LinkedIn is often credited with coining the term “employee advocacy” as the active promotion of your company by the people who work for it.

Sounds easy enough — just tell your employees that they need to share good news about your company, products, or services, and you’re done, right? If this is your strategy, say hello to limited engagement and mundane, template-sounding social media posts from your staff.

If you already have an amazing company culture, this strategy might work because your employees want to brag about the awesome company for which they work. But for those companies looking to earn the respect of the tremendous social media force they have within their own walls every day, you’re going to have to work for it.

There is an old adage that states, “We love our parents because they loved us first.” For those of us as parents, this is both straightforward and inherent. But taking this lesson and applying it to your business is also the best way to make employee advocacy actually work. If you try to implement an employee advocacy program before you’ve shown your employees that you truly care about them, it might not be very well received. You’re essentially asking your employees to love you before you love them.

Let’s think about a service-based organization that’s been around for a while. I bet you’ve seen one of those plaques hanging on the wall of a McDonald’s, usually over the counter but still visible enough for customers to notice. McDonald’s was naming an “Employee of the Month” long before social media existed. They do this to show appreciation to an employee who has recently gone above and beyond in their position. This strategy has merit, but it also has drawbacks such as limited reach and a finite amount of real estate on the wall where they can display this act of kindness.

Fast-forward to 2018: Every company in the world has an unlimited amount of space on their digital and social media platforms. Businesses have the opportunity to create an endless amount of content focused on their employees and their lives inside and outside of the office — what they’re passionate about, their hobbies, and their goals. This is the kind of authentic engagement and appreciation that will make an impact in their minds and, more importantly, their hearts. These are the types of posts that make employees want to share things about their employer because they feel appreciated and cared for by the boss.

Are you doing this for your employees? If not, consider advocating for your employees first before you ask them to advocate for you. Give your employees a reason to care.

What should your employee advocacy strategy look like?

Outline an approach: Pick the platform on which you’ll focus first. I recommend LinkedIn since it’s business-centric and doesn’t blur business/personal lines like Facebook. Then create a content calendar that includes an appropriate amount of posts highlighting someone/something else three-quarters of the time. Use the other one-quarter to say something about yourself or your business.

Get to know your employees: Spend time getting to know your employees. Have a conversation with them focused around what it is they do outside of work or what they are passionate about in their free time. Maybe they volunteer at the humane society or take care of elderly adults on weekends. It’s important to both hear and understand their stories. If you want them to tell yours, tell theirs first.

Creating content: Once you have the information about the employee that you’d like to share, decide the media that best suits their personality and story — video, images, simple text, or anything else that effectively conveys the message.

Define success: Employee advocacy can radically extend your reach and awareness. Since employee shares are seen as more genuine because of their very personal approach, more people are going to engage and take part in the content. This expanded network could eventually mean bigger sales. A brand’s online visibility has never been more crucial, and a huge factor in modern-day business includes your social media presence.

The long-term success of any company relies on its workforce, and your employees are the only component that makes your company — by definition — unique. Recognize each employee’s impact on your entire employee advocacy program. It shouldn’t be just the top performers — each person in your company contributes to a larger cause. Congratulate and recognize their contribution regardless of size.

Finally, let your team have a say in choosing material that truly resonates with their careers and personal lives. By doing so, you make them part of the entire curation process, and this will result in drastically more authentic engagement.

Have you instituted an employee advocacy program at your company yet, whether in name or in practice? Are you sufficiently shining the spotlight on your employees before you’re asking them to publicize you? Let’s hear about it in the comments!