If you work for a typical brand, chances are good that you’re allocating marketing dollars and people resources to growing your audiences across social media networks. As marketers, we’re well aware that organic reach in social media continues to decline. That’s where employee advocacy can help.
A strong brand presence in social media starts with a strong content strategy. That may mean using traffic metrics and and engagement data to figure out which types of posts to keep doing. But, even if your organic content strategy is currently successful, there’s only so much you can control as a marketer. If content strategy is step one, then employee advocacy represents step two in terms of improving your company’s organic social media reach.
At its core, employee advocacy is a simple concept. It’s about enabling employees to represent the company through sharing approved content to their connections on their personal social networks.
By setting up employees to share company and industry content, you are reaching a much larger potential audience. Back at Dell when we researched this, we found a small 8% overlap between Dell’s followers and the total followers of a handful of Dell’s employees. Other research confirms what we had found. It represents a huge opportunity in terms of driving brand awareness.
The other inherent benefit that comes from employee advocacy? Customers tend to trust information from people they know, like friends and family, more than companies themselves. And Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer shows that employee trust in the companies they work for is at record levels. Beyond the trust factor, research from EveryoneSocial shows the average employee who’s active on social media grows their audience about 10% per year. When done effectively, advocacy programs will not only help you as a brand reach a wider audience. They will also help enhance the credibility of company executives and subject matter experts (SMEs).
Since my time at Dell, I’ve worked with several companies to roll out employee advocacy programs. Doing it effectively means focusing on three things: employees, processes and technology. If you’re thinking about launching an advocacy program for your company, here are some things to consider.
Start by finding the employees to include in an advocacy program. One way is to focus on executives or SMEs. Another approach: Perform a social media audit to see how many employees are active on social media. Which way you go really depends on your objectives. If your goal is to drive thought leadership, it makes sense to start with focused attention on key executives or SMEs. If your goal is to drive awareness or reach for your company, then finding and recruiting an army of employer ambassadors might make more sense.
This is one area where companies tend to overcomplicate things. In 2019, most brands already have some version of a social media policy in place, especially if they manage corporate social accounts. Training that educates employees on the dos and don’ts of using social media for work, and that reiterates governance guidelines about launching or maintaining corporate accounts, probably already exists in some form as well.
Look for ways to streamline existing training. If it’s currently mandatory slide shows with multiple choice questions throughout, think of ways to make it more interesting. Several clients I’ve worked with opted to create a series of scripted interactive videos. When done effectively, these video trainings cover all the requirements in a much shorter time span. At Dell, we organized in-person training sessions. One of our most popular trainers was a standup comedian before he joined Dell’s team. Because our social media certification classes mixed fun with informative and engaging content made them popular with employees.
Beyond training, you also need to think about how to implement daily processes like curating content for employees to share. In my experience, it’s important to curate a mix of content beyond company items you want employees to promote. Think of things like industry articles, best practice articles and trend articles.
If you’re ready to kick off a formalized employee advocacy program for dozens or hundreds of employees, it’s probably worth investing in a platform like Dynamic Signal, LinkedIn’s Elevate, PostBeyond, EveryoneSocial or SocialChorus. These platforms all tend to make it easy for employees to connect their social accounts to approved content curated by marketing or communications via a smartphone app.
Most advocacy platforms offer semi-automated ways to create weekly internal emails that highlight content that employees can opt to share with their audiences. Several of them offer the capability to segment employees by office, region or function and since they are smartphone apps, have features that serve as an alternative to corporate intranets to reach employees with internal messaging that’s important to them. The platforms also help to integrate leaderboard activity and engagement metrics to make it easier for marketers to see results from employee content sharing. One downside: though they offer lots of benefits, these platforms can be expensive to implement, sometimes costing several thousand dollars per month, usually depending on the number of employees who have access.
If your objective is smaller—like if you’re looking to help a handful of senior executives or company SMEs further their reach via social media—you may be better off leveraging tools you already use like a dedicated Slack channel or Microsoft Teams groups. In the early days of advocacy for Dell, for example, we created a “Tweet This” channel in Salesforce Chatter and invited all employees who completed Dell’s required social media training classes. It worked well as an alternative until we rolled out EveryoneSocial more than a year later.
One thing to be aware of before launching an advocacy program: Remember that content balance is important. If you over-index on content that serves your company’s interest, you risk spamming potential customers. In my experience, LinkedIn tends to be where it happens the most, since it’s common for business professionals to be connected with several employees at companies they’re interested in. Since tweets move so fast, and since employees tend to share less company-specific content on Facebook, it’s less of a problem on those two platforms. Best way to mitigate the spamming risk? Be sure to curate broad industry content along with brand content you encourage employees to share.
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