Why Employee Advocacy On Social Media Will Help You Reach New Customers

Consumers trust the words and recommendations of their friends and family over and above messages from corporations. An obvious and absolutely logical concept. So why are so many brands overlooking this social strategy?

Employee advocacy – Not just for the Starbucks of this world

Starbucks is perhaps the epitome of a brand that gets social media right. Take their latest Tweet-a-Coffee campaign, which drove $180,000 in direct sales in less than 30 days. Of course, this achievement is in some part due to this global brand having an entire social department. What many don’t know, however, is that they also invest in employee social advocacy – with staff tweeting, posting and commenting on behalf of the company from their own accounts. While few SMEs and mid-sized corporations have the budgets for marketing on a Starbucks-scale, all companies (not matter their size) can tap into the power of employee advocacy. And from DSMN8’s whitepaper research, we can put this in concrete figures:

  • Employee reach on Twitter is 13x greater than the corporate accounts

  • LinkedIn research shows that employees enjoy a 2x higher click-through rate than their employers when sharing the same content

  • 77% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company when they hear about it from someone they trust.

 

With the case made for employee advocacy the only question that remains is how to go about creating a profitable and sustainable strategy. Here are 3 steps for doing just that…

1. Start small (and skip the heavy investments in paid social media)

Most companies know that social media is now a medium not to be ignored (after all, it is involved in influencing three-quarters of buying behaviour). However, gaining followers and then growing the numbers is tough. Consequently, a positive ROI can be difficult to achieve (often putting businesses off paid social media following some months of investment). For this challenge, there is employee advocacy – harnessing the staff whom you already pay, requiring no additional capital outlay whatsoever.

2. Make it all-inclusive

Social posts shared by employees garner eight times more engagement than corporate messages. So it simply makes sense to involve every employee – with 50 staff involved in your social efforts, each of whom have 250 connections, you could gain a reach to an audience of 12,500.

3. Put guidelines in place

The uptake of social employee advocacy has been lacklustre to say the least, brands remain unsold on the idea (despite the compelling research). Perhaps this is in no small part down to the room for missteps, mistakes and misunderstandings, as well as tricky questions that must be answered pre-launch, such as who’ll govern what should be said? How will employees be motivated to become involved? And is there a risk that followers could simply get sick of a flood of messages? To overcome these challenges, you need firm guidelines…

  • Ensure that employees want to share the content – This marketing strategy mustn’t be forced on your employees. Gaining involvement begins with a positive company culture – with employees who are passionate for their brand, which can be made all the more effective by incentives.
  • Carefully craft a strategy between organic shares and promoted content – Someone must be in control of the messages that are sent, and the times at which they go out. This includes updates that are ad-hoc and posted of your employees’ own accord – nurturing these spontaneous posts is a key element for successful employee advocacy. For promoted content, it’s necessary to get the messaging right and choose their frequency carefully.
  • Consider audience alignment – Who are the connections of your employees? What do they care about? They may not be so interested in the Sales VP’s latest profits report (although those in the same industry, over on LinkedIn, may). Employee advocacy is at its most powerful when employees have relevant networks for your messages.
  • The entire process must be simple – Employees are short on time, they need convenience, and for optimal results, they require a fast, efficient ‘one-click’ process. A traditional route that some take is to create draft messages (although avoiding mass copying and pasting of this message is critical if your employee advocacy strategy isn’t going to lose all effectiveness). This also involves far more than one step – copy and pasting, editing, logging into a social network, sharing. DSMN8 was created with this stumbling block in mind – allowing employees to pick and choose what they share, where they share it and when – fast, efficient and the business remains in control (while participation amongst employees sky rockets).
  • Trust. Overlook it at your peril – An employee advocacy strategy relies on trust for its success. It is effective simply because the messages are genuine – from fellow friends, family and associates. Should users suddenly be presented with mass company messaging, all is lost (and in fact, this could achieve the polar opposite of what is being aimed for – negatively impacting on the brand). Equally, for your employees, this could impact the way they are perceived by those they know.

