Retaining, Growing and Attracting Customers Through Employee Advocacy
In business, there is no question that it is just as important to develop and nurture the customer and relationships that you already have, as is attracting new business. Keeping the customers that you already have requires equal parts commitment and responsiveness and can mean the difference between profit and loss. And as companies pull out all the stops for their customers’ loyalty and return business, some have discovered a surefire advantage – employee advocates.
The benefits of employee advocacy are well known, from amplifying marketing reach to building trust and brand equity and increasing employee engagement and recognition. In fact, the annual Edelman Trust Barometer continues to show that year over year, consumers trust company employees (technical experts, regular employees) of companies more than brand sources like the CEO.
There’s no question that employee advocates are an integral part of not only retaining and attracting new customers, but in protecting and enhancing brand reputation. They are transparent, they defend their employers from potential detractors, and act as advocates both online and offline.
Whether the advocacy is encouraged by the employer, or grown organically out of the employee’s self-motivation, employers can no longer afford to ignore this critical communications channel. But with dozens of articles and studies devoted to the topics of brand and employee advocacy, my daily conversations with brands from all industries has led me to the following conclusion: many brands do not have “formalized” employee advocacy programs.
While brands understand the inherent value of employee advocacy, many are struggling with exactly where to start.
What’s Your Strategy?
It goes without saying, but before you begin any social media program, you need to have a sound strategy and plan in place. When beginning an employee advocacy program, it is important to keep the following elements in mind:
- Company Social Media Policy – Does your company already have a policy in place for governing how the employee advocates should engage in social? If so, when was it last updated? The policy should be updated at minimum, annually, and should provide clear guardrails around what can and can’t be posted. Additionally, for brands in highly-regulated industries like Financial Services, ensure employee compliance with all industry regulations (i.e. FINRA, FTC and SEC guidelines for social media usage), and that all outbound content is catalogued
- Goals and KPIs – Think not only about what we want to accomplish with the program, but how we are going to get there. I like to use the “SMART” criteria for goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely), as they provide a clear and measurable structure for program goals.
- Build Your Content Pillars – Create employee advocate content pillars that align with your brand’s current content strategy, to ensure alignment with current brand campaigns, objectives and the SMART goals previously outlined for the program. Focus on content that showcases your company’s culture, people and thought leadership, as opposed to solely pushing marketing materials.
Identify Your Alpha Team
You’ve got to crawl before you can walk. The same holds true with any social media program. When building out your employee advocacy program, it’s best to start with a small, strong, socially-savvy team of employees. These can be made of your traditional “thought leaders” who are involved in other brand campaigns, or can be employees from a variety of departments who have active social networks.
The key is ensuring that the team you select is adept at understanding social media guidelines and the company’s brand messaging. Make sure that the social media policy is distributed among this team, and that training and support are made available as needed.
Additionally, make sure that the advocates are included in the development of the strategy, content planning and content creation, as this will give them more ownership of the program. Try not to be too restrictive in the content they are able to create and share, but provide flexibility to make the content their own.
Measure and Amplify Your Success
In order to prove the impact of any social program, it’s important to constantly and consistently measure. Refer back to the SMART goals and KPIs outlined at the outset of the program and consistently measure and optimize to ensure that the program is meeting those goals. Depending on your social goals, utilizing social metrics like shares, total engagement, and web conversion, can help assess campaign performance.
Once you’ve measured program success, don’t assume that success will naturally spread internally. Promote the success of the program, and all the great content that your Alpha Team has developed on your brand channels and through internal channels (i.e. newsletters, corporate intranet, blogs).
Recognize and Reward
It sounds so simple, but a simple “Thank You” can go a long way! Without showing your employees that you value their contribution, not only will you lose the interest of your greatest advocates, but you’ll affect the overall success of your program.
Incentivize continued participation in the program, by providing your employee advocates with rewards. They can be as simple as recognition from an executive or the CEO, lunches, additional PTO, or my personal favorite, amplifying the content they’ve created on the brand’s own social channels.
Are You Ready for Real Advocacy?
Real brand advocacy is born from culture and relationships and not marketing. Brand advocates, whether they are your customers or employees, want to feel like they are a part of the brand, like their voice is heard, and most importantly, that their voice is appreciated.
Does your brand have an active employee advocacy program? How has employee advocacy program helped meet your core social business objectives?