Viral trends drive big changes. And with a large enough audience, the right content can gain traction — and influence. Smart companies know this, and they’re tapping into their readily available sources of content — their employees — to expand the reach of their employer brand at scale.
Known as ambassadors, these employees can help establish within your employer brand. And in an age of social proof, the influence that individuals have is weighty — so a structured and consistent approach which places employees at the centre of your brand is essential. It comes as no surprise then, that companies at the forefront of employer branding are leaning into employee advocacy as their gold standard in their efforts to get ahead of the curve with the competition. Indeed, buyers hold company leaders secondary (48% of those surveyed) to friends and family (78%) when trusting the authenticity of the company itself.
What is Employee Advocacy?
Employee advocacy is the public support and recommendation of your company by the people you employ. Traditionally, advocacy hasn’t been executed within a formal programme; employee advocacy has existed since the advent of social media, with employees offering insights into their daily routines, flagging office shenanigans or even tagging fellow employees in their posts. But the scope of employee advocacy has so much more potential.
While informal sharing has its place in employees’ smaller, personal networks, it isn’t quite what employer branding teams have in mind. Employee advocacy, as a strategic and sustainable programme, is an effective recruitment marketing tool which allows core employer branding messages to be brought to life. The social media form of employer advocacy should be implemented with measurable metrics and goals at the forefront; sustainably rolled out so that it’s designed to last with support from management. Outside of this, employee advocacy is also about sharing authentic stories in other contexts (like via a candidate engagement platform) or even during in-person events etc. A diverse selection of employees should be encouraged to offer their unfiltered opinions and facilitate their exposure. Logistical limitations placed on in-person attendance at recruitment fairs and conferences, is overcome by the online space — which offers unlimited reach.
The marketing-minded approach to employee advocacy includes encouraging your employees to post your brand’s content on social media. This enables companies to scale your brand’s content marketing efforts that is otherwise limited to email marketing campaigns. Employees should consistently create memorable content through social media and your employer brand can stand out by encouraging employees to share their involvement with clients or partners.
A global study conducted by Weber and Shadwick, revealed that 50% of 2,300 employees surveyed (ages 18–65) were found to have shared something on social media about their employer. This proactive approach on employees’ part gels nicely with the following statistic: employees average 10 times larger social media reach than the company-branded channel. Taken together, the case for establishing a set of employee advocacy best practices has never been stronger.
Employee advocacy is a sure-fire way to maximise your ROI. Your employee advocates enhance your content and recruitment marketing outcomes beyond what can be achieved by a traditional paid marketing strategy.
In this chapter, we break down the three components of employee advocacy: training, reporting, and content. Keep reading for some best practices to help you build out these three elements of a successful employee advocacy program.
Training Your Staff to be Effective Employee Advocates
1. Prioritise the Workplace
The first port of call in your employee advocacy is — you guessed it — your employees. To represent your brand, they should actively demonstrate that they love working for your company. And aside from the paycheck, there are a host of factors that cause your workers to value their roles. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 67% of employees expect their employer to have “a greater purpose” and their jobs to have a “meaningful societal impact.” A further 75% expect to see a culture that is “values-driven and inclusive” and 80% want the offer of work that is “interesting and fulfilling”. Armed with this knowledge, your company must proactively link employees’ work with a broader purpose — in efforts to marry employee expectations with reality. After all, high-trust culture is essential — with employees who trust their employees twice as likely to engage in employee advocacy.
To address the need to meet employees’ expectations of trust and social impact you need to look at the inner workings of your employer brand. Is your company an innovative industry disruptor? Do you give back (e.g., through sustainability programmes or charity work)? Closer to home, focus on the service you provide, both to your clients and customers, on your company’s reputation as an industry leader, etc.There are countless policies at play that demonstrate a social purpose that your employees can get behind.
Ultimately, employee advocacy is about freedom of choice. There should be no compulsion in their activity — forcing is failure. After all, your advocacy program is only as good as your employees’ commitment to the program. And with 46% of people saying that the overall corporate culture affects their engagement there’s a concrete case to be made.