Employee advocacy is gaining traction and attention – and yet it remains drastically underused by even the largest brands around the world. Whilst the reasons behind this lack of uptake may be wide and varied, one thing remains clear: for those brands that choose to take the plunge with a carefully thought out strategy, there exists an as yet untrodden path to growing sales and sustainable, employee-powered profit.

How Employee Advocacy builds Brand Equity

Word of mouth is given the royal treatment within marketing blogs and serves as a fundamental building block within the description of a marketing mix in any textbook. Little wonder, really, when

92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising” (Nielsen).

After all, our trust as consumers is innately better placed in our fellow consumers than in the shiny words that arrive in the latest glossy brochure or on that pixel perfect website.

And yet despite the powers of persuasion that this medium holds, little to nothing is done by brands to leverage this tool – instead, it is seen as a natural by-product of good customer service, high quality products and simply doing things well. This is in spite of the deadening impact that negative word of mouth can have on a brand – and the fact that it would be logical to counter this, if only as a prudent step toward balance. To highlight just how large a divide there is between the power of word of mouth, and the notable lack of action plans, consider this:

64% of marketing executives believe word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing. And yet just 6% say they have mastered it” (WOMMA).

Brand Drivers – Looking beyond The Usual Suspects

Pricing, packaging, positioning and distribution are just some of the influencers on pushing for consumer brand preference over and above others. But amongst the day to day tasks and month to month analysis for your marketing department, it’s likely that dramatic changes aren’t undertaken on the core of your marketing mix. In the process, this ensures that the most powerful, persuasive and compelling business asset you have is unharnessed and overlooked for driving the power of word of mouth marketing.

We talk, of course, of your employees – those who can be your strongest brand voice and the biggest advocates of your brand. They are capable of making your message personal, and are privy to scores of social connections which together add up to a follower count that your marketing department could likely only dream of. There is power in numbers – and when your employees are your advocates, you benefit from an incredible audience reach.

“Employee networks are up to 50x larger than corporate accounts” – DSMN8 Whitepaper “The Social Employee” (2016)

Consumers trust company employees over and above the official voice of the brand, such as the CEO – and trust is what makes for repeat purchases, consumer loyalty and the potential for consumers, themselves, transforming into brand advocates.

“60% of employees said they would be more likely to create or share company content if employers made it easier to do so” – DSMN8 Whitepaper “The Social Employee” (2016)

Content creation, conversations and customer interactions

Capitalising upon employee advocacy can mean interactions by email, social media, forums, discussion boards or blogs – but you must empower your employees to allow them to do so, breaking away from archaic social media user policies and encouraging them to get out there, in the digital world, to spread the word.

“Overlap of employee social networks with brand networks is less than 8% – a huge opportunity to reach new audience” – DSMN8 Whitepaper “The Social Employee” (2016)

If we take the stat above, we come to appreciate the vast potential of employee advocacy – and beyond reach, lies something that brands could spend thousands or even millions on purchasing – and that’s trust. But even then, the slickest of PR campaigns really can’t come close to the authenticity that is generated by employee advocacy.

KPIs and a clear view ahead

Clarifying your KPIs and marketing objectives are the critical first steps to crafting an effective employee advocacy strategy. It’s time to ask some pretty important questions:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • Are you aiming to improve the perception of your brand?
  • Are you seeking to boost brand awareness?
  • Are you looking to influence new customers?

No matter the ultimate aim of your employee advocacy strategy, the point of it comes down to this: your employees can amplify your brand voice and create invaluable brand equity through trust and credibility. For the pioneers of employee advocacy, rich pickings await, whilst for those who lag behind and consider this brave new world of marketing too much trouble, there exists only opportunity to be overtaken by companies that have nailed down this powerful, persuasive medium of marketing.

