The modern buyer journey is changing and becoming increasingly more social. At the same time, a buyer’s trust in brand messaging is at an all-time low. More than ever, consumers (both B2C and B2B) are seeking out authentic feedback in social media as part of their decision journey. Simultaneously, brands are encouraging employees to become that trusted voice through employee advocacy programs.
In their recent report, Employee Advocacy 2.0: Leveraging Influence to Drive a Connected Organization and Employee-Led Buyer Journey, Onalytica (with help from Tribal Impact) produced a thorough guide to help companies build and optimize these programs while avoiding common missteps.
The reason employee advocacy is so impactful is because of an employee’s unique position within the company. They know all the details of the brand and product and are usually perceived as having valuable “insider information” to share.
“Employees have the potential to be brands’ biggest champions and can be the key connectors between your brand and the market influencers.”
According to LinkedIn, employee-shared content is regarded as being three times more authentic and, therefore, typically sees a click-through rate that is twice as high as when the corporate mouthpiece shares the same data.
In addition to increased reach, engagement, and brand awareness, employee advocacy allows brands to have a voice earlier in the buyer journey.
The report cites that 85% of customers seek out trusted expert content when considering a purchase and 84% of C and VP level buyers use social media in their decision-making process. Because of this, most of the buyer’s journey is complete before the buyer is even known to the company, increasing the value of early influence. This is reflected in the fact that leads generated through employees have been found to convert seven times more than any other lead gen source.
There are also less quantifiable benefits, such as increased brand trust and confidence and more effective retention and recruiting efforts as visible, motivated employees help attract future talent.
Brands are realizing that employees are a powerful influencer group they can always access, but they should not assume that access equals control. An employee’s personal influence is just that —personal — and usually not for sale. Companies may find ways to incentivize broadcast sharing of branded content, but, unless the employees are internally motivated, the full potential of their advocacy is falling short. Shifting the company view of employee advocacy from ‘owned’ to ‘earned’ media is a fundamental and required mindset shift. Finding what motivates the employee advocate to go beyond sharing branded content to creating their own content and connecting with external influencers is the secret to unlocking the power of these programs.
‘Employee advocacy 2.0’ describes moving from Content Amplification to Employees as Influencers.
Here is my favorite advice from the report on leveraging your own internal influencers:
In a study conducted by Hinge Research Institute, 46% of millennials saw employee advocacy as an opportunity to develop skills high in demand; 39.4% view it as access to more job opportunities and 38% saw it as differentiation from peers. Brands should focus on helping employees develop skills and become more influential rather than viewing them as a broadcasting channel.
Key ways to do this include:
- Helping employees identify personal goals that align with program goals
- Prioritizing valuable, “share-worthy”, branded content
- Identifying external influencers and engagement opportunities
- Providing tools and training to make it easy and remove doubt
Often employee advocacy programs are hindered by three main barriers:
- It’s not clear what content to share or how to share it
- Expectations are not defined
- Employees don’t see the value of using social media in the workplace
To begin understanding what motivates employees, conduct an audit, grouping likely participants into persona categories based on audience size and social activity to allow for customized training and activation efforts.
The idea is to help employees simultaneously increase their network size and social activity if that’s a desired goal; not all employees will move to the ‘influencer’ persona, based on their own motivations and alignment with the company message.
Integrating disconnected employee advocacy, social selling and influencer marketing programs begin to leverage the content creation efforts across the sales and marketing teams. Focusing on content that prioritizes problem-solving and innovation in highly relevant and relatable terms builds upon unifying themes and lead to more authentic and useful content. Encourage employees to engage with industry content and create their own commentary or responses, rather than relying solely on branded content.
Every employee has passion and expertise related to his/her field and role, and this passion is the conduit for connection to external influencers and experts. Facilitating these connections gives employees both permission and a shortcut to begin building relationships with key external influencers. In addition, empowering employees to follow these influencers more closely expands the brand’s social listening capacity and responsiveness and helps make future content creation efforts more relevant to target audiences.
A key shortcut to avoid is using the same training and activation content for the various personas. Instead, craft training materials and set expectations based on the employees’ current skill set, personal goals and preferred learning style. Craft a simple and approachable social media policy that outlines expectations and success. Implement social listening, content sharing and influencer mapping tools to help make the process as easy as possible. Build confidence by encouraging C-Suite and senior management to pilot the program to lead by example.
Defining desired outputs and outcomes is essential to analyzing program success, but brands must also exercise patience. Avoid trying to accelerate results through stringent KPIs or risk losing the authentic voice that makes employee advocates so valuable. Some structured metrics are in the table below, but it’s just as important to celebrate the one-off and individual wins that program participants achieve that are the early building blocks to long term employee advocates.
As you consider your own business, here are 3 actions you can take right away:
- Evaluate your content through the eyes of your employees. Is your branded content so valuable employees are happy to use their influence to share?
- Level up social listening and external influencer efforts. Finding and activating employee advocates is only part of a successful program. Can you begin building the topic hubs and influencer lists that will eventually map back to specific employee efforts?
- Pilot a program with senior leadership. Where do your senior leaders fit in the persona category chart? Are there influencer networks you can tap into? What are the basic first steps to modeling this behavior in advance of a company rollout?
These first steps will help prepare your company to mobilize and motivate employee advocates. Ready for the next steps? We work with the world’s most interesting brands,—let us help you build your plan of action.