An example of a best practice comes by way of Target. They use #TargetVolunteers to double up on showcasing of company culture and their corporate social responsibility efforts at the same time. Rather than a direct showcasing of employer brand, the encouragement of volunteering motivates a sense of purpose, which converts employees to advocates who then share their experience on social media with a relevant hashtag, drawing attention to the company. So consider using a shared hashtag; employees can use it to flaunt the company culture.
2. Train Your Advocates or Remain the Same
Training is a core part of rolling out an employee advocacy program a good starting point is explaining the basic concept and purpose of the program to the participants. Your employees need to fully understand the programme’s aims and objectives as well as the benefits to both the company’s brand and their own personal growth as professionals. By providing employees with sufficient onboarding and ongoing training, your workforce is armed with the tools they need to get started.
Not all employees are socially savvy — consider offering social media training both in and around not only improve both their learning and development as well as allowing them to post professionally and according to best practices. As is stands, 72% of employees have not received any type of social media training from their company. From the most technically-savvy twenty-something to the more skeptical sixty-something everyone’s skills must be aligned to ensure they can navigate the social media world in tandem.
Training requires strategy. And this strategy requires a form of structure - that is, document your goals and a framework for measuring them, which can be communicated clearly to your employee advocates. These goals might include increased website traffic, social share, led generation and events registration. These goals need to allow wiggle-room — micromanagement doesn’t bode well as it limits the authenticity of your employee advocates message. Encouragement, and the latitude to explore should be sufficient enough to give them direction and purpose. Along with this comes laying out an acceptable protocol that is managed by a leader.
Alongside this, you should be rolling out training opportunities at every turn — start by providing sessions about social media, alongside the purpose of a program and how employees will benefit. And make sure you keep your employees up-to-date with the latest changes in social media best practices — via weekly bulletins or newsletters. It even makes sense to include this training as part of your onboarding — to emphasise the importance of employees advocacy to your organisation.
3. Empower the Employee Advocate
Empowerment is everything when perfecting the role of an advocate. Employees need to be in the loop, and necessarily so. If they are not clued up on the inner workings of your organisation, how can they do a convincing job of selling it to prospects on social channels? According to Weber Shandwick, 39% of employees have shared something positive and complimentary about the company they work for. This number can be significantly improved if you arm them with the key information you’d like them to share — and encourage them to use the candor and authenticity necessary to convince the most cynical of candidates to apply.
As an example, consider the technological industry. Content provided by techies in this field is highly valued. Scientists, engineers and researchers can establish themselves as thought leaders and experts in their field. Still, they are traditionally seen as shy. But, unsurprisingly, professional visibility is a motivator in getting the most cautious engineer to take up the digital soapbox.
Leveraging Your Employee Advocates for Authentic Content Creation
1. Win Over Your Internal Influencers
Once you’ve created an attractive and appealing workplace environment, it’s time to onboard your would-be employee advocates. For an employer that values and meets employee expectations, it is relatively easy to recruit them into your army of ambassadors. To create buy-in, start showing your employees why their advocacy matters and provide them with inspirational material to get their brains whirring. Perhaps share an interesting bit of internal news, or pictures taken at your latest social event — give them the material and encourage them to craft fun content to go alongside it online!
Winning them over could also be as simple as showcasing what’s in it for them. By acting as brand ambassadors, employees can enhance their personal professional brand. They have the agency to grow into thought leaders, improve the results of their work, and also expand their networks. 85.6% of employees in firms that have a formal Employee Advocacy program in place report that their professionally-purposed social media engagement has helped their career.
2. Invest in Your Content
Content is key. It is the medium through which employer brand is communicated — as well as those employer value propositions — that will drive candidates to your website. Sharing this content across your advocates’ social media platforms organically scales the authentic narrative that is essential to communicating your employer brand. It drives not only brand awareness, but traffic to the website educating candidates about the ins and outs of your company.
What kind of content should your employees be sharing?
First up is all of your branded content. Your marketing department likely works very hard to produce high-value content from case studies to blog posts and campaigns. Consider asking your employees to work them into their social media content — think of it like re-purposing valuable material into digestible formats suitable for the tone of social media.
As an offshoot from branded content is your employer branding content.Everything from job posts to blog posts detailing your company cultures and values and any behind the scenes material that lifts the curtain behind the corporate images on your website are all means of attracting new applicants and nurturing your employer brand. Your employees provide the face to your corporate image and more authentically show what it's like to be an employee.
