Employee advocacy isn’t exactly a new thing; it isn’t even an old thing. It’s a really old thing, dating back to whenever the first employer hired the first employee. If that vague assertion sounds to you like a claim with no factual basis, you’d be right. But if you think about it for half a second, it just makes sense. No one hires a new staffer and tells them, “Whatever you want to say about us in public is fine. Trash us! We don’t care.” No, employees have always been expected to represent their employers in a positive light, which also makes sense because an ideal hire is one that truly believes in the company and its product.
So, no, the practice of employee advocacy isn’t new. But that name is, and it’s getting thrown around much more these days. Much like influencer marketing leveraged social media and radically changed retail advertising into sponsored word-of-mouth campaigns, employee advocacy does the same for non-retail businesses. But describing it as “influencer marketing for the B2B space” is an oversimplification. Partly, that’s because employee advocacy can work for retail outlets, too. But the biggest difference is that it goes beyond mere marketing. Companies whose employees are sharing content, news, and praise about their workplaces aren’t just attracting new and better customers. They’re bringing in new and better employees, too.
It’s no wonder that employee advocacy is quickly growing in popularity with businesses of all sizes. And, like with any new tech-based fad, it’s not surprising that a lot of companies are jumping on a bandwagon without much thought or planning—and they’re making lots of mistakes. Starting an employee advocacy program isn’t difficult; it’s sustaining it that’s a challenge.
This is exactly why you need to go in with a plan, which is exactly what we’re going to help you create.
Have a Culture That Breeds Advocates
It should seem an obvious point that if you want your employees to advocate for your business, then they’ll need to genuinely enjoy working there. That doesn’t mean you need to go the full dotcom route of installing ping pong tables next to a pile of free energy drinks. It does mean that you’ll need to be as earnestly engaged with the business as you want your employees to be. Advocate by example, as the saying almost goes.
What this looks like in practice is a good topic for another article, but from a high level it’s pretty straightforward. Loosen up. Treat your employees as people with value, which shouldn’t be too difficult considering you’re already paying them to be there. Trust them with their time; acknowledge jobs well done as they happen; invest in their futures through training. In other words, give them good reasons to stay, and they’ll have good reason to advocate for your business’s success.
Have Specific Goals, and a Plan to Reach Them
Here’s a question you should be able to answer clearly and easily: Why do you want to start an employee advocacy program?
If your answer is something vague like “I heard it was a great way to my company’s name out there,” then it’s time to pause and rethink the whole thing. We’re not saying to abandon the idea, only that if you aren’t starting with a specific goal in mind you’ll achieve nothing. Your attempts at employee advocacy will just feel like a random collection of social shares without any cohesive content. Your efforts will essentially become part of the background noise that a good program is trying to rise above.
By knowing in advance what your objectives are, you can focus on tailoring your advocacy efforts around them. You’ll be able to build a pool of content that support the goals and empower your employees to share their own ideas based on criteria you’ve set.
Invite-Only Recruiting is the Best Way to Start
Not every employee of yours will make a good advocate. Some of them may have social accounts you don’t want to be associated with—maybe they’re overly political, or much too personal. Or maybe they just don’t have the followers to warrant the incentives you’re offering for participation. Also, even if you’ve clearly defined your goals and scope for your advocacy program, you’ll still want to launch it on a small—and closely monitored—scale.
This is why it’s best to recruit your advocates by invitation rather than just putting out an open call for participants. You’ll want to spend some time researching which employees would be best suited to join. Check out their social feeds and identify those who will represent you best while reaching the widest and most relevant audience. Start small and measure your results, noting your successes and failures. Once you’re comfortable with the way things are running, you can start opening slots to the rest of your employees who meet your criteria.
Deploy an Employee Advocacy Platform
When influencer marketing first became popular, those at the forefront of its practice used an ad-hoc assembly of standard office tools to manage it all. It took software developers a few years to catch up with platforms and features that helped marketers do more than what they were already doing.
Employee advocacy as a social strategy hasn’t yet exploded like influencer marketing has, but the popularity of influencer marketing enabled developers to see this trend coming from a long way away. Now that employee advocacy has become marketing’s new hot topic, those of you who want to get started will find yourselves with a lot more to options to effectively manage your programs.
This still might be a little easier said than done. There’s no one platform that can be said to be “the best” at this point, and even among those with the best reputation there’s a wide range of features to consider. This, again, is why having a fully-mapped plan is so important. How can you identify the tools that you need if you don’t completely understand the job that you’re doing?
A platform might be something as simple as centralised content curation and amplification, where employees can pick and choose from different posts to share with the software measures results. Or it can get more in-depth, managing schedules of posts, incentives for employees, or even gamifying the whole process to turn it into a fun and friendly competition in the workplace. Some platforms are strictly focused on B2B marketing, while others offer ways for HR to use them as recruitment tools. Your needs will dictate your choice, but you will have to make a choice if you’re going succeed. The digital marketers of 2013 have already shown that spreadsheets and shared documents are no way to manage social campaigns of any kind.
Train Your Advocates Before They Start Posting
Even if your company is entirely staffed by millennials and Gen Zers—social media natives—don’t assume you can just let them loose on LinkedIn or Twitter and expect see results.
A good onboarding process for your employee advocacy program can make or break it. Posting policies, content curation, incentive achievement, and basic training on the platform you’ll be using are all important ground to cover. It’s also a good time to open the training for discussion and collaboration for ideas on how to proceed. A second, follow-up session where you cover the performance and execution of your plans after a month or so will help to refine your processes for the future. Remember: that kind of openness is part of your culture now!
Think Big, But Start Small
The potential of employee advocacy to benefit your business is huge, but only if you do it right. While this guide is by no means exhaustive, it provides you with the building blocks to get where you want to be. Jumping in with abandon and plastering social media walls with your content might sound like a good idea, but it’s best to start small. Recruit your core group of advocates, work with them to build up your content library, and keep communication open as to what’s working and not working. Measure your successes, analyse your failures, and then refine your future efforts.
Use software no matter small you’re starting, and make sure that it’s something you can grow into. The goal is to go big, so don’t settle for something that’s only good for the moment. It’s harder to transition to a new platform than it is to just add features to one you’re already familiar with. Once you’ve got all the bugs and kinks worked out, then you can start expanding your efforts. Be patient—success won’t happen overnight. Though, it could be argued, if you’ve got a bunch of employees who are proud to post content and promote your company on social media, you’re already doing something right.