The Guide to a Successful Employee Advocacy Plan

From Tweeting, to Facebooking, to posting on LinkedIn and Google+, B2B marketers are in an endless social race. They must keep up with social trends, create immense amounts of content, and constantly distribute it across various social channels to maintain audience engagement. But this race gets very tiring. With content being published around-the-clock, marketers expect to see results quickly, even though establishing a company’s presence and credibility online requires time and patience.

The fact is that even though the content being posted is both interesting and valuable, establishing trust among customers is becoming ever more challenging. Why? Picture the following scenario: if an enterprise like Fujitsu tries to sell its augmented reality solution by posting an educational article on their official Twitter, their motives are overt – turn individuals into leads. Now imagine the same educational article being Tweeted by an employee, inviting their audience to read the article, which seems more personal and authentic.

This scenario is a perfect example of employee advocacy.

This is a picture of two Tweets screenshots. What Tweet would you trust more? From a friend or from a brand? A brand’s social media marketing is incomplete without employee advocacy.

What is Employee Advocacy?

Simply put, employee advocacy is the activity of employees promoting their company’s message. In the world of B2B marketing, employees can be a company’s most valuable marketing asset. Yet, a majority of organizations underestimate the potential of their employees, and don’t tap into this crucial resource.

The idea is that once employees are empowered to support the company’s goals and messages, they can begin to spread them throughout their own social channels. In fact, 98% of employees already use at least one social media platform for personal use, while 50% are posting about their company.

Why is Employee Advocacy Important?

B2B marketers struggle to establish trust among their audience when trying to reach them organically. As this Ad Age story points out, fewer than 25% of US online consumers trust ads in print publications, and the numbers are even worse for digital media. But people tend to trust other people. That’s why turning employees into advocates is one of the best solutions to spreading an organization’s message in a way that sticks. There are two key reasons why building an advocacy program is essential to any marketing strategy.

1. Amplify Reach

The first reason is that an employee advocate amplifies a company’s reach. Since most employees are used to being active on social media and have 10 times more followers than the company’s networks, they are more likely to drive brand awareness. In fact, messages reach 561% further and are re-shared 24 times more when shared by employees versus the official corporate channels. Not to mention, employees are able to generate 8 times more engagement than all of their company’s social accounts combined. As a result of increased brand awareness, the business will also experience growth in customer loyalty, lead generation, and in turn a higher revenue.

2. Thought Leadership & Trust

As a result of sharing original and valuable content on their own social networks, employee advocates gradually develop a credible reputation and become thought leaders in their industry. Being thought leaders also makes them a trustworthy voice within a noisy background of repetitive marketing messages. This therefore gives them the power to attract the attention of a widespread audience, drive more traffic to the corporate site, and in turn produce a higher return on investment (ROI).

This image illustrates an advocacy path to success for employees.

How to do Advocacy?

It’s all well and good that employees are active on social media and sharing information about their company online, but developing a sustainable advocacy program takes a lot of planning and follow-up. Essentially, when introducing an advocacy program, there are two main challenges to be aware of: creating content and getting advocates onboard.

1. Creating content

As soon as there’s an advocacy program in place, creating and curating content can be not only expensive but also time-consuming. There must be a variety of content such as webinars, blog posts, whitepapers, case studies, podcasts and so forth distributed frequently and regularly. It’s also important to understand the type of people that are going to be advocates, and the kind of content their audiences will be sensitive to.

2. Onboarding Advocates

The most challenging part of an advocacy program for most organizations is actually getting employees to be active. As a general rule there are four steps involved in the process of onboarding employees:

  1. Establish a focus group – to sell the idea to a selected group of employees, to get a feel for what would work best, and what (if any) barriers are in the way
  2. Reiterate value – getting those employees to repeat the actions so the idea sticks
  3. Measure – determine Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) so you can measure the success of employees’ activities
  4. Expand program – once you’ve analyzed the results, you’ll have a good idea how to expand the program and recruit more employees

Now let’s outline a simplified step-by-step process of creating an employee advocacy plan that will help any company succeed:

Step 1: Outline Your Strategy

The first part of your strategy involves deciding what the program’s goals and KPIs are, and how they will be measured. There are two types of metrics that are important to track:

  1. Tactical metrics, which include tracking each individual post, employee and social network through clicks, engagement, and reach
  2. Revenue metrics, which involve measuring the program’s true ROI by understanding how the social advocacy affects leads, cost per lead, and closed deals

Next you’ll need to understand who will be participating in the program. Customer-facing roles, such as sales, marketing, and customer success should be prioritized. This will help you reach the most relevant audience, and in turn increase the advocates’ thought-leadership status. While the type of content will vary according to each group; in general, it should include: original content created by the company, curated content, content suggested by employees, as well as promotional and informative content.

Step 2: Gain Traction Within the Organization

The second step is to proactively, carefully choose the top employees for the program and provide them with background on what they’ll gain from participating. Look for your articulate spokespeople in every department across your company. Note that some employees will already be social media savvy while others will require training. Focus on the ones that are already savvy, as they are more likely to demonstrate success.

Step 3: Reinforce Value to Advocates

The third step focuses on getting this first group of selected employees to sign up to the advocacy platform.

This group and all subsequent groups to join the advocacy program should be sold on the benefits of participating. For example, Hinge Research reports that sales reps are 51% more likely to attract and develop new business, while marketing and customer success personnel will gain thought leadership opportunities. No matter the role, about 69% of employees say social media helped their career.

Communicate clearly, so they fully understand what is expected of them, the advantages of being an advocate, and what the rewards will be if they do it well. Use emails, slideshows, a short video or animation, whatever it takes to gain their attention and communicate.

Providing employees with social media training – such as setting up a profile and showing them how to build their networks – will help drive the program forward. Using a proper employee advocacy platform will make things much easier, eliminating the need for employees to post on each individual network.

Step 4: Evaluate Employee Advocate Performance

Once the advocacy program is in full swing, it’s critical to measure the performance of the program every step of the way. The three most common KPIs for measuring the success of social media advocacy are:

  1. Leads – the number of leads generated from social channels
  2. Follower growth – growth in the number of social followers
  3. Website traffic – impact on website traffic

With a proper social media management platform, it’s much easier to track and measure the success of employee performance and accurately report those findings to the people who need them most. Using such a platform, it’s also possible to measure the analytics gathered from the social advocacy program in the ecosystem of the social media marketing as a whole.

Step 5: Gamification

The key to a successful advocacy program is to make it fun and engaging for the employees. There are several ways to incentivize your employees in order to motivate them and drive higher results. Some ideas include rewarding employees with real cash, identifying top employee advocates, or perhaps creating some friendly competitions by splitting advocates into teams.

Step 6: Land and Expand

Once you’ve achieved success with the initial advocate group, the final step involves expanding the program to include as many people from the company for even greater reach. Expanding can follow several strategies:

  • Incorporate specific departments and onboard them in small focus groups.
  • In case the first option was met with resistance, stick to small guided groups, which makes it easier to transfer knowledge and value.
  • Depending on the size and social savviness of the workforce, the final option is to launch the advocacy program company-wide, which means training all employees at the same level. Take into consideration that it would be much harder to teach larger groups and avoid negative feelings.

Social media marketing is incomplete (and much less successful) without employee advocacy. Having a well-designed social advocacy program creates a transparent work culture, in which every team member – marketers and employees alike – gets exposed to the clicks, shares and conversations generated by each individual. Most importantly, it positions your brand as one its employees are proud to work for, which makes it trustworthy. And that’s great branding – and great marketing.