There’s been a major shift in online consumer behavior in recent years, where word of mouth has become an integral part of the purchasing process. When making purchases, consumers tend to trust friends and family the most. And, tapping their social networks for this information is the most common route taken.

According to Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, 74% of online adults use social networking sites. Additionally, Nielsen’s 2013 report, Consumer Trust in Advertising highlights that 84% of global consumers find recommendations from friends and family to be the most trustworthy. Statistics like this demonstrate just how powerful word of mouth actually is.

For businesses, Employee Advocacy, the practice of involving employees in the distribution of brand content through their own social channels and networks is becoming more and more powerful. Employers are recognizing the value of recruiting team members as ambassadors, for three top reasons:

  • Content shared by employees is seen as a more trustworthy recommendation, versus corporate messaging
  • Employees are able to connect with their networks on a more personal level, because their networks are made up of people like themselves
  • Employees increase reach, traffic, brand awareness, and engagement by sharing content much more than the company can do alone

In the insightful book, “The Most Powerful Brand on Earth”, Chris Boudreaux and Susan Emerick talk about developing employee advocacy programs within businesses. From her years of experience at IBM, Susan notes, “IBM found that online traffic generated by IBM experts in social media converted seven times more frequently than traffic generated by other IBM sources.”

The following five crucial stages are important to consider when setting up an employee advocacy program:

  • Identification: When introducing an employee advocacy program, it’s easier to identify and start out with a small group of advocates to launch and test the program.
  • Content and Messaging Preparation: Review your outbound content with employee advocacy in mind ensuring that social posts can be broken down into copy that makes sense for your teams.
  • Training: Employee advocacy training should be interesting, and offer clear value and takeaways for your employees.
  • Tools: With a variety of tools on the market, the one you choose should match what you’re working to accomplish, and be a good fit for your organization’s structure.
  • Tracking: Employee advocacy should have KPIs, like any other business activity.

Creating an employee advocacy program can not only enable companies to reap tremendous rewards from a business perspective but can also completely change their company’s culture. That said, employee advocacy should be entered into thoughtfully, with a road map for goals, implementation, and success markers.