DSMN8 Team: Introducing Ryan Marsh – CTO

89% of employees believe that a social media presence helps promote a company’s products and services to consumers

Employees, on average, are trusted 16 percentage points more than CEOs

77% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company when they hear about it from someone they trust.

 source: DSMN8 White Paper: The Social Employee (2016); Edelman Trust Barometer (2017)

A compelling argument has been made for brands to adopt the previously unheard of marketing medium of employee advocacy. But no mistake should be made: this is an unexplored realm for the majority of industries. To say that this is a brave new world would be an understatement. And if the challenges of employers harnessing workforce advocacy is imposing, then designing an app to empower them in grasping this model is inevitably even more so.

DSMN8 is being developed to help brands do just this – coded to capitalise on the power of employee advocacy. At the helm of our tech start-up is CTO Ryan Marsh – central to our efforts to create a ground-breaking app.

Setting out in his career some thirteen years ago, Ryan began as a software and web developer; he moved onto increasingly senior roles spanning technical architect, lead developer and senior developer that would take him from New Zealand to London; and now to Dubai, stepping into the fast and furious world of tech start-ups, where agility is critical, and a clear direction is vital.

Q&A 

Describe your role in 5 words

Deliver the business’s product vision.

Who or what inspires you?

Curiosity, technology, mountains and space (the latter three of which we’d all likely know less about if it weren’t for curiosity).

Can you describe DSMN8’s current architecture?

Micro serviced distributed nodeJS.

How do you define the launch features of a product or service, and how do you prioritise features in a development cycle?

Quite simply, it always comes down to the purpose of the tool. Everything that is required to deliver on this purpose is given priority, anything else is placed on a back burner to be built upon later – features that are weighed up in terms of benefits to the users, versus risks to the business. As we progress through development, potential features naturally emerge as either required or redundant.

Maintaining a focus on a lean platform is key to being able to adapt to this. Ultimately, we aim to be agile – to get users onto the platform, get feedback, evaluate, implement and deliver.

What are your top tips for effective communication with a development team?

Trust and respect – it goes both ways and at DSMN8 we have an open door policy for all.

Every member of the team relies on each another to achieve what are our collective goals. You can have all the meticulous planning and impressive project management tools in the world, but without a solid team, you’re unlikely to succeed.

I always place great value on video calls with those working remotely – it adds something to the line of communication that goes beyond the average email or phone call.

What are the main challenges in creating a product that scales, and how do you overcome them?

Code that runs fine during testing but blows up under load can be hard to identify unless you are actively reviewing code for that reason, as the platform grows this gets harder to control. To reduce the risk of this I take a lot of time with the team to discuss the patterns that produce scalable systems, raising the teams overall understanding and knowledge on the topic is the most useful method I find to produce predictable outcomes.

DSMN8 is set to use machine learning – what challenges are you facing?

Machine learning is taking centre stage for DSMN8 – providing insights into optimal times for particular activities, offering useful suggestions about content and feeding back on common patterns that deliver higher click rates.

But here’s the crux of the matter – a machine can’t learn without data, and in development (when we lack real world data), this presents a challenge. To overcome this, our platform is publishing as many relevant data points as possible, which we’ll start feeding into our learning system. We already have a pretty good idea as to what the churned out insights will be – although the excitement lies in the data that is unexpected.

What are the main challenges facing start-up CTO’s today?

Talent. It’s as simple as that – building the right team, from the right people is something that a start-up’s culture relies on.

Of course the rapid evolvement and advancement of technology is also a consideration – as are the increasing number of platforms that spring up, but with the right strategy, tech advancement can almost always lead to opportunity.

Fake News: Brands and Social Media Credibility

With the advent of social media came hope that consumers would be treated to a world where the truth prevailed – a brave new world powered by the people against global media moguls peddling propaganda. Now, it appears the situation has been turned on its head, with the likes of Pepsi, New Balance, Macy’s, Grubhub, and Oreo falling victim to fake news that spread rapidly via social media.

