said their firms were not currently considering employee engagement on social media, while 53% were either piloting such programs or considering them. Meanwhile, 1 in 6 had implemented formal, comprehensive programs.
Another key finding of our survey was that employee advocacy works because of the person-to-person connections it creates. This is critical, because even as our society continues to undergo a major digital transformation, most people still have a natural impulse to seek out and value human contact. What does this mean for businesses?
For one thing, it means that clients and prospects tend to put more trust in a face than a corporate logo. As a result, people are looking for businesses and people who not only have the expertise and thought leadership they need, but just as importantly, are entities they can trust.
Social media to the rescue
The findings of our study make it clear that prospective clients and employees are finding and researching organizations through social media.
That’s very good news for marketers, because social media is the perfect medium for companies and their employees to persuasively demonstrate their expertise and corporate culture.
Why is it important to be able to demonstrate your firm’s corporate culture? For many firms, the answer comes down to basic survival. Our research results show that finding and keeping good people is the next-to-most important priority for most organizations (see Figure 3).
When prospective employees learn that peers regard a company as not only a good place to work, but also as an industry leader, it’s compelling. And that means it’s a great way for the firm to attract valuable employees.
Okay, you may be saying — it sounds like our firm should implement an employee advocacy program ourselves. Before you do, however, a few words of caution.
First, and this is more of a philosophical issue, make sure your employees are aligned around your firm’s story. What is your DNA and how do you communicate that?
I’ve heard time and again from beleaguered leadership lamenting the very real likelihood of hearing a vastly different story about who they are, what they do, and how they’re different based on who you talk to at the firm. If you’re going to build a band of advocates, make sure they’re advocating along a parallel path.
Second, and from a very practical standpoint, you shouldn’t assume that your employees already understand how to use social media for business purposes.
Nearly ¾ of respondents to our survey said that they had not been given any formal training on how to use social networks to engage professionally. But we also found that more than half of firms that are conducting formal employee advocacy programs also provide social media training.
When we asked respondents what type of training would be most beneficial, they named using social media to create engagement as the most important topic, followed by training on specific social channels, strategies for content marketing, methods for generating and nurturing leads, and ways to motivate employees to become brand advocates on social media.
To accomplish such goals, respondents said that explaining to employees the importance of social media provided the biggest incentive to participate.
More tips for effective employee advocacy
Keep in mind that using social media for employee advocacy goes far beyond merely creating accounts and profile pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Let’s look at two of the most popular platforms:
- LinkedIn — By far the most popular social media choice among business professionals, LinkedIn is an ideal platform for demonstrating thought leadership. To do so, the key is to identify and join relevant LinkedIn groups. Have every expert in your organization do this, based on their own particular areas of expertise on topics that are relevant, and with which your firm seeks to be associated. Then, to build credibility, your individual employees should post appropriate content of value to their various LinkedIn groups on a regular basis.
- Facebook — You’re probably quite familiar with the content that dominates the Facebook pages of friends and family, such as animal videos, comical memes, and so on. But Facebook is also an ideal platform on which to demonstrate your organization’s culture and to display its fun, even quirky, aspects. To be clear, your company’s Facebook page is not where you want to get into serious discussions of business issues. Instead, keeping it interesting and lively is the way to quickly gather friends and followers.
Keep your eyes on the prize
In case you’re still on the fence about whether employee advocacy can help, consider one more set of data from our survey. Over 96% of our respondents said they were reaping benefits from employees’ engagement on social media.
As shown in Figure 4, increased visibility and brand recognition were at the top of the list, followed by other measurable benefits such as increased web traffic, better rankings on search engines, more content downloads and reduced marketing costs.
Perhaps even more important is the potential for attracting new business and faster growth. Our study found that high-growth firms (organizations with revenue growth greater than 20%) were more than two times as likely as other firms to have employee advocacy programs.
High-growth firms are also more likely to say that their employee advocacy efforts are helping to shorten sales cycles (27.1%). In addition, 64% of high-growth firms credited their employee advocacy programs with attracting and developing new business, and nearly 45% said their programs had helped create new revenue streams.
Some final thoughts
If there’s one key to success in employee advocacy, it’s having a content strategy and sticking to it.
Maintain a balance of promotional content (posts about new positions, events attended, or key partnerships and/or awards) along with thought-leadership pieces (educational, informative blogs for example).
Share links to other companies’ relevant posts, and they will very likely return the favor by promoting yours. Try to encourage your employee experts to maintain a consistent, steady stream of high-value content.
Creating an employee advocacy program is not quick or easy … but the benefits to your firm and your employees make it well worth the effort. Best of luck on the journey!