According to recent research from Aberdeen Group, advocacy is a direct product of an engaged workforce. Best in class companies realize the benefits of employee advocacy only if they’ve built an environment that fosters employee engagement through communication, professional development, and empowerment to make an impact.
An agency that understands these things is in a unique position of influence. They can guide clients to marketing strategies that position the company as best in class, which will create more opportunity for services as time goes on.
In the pages that follow, you will learn how to position your agency as a long-term trusted partner on the back of employee advocacy services. We will explore the key benefits of employee advocacy, services you can offer your clients, and the tools to manage these programs on their behalf.
Increased Employee Engagement
In the introduction we cited research that states engagement is a precursor to advocacy. So how is it possible that a key benefit of employee advocacy is increased engagement?
The answer: the relationship between employee engagement and advocacy is a cycle within the organization’s culture that feeds on itself. The research shows that if an organization maintains a culture of highly-engaged employees, the advocacy program will yield business results. When those results and achievements are celebrated and communicated within the organization, they act as fuel to sustain engagement at work.
The most obvious benefit of employee advocacy is content amplification. On average, people have 846 connections across their social networks (Source: Pew Research, 2013 and DMR, 2014). Imagine the potential reach for the content you create by mobilizing an employee network of 50 or 5,000.
If you’re thinking, “We could simply take out targeted advertising to reach the social networks of these employees,” you’d be right. Targeted ads are inexpensive, powerful, and seamlessly fall into the service mix that agencies provide their clients.
However, they’re still ads, and they’re still carrying the avatar of a company that likely has no direct relationship with the members of the employee networks you are targeting.
By contrast, employee-shared content will be more likely to reach news feeds organically. Users who see employee-shared content from people in their own network will make a more positive association with your client’s brand, because the content is being posted by someone they know and trust.
Brand Awareness and Storytelling
When employees share content about their company, they become part of the brand story. Their networks see them as an extension of the values, culture, and services of their employer. Their networks are more likely to approach them directly with questions or opportunities than the official brand channels.
This relationship should not be taken lightly, but also represents a powerful opportunity for an agency to tap into a pool of talent for content creation and influence building. As content around the brand becomes more humanized, it is more easily shared by other employees within the organization.
At its core, an employee advocacy program is an ongoing communication plan that involves curated content employees can read and share to their social networks. Employee advocacy programs also transcend the entire organization, not just one department, meaning agencies who offer services on the back of employee advocacy programs can build deeper, more profitable relationships with their clients. Here are some example services you could offer:
Build Up Social Footprints Of Employees Through Selective Content Curation
Employee participation in an advocacy program will fizzle if all they are asked to do is share company content. Content curation from around the web creates an opportunity for the employee to raise their authority and stature by positioning them as a subject matter expert.
Agencies can also assist with social profile creation, optimization, and training, to ensure the employees represent themselves professionally as their social influence increases.
Leverage Networks To Assist With Earned (Placed) Media
Your agency has a network of journalists, publishers, and influencers. You probably already ofer these to your client for brand content. As the influence of employee advocates increases, you could also extend access to your network to all-star employees who are ready to represent their company on a larger stage. And of course, you would be a part of the content creation process.
Deliver More Authentic Brand Storytelling Campaigns
Brand storytelling is very useful for recruiting. Humanizing your client’s brand by showing of the culture and people will attract talent and publicity. Employee sharing will increase the impact of these campaigns for two reasons:
First–the obvious reason–that employees talking about their employer casts a more authentic halo over the company than a press release, paid ad, or influencer campaign. You can’t fake excitement for being a part of an organization you believe in. Second, it will increase the number of referral candidates which, according to Jobvite, represent 40% of hires (but are only 7% of applications). Referred candidates also stay longer and take less time to hire than employees hired through other channels.
Coordinate a Broader Content Creation Program
Every company has all-stars in its organization that are either too busy or lack the skill set to share their vast knowledge with the world. Since an employee advocacy program touches all departments of the organization, your agency could facilitate content programs that go beyond just marketing and sales.
This content also contributes to the idea of brand storytelling, which has significant merits as shown above.
High-powered Event Marketing Companies
host webinars and attend trade shows (as speakers or exhibitors) throughout the year. One of the hardest parts of event marketing, especially on social media, is creating awareness. The speed and fluidity of social streams creates a challenge that your agency could solve with coordinated event content sharing by employees.
Creating groups of employee advocates who are most relevant to the event is a key part of success, as is discovering conversations on social about the event that they can insert themselves in, both before and during.
Risk Mitigation and Social Compliance
According to one study, a key challenge employees face when asked about sharing company content is not knowing what to say. In certain industries, there are significant consequences for saying something wrong on social. In others, the risk is less, but still important to mitigate from an on-brand perspective.
