Very few people are against the conceptual idea of having employees advocating on behalf of the brand. After all, employees have skin in the game - they are invested in the success of the company. They are the best experts available about the products and services the company sells. And you know how to reach them to engage and inspire them to advocacy.
Then why is it so hard?
Many companies have employee brand advocacy programs just not at the scale we all pine for. They are often organized around corporate social responsibility issues rather than dead-on product and service issues. Few programs scale even at the level of Twelpforce which is a hybrid between customer service and employee advocacy.
What if we could introduce new products and services to our employees first and each of them told 5 friends or shared via the average 130 Facebook friends? What if during a crisis a collection of rank and file employees were prepared to defend the brand publicly therefore increasing positive word of mouth? That's an appealing vision and admittedly naive. The implications of employees as active external advocates at any scale are pretty big.
The Questions: The following are 6 questions that may help you plan how you can develop this 'super-advocacy from the inside.'
Are you more interested in building up advocates for tough times or in evolving your marketing mix to include employee advocacy?
Just because we all intuitively are attracted to the idea of employees as advocates doesn't mean we shouldn't be clear about our objectives. Nor ar these two examples mutually exclusive. More and more brands believe in the power of word of mouth and not just from their customers. Still you would likely choose a different strategy if your primary goal was to identify a group of addressable employees in a crisis than if you wanted to enlist employees as transparent insiders (i.e. they are treated as insiders, given social capital to share and they are transparent with their friends and followers that they are employees) in all proactive marketing programs.
Do you want broad advocacy from the entire workforce or do you want to create an exclusive club?
This is pretty much about scale. Getting 300k employees (or realistically, some percentage of them) to share about a new product is different than training and "badging" 50 of them. The latter model is best suited to enable a group of employees to talk about more complex issues. Many brands now want to create a system that is more open to the workforce and holds the promise of preparing and activating many of them. This is less about too complex training programs and more about applying a communications model often found in political campaigns. Still, anyone who is encouraged to share about the brand must go through some training and receive accreditation. Too much is at stake.
an example from JRS: "If top leadership within an organization lives and breathes the brand, employees are much more likely to embrace it as well."
AT&T's infrastructure for internal collaboration and approach to converting internal critics outlines (see this video) an approach to building an internal socila infrastructure that inevitably helps external advocacy.
Do you have a well thought out employee advocacy and social media policy?
We are on our 3rd round of social media policies for employees. The first version was the easiest It's getting harder and more complicated. Once you have moved past the exuberance of the social media 'evangelist' which likely drove your social media policy 1.0, you realize there are some big questions that need answering (e.g. should hiring managers review a candidates Facebook page? Can an employee talk about the brand so long as they disclose they are an employee and that the opinions are their own?)
Here is a bit more information from a legal perspective - the Association of Corporate Counsel.
How much of their job do you want advocacy activity to take and are you expecting it to happen during work hours or outside?
Many of us in social media everyday get frustrated with the myths that social is free and takes no time. I am holed up on a sunny Saturday writing this. Conversely, we are sometimes the first people to gloss over the implication that training and then activating employees to "advocate" (i.e. create content) is time-consuming and that not every employee is willing to sacrifice their Saturday to do it. to feel good about your decision here, you must have some sense of the value that will be returned to the business. Why else would you allow staff hours to go towards a new activity?
Do you know what the range of social media aptitudes and networks are within your workforce?
Even though most word of mouth happens offline at the pool, in the checkout line or wherever, the social graphs of employees can be powerful. Much of their social activity can accumulate to have a positive impact on search results. Just as you want to know what social platforms your customers use such that you can engage them where they prefer to spend time, the same is true for your employees. Do a survey.
Do you already have a cgm listening solution in place to track this new employee content online?
If you are going to encourage employees to talk about the company or brand, you need to listen to them and measure the impact. The same infrastructure you invested in for online monitoring fo social media can be leveraged here.
Is your measurable objective clear enough and do you have a means to evaluate progress and value?
Like a lot of social media-based programs, employee activation via social is a pretty new way to market. To sustain any effort in this area, you will inevitably need to demonstrate value n the near term as well as longer term . Establishing goals around positive word of mouth in the marketplace, lead generation or customer referrals, and even sales on the marcom side will help. Workforce engagement can drive up retention, aid in recruiting and deliver some softer cultural benefits that appear in employee satisfaction surveys. Whatever your goals, be clear about them, benchmark and track. Budget time is never far off any more and you need to knwo if these new effrots are paying off.
Do you have a market or business unit more suitable than others for a pilot?
Plan as you might, you just don't know exactly how a employee advocacy program will work. It's best to implement 2-3 pilots in different markets to gather learnings and adjust a program before a wider rollout. Find a "market of innovation" where the business owners are a bit more entrepreneurial, the workforce somehow more open to this activity. When we were testing classroom innovations like wireless handhelds and school social networks back in 2000, we would always find what Scholastic called "schools of innovation" - essentially schools with entrepreneurial teachers and principals willing to be a part of something new.
(The image at the top was created using the Friend Wheel.)