The one keyword which permeated every one of the ten sessions at the recent Social Tools Summit was employee advocacy.
A boom in both technology investment with the emergence of several new employee advocacy platform vendors as well as the growing number of companies adopting or looking to adopt a formal program is a sign that employee advocacy programs will become mainstream in the not-so-distant future. In fact, a recent study indicated that nearly 70% of companies surveyed had already implemented an employee advocacy program, had a pilot in place, or were “actively considering their options.”
How did we get here?
Employee advocacy in a social media context originally emerged as a social media marketing tactic to help amplify brand messages. Some called it the 4th type of media after owned, earned, and paid – employed media. I called it the final frontier for social media marketing.
The math behind the emergence of employee advocacy efforts is simple: If more of our employees share our brand messages, we can reach exponentially greater audiences. Further studies indicated that the networks of our employees barely intersect the followers of a brand. Finally, the Edelman Trust Barometer report reminds us, on an annual basis, that average employees are the most trusted – and we all know that it is this trust that fuels word-of-mouth recommendations.
Employee advocacy as a marketing function, however, has its limitations:
Why would employees want to potentially spam their close friends with brand messages from their marketing colleagues?
Why would employees want to post more frequently to social networks than they do organically?
Marketers also get frustrated when few people join their employee advocacy program, and even fewer actively share their branded content. They fail to realize, segment, and manage the 3 different employee advocate profiles.
In parallel with this growing use of employee advocacy by marketing organizations was the emergence of the savvy social seller, the B2B salesperson that was active in social media conversations and also curating and sharing content that would keep them top of mind with their clients and prospective buyers. Content is the currency of social selling, and quickly marketers found that they had a new customer for their fledging employee advocacy programs: Sales teams.
Similar to how employee advocacy programs at their launch run into various challenges, the relationship with the sales departments had its own issues: The content. From a social selling perspective, salespeople want content that will help them engage with their client with the right client at the right timing vis a vis the sales funnel. It required marketing departments to not only reconsider content from an employee perspective, but also from a tactical sales perspective. The fruit of their labor, however, is that in conjunction with social selling, the true ROI of employee advocacy could now be accurately calculated not by vanity metrics, but with dollars and cents.
The evolution of employee advocacy now continues, slowly but surely, to become an enterprise-wide activity, and the real champions of the program might just become the Human Resources department.
The companies that sat on the Social Tools Summit employee advocacy session panel shared two interesting perspectives on how they are making their employee advocacy programs successful:
An Investment in People – Many successful employee advocacy programs rely on the training of employees to become better and more professional users of social media. As social media becomes an important skill for any professional and actually helps them yield more online influence, this investment in social media training is a win-win which can only help those employees that participate to become more engaged and feel happier about their company.
A Nimble, Adaptive Approach Focused on the Employees Voice – Another common thread of discussion was the need to adapt content shared to the employees that were participating to allow them to not only influence the content being shared, but to also to contribute their own curated or original content. In such a way, the content that is currently being shared in the employee advocacy of some of these programs looks very different than when the program just started. In essence, the content being shared by the brand and its employees is more an more becoming a representation of the employees’ voice.
As you can see, launching an employee advocacy program becomes a culture-changing activity that will help companies become social businesses more than anything else for a simple reason: An employee advocacy program has the potential to engage every single employee. As social media permeates all of an enterprise’s departments, employee advocacy brings social media literacy to all who participate throughout the company. Over time, it will undoubtedly result in both a more engaged employee but also one who begins to yield more online influence on behalf of their company – and themselves.
Understanding these points makes you realize why it is critical that your CEO should invest in your company’s employee advocacy program. There are also legal issues that you should consider, from employment law considerations to legal consent to post employees photos to what the FTC says about employees tweets.
Whether you already have implemented a program, are conducting a pilot program, or are actively researching the market, understanding this evolution will help you leapfrog past the issues that have hindered others and allow you to better prepare for your social business journey.
If you’re interested in reading my further views on the subject, check out the preface that I wrote on how employee advocacy is the natural link between employee engagement and the future of work in the preface of this ebook Employee Advocacy: The New Frontier in Social Media Communication.
Which part of the employee advocacy evolution curve is your company at?