Agencies running employee advocacy programs for their clients have the ability to address this risk by pre-writing approved “status updates” that the employees can use when they share content. With the right technology platform, agencies could even offer multiple options for “status updates” that carry different voices. The employee appears more authentic and natural when the story is shared, but the client knows the text was approved.
Social Literacy and Training
Empowering employees to act as public-facing ambassadors for your client requires some prep work. If there is no social media policy, your client needs one. Not every employee uses social media for professional reasons, but when they share company content they’ll be required to act as professionals. As their status on social networks increases, the employees will be faced with new situations like how to respond to a customer service or PR inquiry, or even how to handle negative comments.
Agencies have an opportunity to guide this social literacy process by offering training on a variety of topics like engagement, social selling, social customer care, and so forth.
The Role of Technology
On a mechanical level, running an employee advocacy program follows these steps:
- Relevant content is created and then curated for distribution.
- Content is distributed to employees with an implicit (or explicit) ask to read and share.
- Employees take action on said content.
- Program managers analyze performance, which informs future content creation and training.
Traditional communication channels like email, and messaging tools like Slack, fall short in one or more of these areas, making the case for a true technology solution like Bambu to run an employee advocacy program.
“Agencies should choose a technology partner that can provide behind-the-scenes expertise and guidance to the agency for product knowledge, program management and technical support.”
-Jessica Carman, Director of Client Strategy for TMP Worldwide
According to Jessica Carman, Director of Client Strategy for TMP Worldwide, agencies “should choose a technology partner that can provide behind-the-scenes expertise and guidance to the agency for product knowledge, program management and technical support.” In other words, you want your technology partner to help you create success for your clients.
Pitch it Right: Keys to Success
For the tactical examples in this guide to be effective, and for you to attain overall success with an employee advocacy offering, certain things need to be present in the client organization.
- Executive Sponsor: You will want someone with internal influence to understand the broader value of word-of-mouth marketing and employee engagement, otherwise the program’s success will be evaluated under a shortsighted lens.
- Pilot Group: it helps to have a seed group of employees (from anywhere within the organization) to act as pilot users and internal advocates for the program. These people should have an established digital and social footprint so they can generate results quickly. You then put those results on display for the rest of the organization to recruit new advocates.
- Sustained Participation: understand that one of your primary goals is to make the employee advocacy program something worth doing for the employee. Encouraging and sustaining participation requires a plan that touches on areas like leadership development, basic gamification and content creation. The organization needs to have a culture that will allow these things to happen or your program will fizzle out.
“I think it’s important, at the least, for the agency to understand all components, and be ingrained in what the client organization takes on as a responsibility as well.”
-Jessica Carman, Director of Client Strategy for TMP Worldwide
Carman also notes that program ownership is a joint effort. “I think the right answer is agency to own entire employee advocacy program, however, it’s not as black and white as this,” she explains. “I think it’s important, at the least, for the agency to understand all components, and be ingrained in what the client organization takes on as a responsibility as well.”
Short Term vs. Long Term Opportunity
As you read earlier, there are several opportunities for your agency to provide value in the areas of employee advocacy. Some of these services are short-term in nature, others allow you to guide and nurture your client’s advocacy programs as they mature and expand.
Your agency should align its strengths with the length of the opportunity present in the services you choose to offer.
Short-term Opportunity: Agencies who excel at campaign-style services should position themselves to offer a menu of shorter-term “transactional” services that their clients can purchase on demand.
- Social profile writing as part of the employee advocacy onboarding process.
- Event marketing campaigns (virtual and in-person).
- Coordinated content amplification for product releases, company news, and so forth.
Long-term Opportunity: Agencies who excel at transformative-style services should position themselves as a complete resource, where their existing suite of services is repackaged to fit the needs of employee advocates. These agencies will also develop a value nurturing spectrum for the employee advocacy program, so they can identify areas (using ongoing measurement) when a particular service should be introduced.
- Thought leader / Ambassador development using top employee advocates.
- Training for social literacy and profile building.
- Content curation to build the network authority of employee advocates.
Identify How Employee Advocacy Fits into Your Services Mix
By now you should have a good understanding of how employee advocacy can benefit an organization and complement traditional agency offerings. We would encourage you to think about how your agency would position itself when speaking about advocacy services.
Are you primarily focused on amplification and distribution? Choose services mentioned earlier that can mobilize a workforce to meet those goals. Add incentives for clients who aren’t yet considered best in class when it comes to employee engagement or advocacy.
Does your agency do long-term partnerships to totally reshape a company’s brand strategy? Choose services that have a longer-term payout. Combine them with short-term campaigns that mobilize existing brand champions. Use the resulting stories to gain buy-in from the rest of the organization.