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.

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.

Juno -v- Uber: The Rise Of Employee Advocacy

At the recent Techcrunch Disrupt NY conference one of the main topics under discussion was Employee Advocacy. The need for businesses to engage with their staff is not new, but it has come to the fore recently with news that Juno a new rideshare & taxi app is taking on the more established Uber. For Juno their USP is not price or ease of use, or any of the other factors usually associated with these battles. Juno are staking their hope of success on treating their drivers better.

Juno claim that by taking care of their drivers, the drivers will, in turn, treat customers better and offer a richer experience to users. It is this improved experience that Talmon Marco, the Juno founder, believes will help them take a big share of Uber’s lucrative market. In contrast to Uber where the drivers are seen as self-employed service providers, Juno plan to give away half of the equity in their business to their drivers and make them 50:50 partners in the company. 

As they are classified as self-employed Uber drivers are responsible buying and maintaining their own vehicles, they are allowed to choose their own hours of work, but their engagement with Uber is minimal, and often only really occurs when they have difficulties that need resolving. There is no incentive for them to make Uber more successful. 

As partners in the business, with a genuine stake in Juno’s success, Marco hopes that Juno drivers will be more loyal to the company, and will want to offer a higher standard of service, and will achieve better customer retention rates than Uber and their other competitors.

The importance of employee advocacy is not confined to the battle between Uber and Juno. It has implications for businesses in every sector. How engaged employees are affects not just their performance while they are working for a business, and how long they will remain with the company, but also the image others form of that company, based on the information the employees share.

Sharing equity of a business with employees can be highly effective in improving staff loyalty, I am a big fan of the U.K’s EMI scheme that offers a great tax efficient way to give staff access to company shares, but there are also other ways to show staff they are valued, and to offer them value in return.

Employee engagement becomes even more important when the staff are working in a complex tech or startup environment. In this situation losing this member of staff means not only the expense and inconvenience of the hiring process, but also the hassle of training a replacement member of the team. When you add into this equation the fact that many developers have a three-month notice period it becomes clear that there could be a six month gap between one member of staff leaving, and their replacement being fully trained and ready work.

Being understaffed for this length of time could have serious implications for a business. To avoid this it is vital that the business does everything possible to retain qualified staff and to keep them motivated and engaged with the company. How can this be done? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is useful at this point, as Virgin Media have discovered, and can be directly applied to the idea of Employee Engagement.

Measuring Engagement

One of the most effective tools for employee engagement is an employer displaying a genuine concern for their employees professional development and career progression. The majority of your employees will have some desire to advance their careers and to move forward from their present position in the company. If an organisation is keen to retain employees loyalty it is in their interest to do everything possible to harness their employees ambition and desire for progression. The business should provide them with the opportunities they need to meet their self-actualisation needs. If employees are engaged they will give their best efforts to advance the company, and they will be keen to share their positive experience of the company with their friends and those with whom they come into contact. These employees will be highly successful in their tasks, and become a long-term asset to the organisation. They will in effect become ambassadors for the company, as well as being more loyal employees.

Creating Employee Advocates

With employee advocacy is firmly established in the business world, the days of treating staff like workhorses are over. To build a business that will grow in the long-term, happy, engaged staff need to act as advocates for their business and to share positive information about the business through their personal networks. 

Allowing employees the perception that they are trusted to make choices which can affect their working life can have a positive impact on their engagement. They will engage more because they see that what they do really does make a difference to their career. Employers must come to understand that the employer/employee relationship is not a one way street. Employment is a value proposition on both sides, where employers must offer employees reasons to remain engaged while working with you. 

In order to facilitate employees professional growth, businesses will need to work out where they are on the Needs spectrum. An effective way to achieve this is to conduct an employee survey. Doing this will show the way each employee perceives their job, and the way they understand their interaction with the company as a whole. Once each employee has been ranked on the Needs Hierarchy it becomes possible to plot their career path, and to increase their engagement on each step of the journey, from barely surviving, all the way to fully motivated, highly productive employee generating substantial revenue for the company.

Lastly, businesses leaders can help employees to grow by offering them a range of paths for career progression – let them choose between a technical route or a managerial route. They could even tailor a unique career path based on each employees specific skill-set, creating new job roles based on the skills of a particular employee. If an employee feels that they being allowed to use all their skills then they are much less likely to start looking elsewhere for fulfilment, they will remain a positive and vocal advocate for your company. Uber drivers are frequently not engaged with their company, and rarely act as advocates for the business, as they have no stake in the success of Uber.

Ownership in a business does help to foster loyalty, and should help to create the highly motivated, dedicated employees that Juno wants to take on Uber. Marco’s determination to engage with Juno employees is proof that employee engagement is now essential in all areas of the business world.