Jewel Marketing
Taiwan Content Marketing

Is Employee Advocacy Right For Your Brand?

By Jason Patterson

Founder of Jewel Content Marketing Agency
The concept of brand advocacy, where your employees act in a concerted effort to raise your brand's profile via social media, is not new. But with organic reach declining, paid reach looking increasingly fraudulent, and customers spending more time on social media than ever before, you might be considering trying it out as a way to increase your online footprint, if you haven't already.

And employee advocacy can work, though it's not for everybody. There are questions you should ask yourself before making any commitments.

Who Are Your Employees Connected To On Social Media?

This is the single most important factor that will determine the success or failure of an advocacy program. Are you employees connected to the target audience? People tend to have three types of connections on social media -- family, friends, and colleagues.

If you're a B2C brand that sells something with broad appeal, like candy bars, all of these categories might be useful to you. But if you're a B2B brand that sells industrial lubricants, you're probably only focused on colleagues, which can make brand advocacy challenging, for two reasons.

First, when people share content on social media, they usually share it with it all their connections. There are grouping options, of course, but a lot of your employees won't know how to use them or won't be bothered to, so if your content lacks appeal beyond the professional, you'll be at a disadvantage.

Second, there's no guarantee that your employees' colleagues are the target audience. If you're a B2B brand, you mostly want to reach people in target industries and trade media who influence buying decisions. But social media networks tend to be homogeneous. Marketing people mostly know marketing people. HR people mostly know HR people. And sellers are often not buyers.

Unless your employees have worked in a target industry in the past, they may not personally be connected to anyone presently working in that industry at all. In fact they're more likely to be connected to people who work for your competitors, which is useful for recruitment, and somewhat useful for brandbuilding, but not so much for engagement or lead-gen.

Are You Producing Enough Content?

Brand advocacy doesn't work without content to share. Ideally you want employees sharing content two or three times per week, so you should be publishing content at least at that frequency on your own channels. Employees won't share everything that you share, but bear in mind that there are third-party content sources (i.e., the media) out there that you can also leverage if your owned media seem a little bare.

Is Your Brand Well-Defined & Purposeful?

Employee advocacy is largely a brandbuilding exercise, so it helps if you and your employees have a clear sense of what your brand is and what it stands for. It also greatly helps if they are proud of it. In most instances, the best way to get employees proud of your brand is to have a clearly-defined mission or purpose (i.e., the world's safest cars). And the best way to make that mission travel on social media is to have plenty of good content that illustrates it. If you're already producing it, you're well positioned to leverage advocacy.

How's Your Employee Turnover?

There's a learning curve with employee advocacy, and the longer someone has worked for you, the more useful they're likely to be. If people come and go from your company rather quickly, an advocacy program might chronically underperform. And if your advocacy manager is onboarding newbies frequently, your program could prove more of a timesuck for them than anticipated.

Is Your Website Easy To Share?

Some of your employees will have their own preferences and interests in terms of what content they want to share, and they won't always align with your publishing schedule. Some will actively seek out content on your website (blogs, product pages, case studies) to share, especially if your advocacy program is incentivized, so it will be helpful if the appropriate text and imagery display automatically when they paste a URL into a social post (i.e., your code & indexing are good). After all, your employees won't want to look like they work for amateurs.

Should You Invest In An Employee Advocacy Management Tool?

As is usually the case with social media publishing tools, the bigger you are, the more useful a tool will be. But an added benefit for advocacy is content tagging, which can help assure that employees receive more of the content that they'll be receptive to, instead of having to wade through a bunch of content that doesn't interest them, or their connections, which is a useful capability in large companies that have different business divisions.

Tools also make it easier to gauge success (more on that below) and are very useful during the starting-out process. In fact, unless your company is very small, I couldn't imagine launching an advocacy program without one. But once your program is well established, you might be able to drop the tool eventually if you have a fairly narrow business focus and the means to parse out social media activity by your employees versus brand followers.

Who Should Run The Program?

Your social media community manager is the ideal person. But if you don't have a dedicated person responsible for all channels, someone else on the content or media relations team could also do it. The skills this job needs are an ability to read social data, a gift for diplomacy and motivation, and knowledge of what's going on in terms of your brand's content and PR activity.

Can This Job Be Outsourced?

