How do you get hundreds and thousands of employees excited enough about your company updates to share them with their friends?
It takes great content, the right tools, and buy-in from a multitude of stakeholders within your organization. But it all starts with one thing: your employee advocacy strategy.
Creating a detailed plan sets you up for success. Once you’re done you know what you are aiming at with your advocacy initiative, what resources are needed for its successful implementation, and how to get your staff on board.
We’ve looked back at years of experience in running billion-dollar advocacy programs and collected eight practical steps for building a successful employee advocacy strategy.
What is an employee advocacy strategy?
Before we move forward, let's discuss what an advocacy strategy is and what business results you can achieve through employee advocacy.
What is employee advocacy?
Employee advocacy is the process by which employees promote and share messages about the business they work for, along with its products and services, to their social media followers and friends.
People trust other people more than brands. In fact, 84% of consumers value recommendations of friends and family above all forms of advertising. Moreover, leads developed through employee social marketing convert seven times more frequently than other leads. This is why employee advocacy is known to be used across different functions to drive better business results.
Some of the objectives companies pursue with their employee advocacy programs include improving company’s employer brand, boosting sales, increasing brand awareness, saving money in advertising, and building employees’ personal brands.
Now, when we established why companies need employee advocacy programs, let’s talk about how to approach the launch of such initiatives. The starting point of creating such a program is documenting the employee advocacy strategy: the overall game plan of your employee advocacy initiative.
Why do you need an employee advocacy strategy?
If you’ve set up to start an employee advocacy program, you will definitely benefit from documenting your strategy first. Strategy creation includes setting objectives and KPIs. And as we all know, clearly set goals mean measurable results.
These objectives differ a lot from one business to another: some want more reach, others want more leads. Employee advocacy is there to help businesses grow, not just to create buzz, so setting up clear goals early on helps you define all other parts of the program: channels used, types of content, and so on.
Creating an employee advocacy strategy also means planning the financial and human resources needed for your advocacy program. Identifying your key stakeholders and getting them on board before the launch of the program is crucial for a successful advocacy initiative. An employee advocacy program is never a one-man job: you will need help from the IT function, as well as HR, marketing, and internal communications. depending on your objectives.
A strategic approach to employee advocacy helps you with internal selling as well. Getting employees on board with your program can be challenging in some industries, so identifying the value behind employee advocacy for your employees before the program launch helps you better communicate the perks of participation to your employees and, hence, get higher engagement.
We have already briefly touched upon some of the points an employee advocacy strategy includes. Now, let’s move on to the steps to creating a killer employee advocacy strategy.
8 steps for building an employee advocacy strategy
Following these steps will help you create a successful employee advocacy strategy for your business:
1. Start with the “why?”
You will never succeed in getting your employees to share content if you don’t have a clear vision of why you need them to do that in the first place.
So what does the “why” means in this case? It’s the benefits employee advocacy provides for all parties involved in the program. Start with writing down what are the benefits the program will provide for the overall business. These benefits might seem self-evident to you, but they are most likely not that obvious to your colleagues. Make sure to document them well, so that it’s easy for you to communicate them to other stakeholders.
After you’ve got the overall business benefits down, move on to identifying how other people helping you with the program benefit from it. For example, building a positive employer brand often lies on the shoulders of the marketing department, so starting an advocacy program would be their initiative.
However, we all know that HR plays a crucial role in building an employer brand and they also benefit from it in many ways. A good employer brand helps attract the best talent, reduces employee turnover, and more. So it’s pretty clear that HR would definitely benefit from an employee advocacy program aimed at building a positive employer brand. All that’s left here is to make sure HR-team knows what they’re getting from helping marketing with the advocacy program.
Lastly, clearly identify the value behind the advocacy for the employees. This point is so important, we’ve dedicated a whole other section to it below.
2. Define the key objectives
Just as with any other strategy, defining clear objectives is a vital part of the employee advocacy strategy. First, define the overarching goal of your initiative and then set clear KPIs you would follow to see how you are moving along your path to success.
The objectives and KPIs vary largely depending on the use case. Here are some examples of the employee advocacy goals you might want to achieve:
Increase reach on social media by X%
Increase traffic to the website by X%
Increase the number of marketing qualified leads by X%
Increase engagement on social media by X%
Increase the number of closed-won deals by X%
Reduce time to close a deal by X%
Reduce the cost to close a deal by X%
Increase the number of referrals by X%
Increase the number of qualified job applicants by X%
Increase the number of referrals by X%
Increase traffic to the career site by X%
Increase the reach of job openings by X%
Increase the number of Glassdoor reviews by X%
3. Define the channels
Just like a marketing strategy, an employee advocacy strategy needs to clearly identify the channels you want to focus on.
When thinking of that, you should consider the following questions:
Where is your target audience?
What is the objective of your employee advocacy initiative?
A large consumer brand might prioritize Facebook and Instagram in their general marketing efforts, but if their employee advocacy is aimed at employer branding, then a professional network like LinkedIn would be a better choice for their employee advocacy program. This does not mean that there is a need to limit the number of channels you allow your employees to share to, but having a clear vision of the preferred channel helps you streamlining content preparation.
What channels your employees already use? It is always easier to encourage people to share content to the channels they are already active on than to get them to join the new ones. So taking a look at your employees’ current activity can ensure a smoother start to your program.
If your employee advocacy program is international, the preferred channels will likely vary from one market to another. Understanding, the channels used in each country will make it easier to adjust your content to work for all the channels involved.
