Turning Employee Advocacy On Its Head

— October 28, 2016

For businesses stepping into employee advocacy for the first time, the temptation to command and control the content will be irresistible. After years of telling employees to steer clear of social media at work, letting them share content not authorised by the brand may feel one step too far, too soon.

However, no matter how engaged your employees are, few will want to become “brand broadcasters” unless there’s something in it for them. Too often, employee advocacy programs are managed top down. Works fine for a while but active employees will want to carve their own individual identity on social media. That’s the point where employees will start to aggregate content off your employee advocacy platform if the functionality isn’t there to keep them engaged.

4 Reasons Why It’s Time for Employee “First” Advocacy

Here’s a radical thought. What if we actually used an employee “first” approach to advocacy where instead of sharing content to the masses, the masses shared content with each other? I know, perhaps too radical and I do understand that in highly regulated industries it’s not so easy to let your employees run free without enforced boundaries. But hear me out.

I believe it’s time we turned employee advocacy on its head – stop thinking about it in terms of “brand first” and start thinking about it as “employee first”. Tailoring and matching content (both branded and non-branded) to specific employee interests rather than just encouraging employees to follow pre-determined content categories.

employee advocacy - brand led versus employee led

I honestly believe that successful employee advocacy programs will address training, tools and content in equal measure but only if employee comes first. Here’s why I believe an “employee first” approach to advocacy is good for business:

#1 – Build a Community of Advocates Not Ambassadors: There’s a difference. Ambassadors represent your brand – advocates voluntarily endorse it. By enabling your employees to become advocates you’re helping them to build their professional brand around their area of expertise under the umbrella of your company brand. As Richard Branson once said “train your employees so they can leave but treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

#2 – Fuel A Learning Culture Through Content Sharing: Connect your employees with content and communities that will help them learn from others and bring innovative ideas back into the business. Helping employees to continually develop professionally is good for them and positive for employee engagement. Sharing brand only content to your employees won’t achieve this. Include third party content and thought leadership pieces that will interest them and their network.

#3 – Inspire Your Topic Experts to Become Influential: Creating quality content that will cut through the noise is one of the hardest jobs your marketing department is facing right now. However, the most authentic and credible voice of the brand is actually hiding behind the logo – your employees. Encourage your employee community to share their insights and feed that content into your employee advocacy tool. Nothing promotes more professional pride then when your peers endorse your work. Employee advocacy can help that process along.

#4 – Create A Workforce of Content Curators: Content control is what most brands love about employee advocacy tools but herein lies the rub. Content control = marketing megaphones. Avoid a top down only content cascade in your employee advocacy tool. Instead, set up the incentives to favour those who contribute content to the tool and not just those who amplify. Create variety and colour in your content mix that will inspire employees and their networks.

In summary, I believe it’s time to put employees in front of the logo – to let employees become the voice of the brand. Easier said than done, I know. Simply letting employees run free on social media without guidance is risky business but risk can be mitigated with an engaging social media training program tailored to the employees level of social media maturity.

The reality is that most companies won’t jump to an “employee first” advocacy approach right away (that’s a topic for another post) but will slowly relinquish control when they start monitoring performance metrics over time. Either way, it’s good to have a goal in mind and if that goal is to become a social business, then an “employee first” approach is best.

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Author: Sarah Goodall

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