Yes, though in-house tends to be preferable, as it's inherently easier to motivate your people using one of your own. However, if your social media is already outsourced, you can have your agency run point on an advocacy program, but you'll still need a high-level owner within the company to help motivate employees to participate.

Must The Owner Be High-Level?

Yes, for two reasons beyond the one I just mentioned. One, if you want to effectively incentivize this project, HR will probably have to be consulted, and your 26-year-old community manager might not have much sway with them. Two, some employees will be reluctant to participate because they fear their direct supervisors will consider advocacy a distraction. A high-level patron can help butter up these department heads.

How Do You Gauge Success?

Employee advocacy is essentially a way to create more impressions and engagement for your brand, though it may not attract as many followers as you hope (people tend to follow in the wake of a more direct engagement).

If you're using a tool, you can look at advocacy as a paid social activity and assess it in terms of metrics such as CPC or CPM. If the cost of the clicks and impressions generated by advocacy are significantly less than those generated by conventional paid tactics (or against an industry benchmark), it can be considered successful.

If you're a social media professional, you might object at this point because you know that the value of a click generated via advocacy might not be as valuable as one generated by direct promotion.

If you're a stickler for truth and justice, I'd suggest parsing out CPC/CPM for paid awareness/branding activities (as opposed to sales or lead-gen), since most of the content that'll be shared via advocacy will be top of the funnel. If you can do that, you'll be as close to a straight apples-to-apples comparison as you can get.

What Are The Risks?

The most straightforward risk of employee advocacy is news you don't want shared getting shared, but this can be minimized by being selective about who has admin rights for your publishing tool. Another risk is that employees might get frustrated if they find your tool hard to use on their end, or irritated if they feel your advocacy manager is a pest (hence the aforementioned need for people skills), especially since this is not glamour work.

There's a real risk of demoralization if your employee advocacy manager doesn't have the patience for putting out tedious brush fires and answering repetitive questions during the employee onboarding process.

And, no, publishing an onboarding manual will not necessarily alleviate this, since there's no guarantee anyone will read it, and no guarantee it will reach everybody. So you'll definitely need an employee advocacy manager who has the temperament to keep smiling, even if they're in pain.

Another risk of employee advocacy is that your tool or tool vendor might provide exaggerated/misleading reporting to make themselves look good, hence the need for someone on your side who can read social data.

And finally, perhaps the greatest risk of advocacy is improper allocation of your precious content and social media resources. As you've seen in the previous section, the benefits of advocacy are a bit nebulous compared to other paid activities, so ask yourself if there are other things you could be doing that would produce more bang for your buck.

What Else You Need To Know

If you're a larger company, be patient. You won't see much difference in your brand's metrics immediately. Also start with the departments that are most likely to have social media contacts in the target audience (sales, PR, consultants) and any other employees who have big social media networks, who can help make believers out of management by goosing your metrics during the early months.

Also remember that employees come and go, so newbies will have to be recruited to the program periodically, and it's a good idea to send out an internal email to everyone in the program once in a while to see if any employees have left. You'll also need to monitor what third-party content employees are choosing to share, as they won't always have a good sense of what should be shared. In fact, sometimes they'll make head-smackingly bad decisions, so be prepared.

However, advocacy also has benefits that are rarely mentioned in the brochure. Your employees will become more generally knowledgeable about what's going on with the company. You'll also see better sharing of content in other languages than you had before, and your community manager will become better aware of third-party content, which means more meat for your branded channels. And you should see a clear uptick in overall branded social engagement after a few months that can't be explained by other factors. If you don't, something is wrong.

What Companies Are Best Suited To Employee Advocacy?

Consumer brands can do well with advocacy, especially if the products involved are things that everyone buys, uses, or likes (and it helps if the product is tasty or otherwise visually appealing).

Startups can also greatly benefit from employee advocacy because the personal reach of your employees will often dwarf your brand's reach in the early days. And it can be particularly effective if you've got a rockstar CEO to star in your social content, or if your startup serves a tight-knit enthusiast community, whether B2C (gamers, makers, sports, crypto, musicians) or B2B (developers, fintech). B2B brands more generally can do well with employee advocacy, but it'll be more of a case by case thing. Industries that tend to be populated by lifers (telecoms, pharma, finance) can do well with it. Also pretty much any industry leader or Fortune 500 company can make it work because you'll have sufficient content, produced both internally and in the media.

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