Employee brand advocacy is an emerging topic in discussions about social marketing and earned media advertising because it’s an effective way to amplify social content and add a personal touch to marketing. Because it goes through employee networks, people are more likely to trust it according to a recent Neilsen study that showed employees are 92% more likely to trust content referred by friends. Our own data at Elevate shows that employee shared content achieves an average clickthrough rate of 1.4% – 2.4% per employee share, which calculates out to about 48X – 120X better than display advertising on social networks. Despite the clear benefits of employee advocate marketing, it’s not yet a widely understood concept. Why? Perhaps because we need to tell the story better. 

I recently read “To Sell is Human” by Dan Pink and was inspired by the concept of the Pixar story as a marketing tool. The Pixar story comes from a series of tweets by Emma Coats that outlined what she learned as a Pixar story artist.

Pixar Studios Entrance

According to Pink and Coats, Pixar stories all follow the same format: Once upon a time there was…. Every day…. One day…  Because of that…. Because of that… Until finally…

I’ve used this a lot recently and I am convinced this is one of the best ways to communicate an idea. It’s an effective way to tell a story. And almost any argument, debate, or insight is better received when told as a story. So here’s a first attempt at telling the Pixar story of employee brand advocacy.

I was told by a successful writer once that every story needs to be written 13 times before it’s perfect, so please comment and share your feedback so we can get this story right.

Once upon a time… (in 2013)…

Companies were busy using their best marketing talent to create interesting content marketing that would engage and educate their customers about their products and services.

Every day these companies would create content, post to to their owned media presences like Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and LinkedIn profiles, and over the year they would spend $8.1 billion dollars trying to promote their content with paid media.

One day companies started to realize their employees were active online, each connecting with hundreds of friends and contacts on social networks, and often talking about their company (for example Pepsi found 65% of employees were having discussions about PepsiCo and its products with their friends and families).

Because of that, companies had to find a way to maximize this new earned media channel while maintaining consistency in their brand messaging and value proposition as customers and prospects talked, shared and engaged with posts coming from their employee ambassadors.

Because of that, companies started creating formal employee ambassador programs, employee social media enablement policies, and employee activation campaigns that helped employees easily get the content that they were interested in sharing, when they wanted to share it, on the devices that they were interested in sharing it on. [For some great thought leadership on how to design these programs, I recommend checking our Michelle Kostya’s blog and for two good examples of companies that use employee advocate marketing, take a look at the programs managed by Lori Dyne at Knighstbridge and Michelle Smyth at Sun Life, a Fortune 500 insurance company which empowers employee social media ambassadors to engage with their Brighter Life program].

Until one day all companies realized that employee advocates were a core part of an earned media marketing strategy and each company needed an effective employee advocate activation campaign to keep their employees happy, engaged, and advocating for their company. Note that one day usually comes around the same time that the marketing team at your company can calculate the earned media value of employee advocate programs, changing the eternal business quote, “What isn’t measured isn’t managed” into a more marketing specific, “What can’t get measured won’t be invested in”. 

For more on the science of employee motivation, I humbly recommend an earlier blog post, “The Science of Social Business: Motivate Employees to Participate”).

What are your thoughts on this version of the employee brand advocate marketing story?