Don't forget to inject some fun too — gifs, memes, and emojis are an excellent means of driving engagement and brand awareness. They allow a brand to be bolder and more playful.
Employee advocates sharing content also offers the added benefit of cost-effectiveness, enabling you to scale content production. You should begin by determining which people hold relevant information that could be scaled by the workforce at large and ensure that they have the tools and tech-savviness in place to share it. Maybe the company blog can find room for feature pieces written by employees? Perhaps you have a stellar digital graphic designer that you can create video and graphic content to support your employer branding strategy?
Employee advocacy programs to date have largely centered around corporate content. Employees have had some creative control — with some content curation and sharing. This, however, typically has not included anything original — just a rehash of company-generated content modified to the taste of the person posting. Going forward, employee-generated content is the next wave of advocacy — the success of an employee advocacy program is all about how an employee’s network engages with the content shared.
Employee-generated content builds employees' thought leadership whilst simultaneously boosting the brand. This content, in the form of videos, images and social posting allows employees to champion the brand values, benefits and differentiators of your company.
Measuring and Reporting on Employee Advocacy Effectiveness
1. Gauge Gamification to Drive Greater Engagement
The aim of the gamification is to increase employee engagement by providing an additional incentive for sharing. But more than that, it helps content to be promoted strategically and in-line with employee’s development. It’s a means of incorporating game mechanics into a website that motivates your employees to participate, engage and remain committed to advocating for your employer brand. This could involve rewards such as badges or points, gift vouchers or other job perks, like VIP parking.
The purpose of gamification is two-fold – to increase the reach of specific content by offering additional points to employees for sharing and to boost employees' professional visibility. And there is a wealth of research to support its efficacy. According to Gartner, gamification strategies will become “a highly significant trend over the next five years”.
An example of gamification best practices can be seen at Cisco, who invested in a global social media training program for its employees and contractors to upskill their social media capabilities. However, 46 components to the program proved overwhelming for employees. To add some excitement into the mix, Cisco decided to introduce levels of certification for their social media program: Specialist, Strategist and Master, as well as four sub-certification levels. As competition fosters motivation and engagement, the company introduced tea challenges to move employees closer to earning social media certifications. Since, more than 650 employees have been awarded certificates, seeing the completion of over 13,0000 courses.
2. Match Advocates Up by Measuring
Once you have identified the objectives you wish to meet with your employee advocacy program, you must measure, measure, measure. There are countless ways to determine whether your advocacy efforts are providing real traction — from social leads, reach, mentions, and engagement. These metrics are powerful, agile and revealing, enabling you to track the information you need to gauge how your campaign is playing out.
But what metrics should you be including? We’re accustomed to the trifecta that is more commonly employed in the digital marketing space; earned, owned and paid media. This extends from everything from PPC and social media accounts to social media engagement and word-of-mouth. But enter a fourth disruption — shared media. This is about engaging and curating online and written content for — you guessed it — sharing. The answer, in a nutshell, is dependent on the objectives set by each brand. But there are compound metrics you need to be monitoring.
The first? Content performance. This can be measured by the web traffic directed to your site. Google Analytics can help you identify whether clicks have led to an increase in web traffic. The bounce rate is an important metric to consider also — this translates as the percentage of visitors navigating away from your website after visiting the landing page.
Next up, social media. Social media is a competitive game, and several platforms offer built-in reporting tools that allow you to see the views, shares, downloads, influences and more. Pay attention to the percentage of traffic referred via social advocacy (use UTM tracking), job posting views as a result of employee-driven traffic, bounce and conversion rates of advocate activity versus other sources.
Providing you have UTM tracking switched on and perhaps a nifty tool stack connected, you can weave advocate touched/influenced/generated attribution into your model Think more widely about how advocacy impacts the business metrics that already exist. For example, consider how employee advocacy is impacting conversion on your website. Is the talent you’re attracting through your employer network saving on hiring costs?
Employee advocates can be impactful to your employee brand. Don’t overlook the most significant potential recruitment marketing asset — your employees. Encouraging employees to promote your company on social media extends the reach of your brand's messages and increases online engagement. Ultimately, people trust the content coming from employees — and when the trust is a commodity that is difficult to obtain, mobilising your employee advocates has never been more important.