When you develop a social media strategy for your business, where is your focus? If you are like most businesses, your focus is probably outward: You want to develop a loyal following, a tribe of people who are enthusiastic about your brand and engaged with your content.
You probably spend a great deal of time conducting research about your audience and developing buyer personas so you know how to target your social efforts. And still, your greatest advocates are probably right under your nose — and you may be ignoring them, or at least the opportunities to have them help your brand.
Those advocates? Your employees.
Employee advocates defined
In the simplest terms, employee advocacy is when your employees promote your company. This can happen on social media or via word of mouth, and helps generate some positive exposure for your company.
Your employees can help build your brand by talking with others about both your products and services and the experience of working for your company, while also encouraging other employees to take ownership of the company in their words and actions.
Employee advocacy has been proven to support the bottom line. According to one study, a 12 percent increase in employee advocacy correlates to a 200 percent increase in revenue growth. This most likely stems from the increase in trust that employee advocacy can create.
Nielsen research indicates that people are more likely to trust “earned media” — such as mentions in person and online by actual people — than paid media that the company bought. And when your employees share content related to your company on social media, your potential reach expands considerably, especially given that social media users are more likely to share content from other individuals rather than corporations.
With all of that in mind, it only makes sense that your company needs to foster and support employee advocacy. But how do you go about doing that?
Put down the swag and start engaging
The idea of employee advocacy is not a new one. For decades, employers have fostered employee advocacy via traditional means such as handing out branded swag (like water bottles, T-shirts, etc.) and creating a great place to work that people want to talk about.
When employees are happy at their jobs and enjoy perks and incentives for their hard work, they are going to tell others about it. Likewise, if employees are unhappy with their employer, they aren’t going to speak positively about their work — and may even publicly criticize the company or attempt to drive customers to the competition.
While these methods of creating advocates are still valid, and can be a part of an employee advocacy program, in today’s social world, there is a better way. By encouraging your employees to be advocates online — and giving them the tools to do so — this can increase the potential reach and effectiveness of your advocacy efforts.
So how do you engage in an effective employee advocacy program? The first thing to remember is that such a program cannot be mandatory. This can’t be emphasized enough. Forcing employees to sing your praises on social media is not going to work, and will most likely lead to resentment rather than enthusiasm.
For that reason, the foundation of any employee advocacy program is trust: Trust that your employees understand your brand and your goals, and will not only support them, but protect them.
Guidelines and training are also important to employee advocacy. While it might seem that creating a social media policy and guidelines would be limiting, it’s actually proven to improve participation and outcomes.
Training employees on how to best leverage social platforms is also key. Working with a company like Frankel Media, for example, to develop key messages and provide social coaching and training can help everyone feel more confident in their roles and improve results.
Finally, starting small is often the best way to develop a robust employee advocacy program. Rather than rolling out the new program to all employees, begin by identifying and training a few champions who can help motivate and inspire others through their success as advocates. Trying to get everyone involved at once is almost guaranteed to create chaos and frustration, and may even hurt your efforts.
As you work to identify the individuals who can help your business grow, don’t overlook those who are already intimately familiar with your company and have perspectives that you may not have considered. When you do, your efforts will undoubtedly be more successful.