Marketers tend to run in packs mentally; trends or “fads” develop, the hype builds, and many marketing blogs ride the wave and monetize it. In the past few years the words “employee advocacy” have been tumbling through my social feeds with regularity.

Simply because the term is popular does not mean I discount it. I understand very well that employees who evangelize for their employers can be the most powerful of advocates.

I once worked for a great leader who constantly told us that our employees were our most important customers, and he was absolutely right. He created a workforce so passionately dedicated to their company that the majority stayed for their entire careers. These were pre-social media days, but I know that had that workforce been given access to social media no one would have had to ask them to evangelize for their company; they would have done it willingly.

That gets to the core of what can be wrong with mandated social advocacy by employees: if your company has not created a stellar workplace where employees feel appreciated, asking for their advocacy is putting the cart before the horse.

The reality is that brands reap what they sow on social media; if your company culture is not healthy, you are unlikely to find authentic advocates among your staff.

There is also a real danger in mandating that employees engage on social for your brand. I once reported to a man who believed that he deserved respect solely based on his title; because he never tried to earn the respect of his reports, he didn’t enjoy much of it.

The same goes for companies; if your employees don’t respect your brand to begin with, you may be met with melba toast enthusiasm if you make sharing your content on social part of their job requirement.

What the Data Says

Margaret Rouse wrote a post on Whatis.com covering Forrester Research’s global survey of 5,500 information workers, where they asked:

  • How likely are you to recommend your company’s products or services to a friend or family member?
  • How likely are you to recommend a job at your company to a friend or family member?

“Overall, the North American score was negative twenty-four percent on the employee advocacy score for recommending their company’s products and services. Forty-nine percent of the information workers sampled were detractors, twenty-four percent were neutral and just twenty-seven percent were promoters. For job referrals, the overall score was negative sixteen percent, with forty-three percent detractors, twenty-nine percent neutral and twenty-seven percent promoters.”

Meaning that despite the fact that marketers are pushing companies to use employee advocacy as a marketing tactic, many US companies don’t have the groundwork laid to make that possible, or even wise.

The Basics

I’m not scaremongering when I caution you about requesting employee advocacy from your employees; if you haven’t created a social media policy that has been read by every employee, you have NO business asking them to advocate for you online. Imagine what happens if someone criticizes a company post and your employee decides to go on the attack “in defense of your brand.”

All of your employees who are asked to advocate for you need to understand the basic PR rules, specifically when it comes to bad social PR, trolls and negative stories about your brand. What is the protocol for handling them, and who is the number one decision maker in such instances?

In addition, you need to make sure that YOU understand exactly what your goals are when you ask employees to share stories or posts via their own social media accounts? If your answer is simply “reach,” you need to reconsider your goals.

Solid business goals would include generating leads, making sales, or educating your consumer; simply achieving amplification via your employees by telling them to share things on social is a “no-results” plan. There IS an ROI to social, and it is measurable if you use the proper tools and metrics.

In order to achieve your business goals, you need employees advocating for you in their own valued communities, in real life and on social. Employers who don’t understand how community works often make the mistake of thinking any sharing is good. Asking them to simply tweet or share your content isn’t going to do jack for your goals if they are based on anything other than vanity metrics.

Make it Easy and Rewarding for Them

The American workforce is one of the most productive in the world, with many employees working far more than 40 hours per week. Adding additional responsibilities to an already busy employee’s schedule is bound to create a negative reaction. Making it easy for your employees to receive, digest, and then share content that is good for your company is an essential piece of building authentic advocacy.

However, this ‘traditional’ way of looking at employee advocacy is all wrong, according to Meddle.it CEO, Vidar Brekke.

“The employee advocating for his/her employer is not in sync with how value is created, and what draws customers to a company,” says Brekke.

Meddle, therefore, chose to build an employee advocacy platform where employers get to amplify the voices of their employees and build their personal brands, rather than the other way around. “It’s more authentic, credible and honest” he continues.

Saying “‘Look at the talented people who work at our company to solve your challenges ”simply drives new business more effectively than PR-spin regurgitated via employees en masse.”

Next you need to determine how you will reward employees for doing this important additional work. When I worked for the innovative leader Todd Van de Hei, he created a Big Idea Committee that the entire company was able to participate in. Each month we could submit ideas for making the company better, and if our idea was chosen and implemented, we received a substantial monetary reward. GREAT, business changing ideas came out of that committee.

I am not suggesting that you pay employees to share your content, but I do advise you to have a way to measure not only how much their sharing, but what happens when they share. Using a product like Simply Measured, allows you to see where your website visitors come from, where they go on your site, and what they do.

Acknowledging your best employee advocates is a start. Perhaps adding a reward like special parking, time off, being an advisor to your community management team or other benefits would work in your company.

As I stated earlier, at the core of a solid employee advocacy program is a vibrant, healthy work culture, but it doesn’t stop there. As in all forms of marketing, a clear strategy with set goals and measurement tools is essential to building employee advocacy that works.

 Amy Tobin is not affiliated with Meddle.it in any way other than as a guest blogger for openfor.business

About Amy Tobin

Amy specializes in premium, well-researched content, content strategy, and generational insights. She relies on social listening and search analysis to developing effective content marketing strategies.

She is Content & Strategist for ARCOMPANY, Switch and Shift, YouTern and founder of blueseacontent.com..

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