4. Find the technology to back up your program
Now when you have defined your objectives and the channels you want to use, it is time to get working on your “support system” - a software that will make sharing so easy your employees won’t be able to resist amplifying your message.
Start with market research, peer-to-peer review sites like G2 are the best source of insight here since they base their rankings on the opinion of the existing customers. It’s also important to include your CIO in the process since they have the best knowledge of the technical aspects of implementing new software.
Collaborating with your CIO is choosing the software ensures that the solution found would not only work well for your business objectives but would also integrate with the rest of your company’s tech stack.
Here are a few things to consider when looking for employee advocacy software:
Segmentation capabilities. Your employees are more likely to share content that is relevant for them, so you should look for tools that are capable of delivering each employee a personalized news feed, based on their region, job role, and interests.
Mobile-friendliness. On average, people spend nearly four hours every day on mobile devices. Since social media is mostly consumed on mobile, your content has better chances of being shared if your employees see it on their phone as well.
Integrations. You probably have a lot of tools already, so adding yet another one can be painful. This is why it is crucial to seek out the tools that consolidate your tech stack, instead of making it more complicated. Look for advocacy software that can integrate with your intranet, chat tools, user management systems, and content management software.
Analytics capabilities. When evaluating the success of your advocacy program, you should strive to go beyond looking at metrics like shares, clicks, and reactions. It’s not about asking what is happening, it’s about understanding why it is happening and what you can do to improve. Look for software that allows you to dig deep and get answers to questions like which department is creating the most engagement, which content type should you be providing to each region, or even which employee drives the most form submissions.
Gamification. Gamification features are important for driving higher employee engagement with employee advocacy initiatives. Real-time leaderboards, dashboards, and point-based rewards can go a long way in driving your employees’ motivation to become advocates.
5. Set a clear launch date
This point might sound self-explanatory, but hear us out - it’s an important one. We’ve seen a lot of projects being pushed back simply because there was no particular launch date chosen to start with.
To help you kickstart your program and get people to share the content, think of some event in your company people will be willing to share: launch of a new product, a strategic initiative, a company event. Launching your advocacy initiative at the same time as you start promoting these endeavors can give a massive push to your employee engagement.
Once you’ve chosen the date, work back from it and plan out everything that needs to happen by that date. Clearly communicate the timeline and the tasks with all the stakeholders involved and you are set for a smooth start.
6. Identify your key stakeholders and get them on board early on
Employee advocacy programs are never a one-man job. To start, you’ll need the buy-in from the executives not only to get the approval for launching the program, but also to set the tone for the employees and encourage long-term engagement.
Another group of stakeholders that are always involved in the implementation of the program is the IT function. Your CIO is the subject matter expert what comes to your company’s communication infrastructure, so their participation is crucial for finding the right software for the purpose and getting it set up in time to kick off your advocacy program.
Depending on your objectives, other functions such as HR, marketing, internal communications are likely to play an important role in your advocacy initiative, so make sure to involve them in the planning process, so that you are aligned on the objectives you are aiming to achieve and the policies to do that.
7. Clearly define the value behind employee advocacy for your employees
This point is about the main stakeholders of any advocacy program - the employees. After all, that’s what employee advocacy is about - getting your employees excited enough about your content to share it with their close circles.
Nearly 50% of brands find it difficult to keep their employees motivated to participate in the advocacy program, which is why it’s so important to take the time to communicate the value of employee advocacy to the staff.
The most commonly highlighted benefit here is normally personal branding. But for you to really sell advocacy to your staff members, you need to spell out what is the value behind personal branding: it helps grow the professional networks, advances career development, enables people to take control of how their professional connections perceive them, and so on.
In fact, 86% of employees in firms with a formal employee advocacy program say that their involvement on social media for professional purposes has helped their career
Another benefit of brand ambassadorship for the employees that is often overlooked is the overall business growth. People want their companies to do well, so they are more than happy to share employers’ content if they know it will drive better business results, so you need to make sure you communicate the overall business objectives of advocacy program to all the employees, not just the management.
To encourage and support your employees in starting their activity as brand ambassadors, you need simple and intuitive software that will make sharing easy. But it goes beyond just that: take the time to provide best practices and training to your staff, so that they can feel confident in starting their journey as brand ambassadors.
Moreover, it’s important to have a clear social media policy. It should define the company guidelines for online communication: what is acceptable and what is not. This helps to reduce uncertainty and confusion among employees. When your employees are aware of what they can and cannot do, they feel more confident to participate and share company-related content.
8. Document your strategy and track the success of your program
Now when you have done all that work, you’re ready for the launch. Make sure you have a clearly documented strategy you can look back at to see, whether you’re achieving the results you set for yourself.
As with most endeavors, once you start working on it, you start noticing adjustments and improvements are needed. This is where analytics comes in handy. With a sophisticated employee advocacy software, you can dive deep and see not only what content is performing poorly, but also clearly understand why and get ideas on what you can do to make it better.
Make sure to regularly check back on the analytics to see how your content is performing and, if some regions or types of content do not perform as anticipated, take the time to analyze the data and decide areas of improvement. With a good tool, it won’t take you long, but it would make a huge difference in how your advocacy initiative develops.
Anita has worked in both internal communications and marketing functions. She firmly believes in building meaningful connections between people and brands through relevant and engaging content. This is why she enjoys working at Smarp, which shares the same vision.