Social media – A breeding ground for viral (but fake) content

Brands have a real problem with platforms such as Facebook and the like. Social media is now so ingrained within our lives that consumers seem to believe every last word, of every shared post. And the trouble is, we truly trust it.

Like lambs to the slaughter, brands are potentially killed off by a single post from those who profiteer on click bait. At least we knew the clear positions of media outlets – vested interests, self-declared political persuasions and (with a little research) their connections to the world of big business. Now this no-holds-barred free-speech is looking less like a utopia, and more like an Orwellian nightmare for brands doing battle with news fakery.

Compared to mainstream news, this fakery is altogether more difficult to decipher – both the origins and the intent. There are those who create click-bait for a rush of penny-click profit (something Google has vowed to get to grips with when it comes to AdSense) – but these are the easy guys to tackle. There are then those doing it just for kicks – the pre-teen in his bedroom, bored between tea and bedtime.

And the potential result? Outcomes that range from the bizarre to the financially devastating

Fake news can (allegedly) be held at least partly to blame for electing a megalomaniac business man – now the most powerful in the world (Buzzfeed’s take on this). It can also be credited with Kylie Jenner having been awarded the Medal of Freedom for – “realizing stuff”. Amazing. Ok, you could argue that target market of the Kardashian clan is arguably less intellectually gifted than the average man, but even market traders (who we’d like to think are pretty smart) aren’t immune : £1.05m losses suffered by shareholders of two companies following fake tweets that both were under US government investigation.

Brands – You’ve got a challenge on your hands. And you (may be) on your own with this one.

There’s been much heat on the likes of Facebook to get on top of this issue. Mark Zuckerberg spearheads the importance of free speech, yet his position on the antithesis of free speech – propaganda and brand BS – has until recently been a flat out denial of the issue. Bottom line? It’s debatable whether this is the responsibility of social media platforms, and even if it were, brands can’t rely on them for protection from fake news.

PR guru Tony Telloni says that it takes anywhere from six weeks to six months for brands to recover from the impact of a fake news story. The need for a reactive and finely honed strategy is then a non-negotiable for brands of any and every industry. But when it comes to the crunch, brands have two big problems – the speed at which these stories spread and being able to counter the impact by being able to reach people on-mass (and even then – will the consumer listen?).

So, how can brands manage the risk of fake news?

As a first step, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth communications from brand to consumer need to be innovative and engaging enough to contend with the allure of fake news. But beyond this line of messaging is the need for a reply to such stories with a voice that goes beyond the official announcement with a voice that is authentic and credible. And there may be no more an authentic or credible voice than real, fellow social media users. But when faced with a viral fake story, some brands are missing a trick by ruling out thousands of potential mouthpieces that could aptly counteract mistruths and rumours – their employees.

Whilst employee advocacy has been harnessed and accepted as important for tasks such as productivity, recruiting, brand awareness, social selling, event attendance and more, brands have been slow to catch onto employee advocacy as a tool for fighting fake news.

One example that others may learn a lot from is healthcare company Humana, where staff aren’t only granted access to social media, but are promoted to a level where they themselves can become original content creators. This is the kind of innovation that could be capable of truly tackling social media news fakery.

By comparison, 54% of employees in the wider working world are banned entirely from social media. It’s all pretty archaic, to say the least, and in fact 45% of companies ban it exactly because they fear it’ll damage business reputation (Lewis Communications and HCL Technologies), when in fact, quite the opposite could be true.

Whilst we can hope that Facebook etc get to grips with the issue of fake stories, brands need to presume that all responsibility currently lies at their door.

When it comes to voices to whom consumers may listen, employee advocacy is a critical tool to be harnessed – and yet all too many companies fall at the first hurdle by not even allowing their staff online – all whilst the world may well be falling down around their ears.

Ultimately companies of every industry need to think hard on their strategies if they’re to limit the impact of any future fake story – and this may well be such an imposing challenge that global businesses may need to completely rip up corporation-wide communication policies.