How to Activate Employees and Harness the Power of Internal Experts
Here’s a strategy brands such as IBM and Starbucks have been using for years to bolster their marketing reach and their revenue – employee activation.
By harnessing the potential of the people who know your brand better than even your most devoted customers, you can tap into a rich source of brand advocacy and fuel growth. At the same time, you’ll boost employee engagement.
Engaged employees have a vested interest in your organization’s success. They are aligned with your messaging and vision. And they offer something much more important than greater productivity.
A positive employee attitude can engage your customers as well. Look at it this way. As many as 68 percent of customers abandon a brand as a direct response to poor employee attitude.
The bulk of customer brand perception – about 70 percent – doesn’t depend on the ingenuity of your video marketing strategy or the quality of your products – it’s human interaction with customer service representatives, your employees at in-person events, email and live chat responses, and the content your employees are sharing about your brand.
When your employees do share your company’s content – something that’s not likely to happen without motivation, only about 3 percent of employees share company-related content – you are looking at a healthy boost of customer engagement.
This positive impact is exponential. When you can motivate 6 percent of your employees to share content, customer engagement increases by 60 percent. With 10 percent active employees, you’re looking at the potential for a 100 percent increase.
The bottom line is, the experiences customers have with your employees shape the impression of your brand more than anything else.
On the other hand, when you fail to activate your employees, you’ve effectively created a financial black hole for your organization. Disengaged employees cost businesses from $450 to $550 billion each year.
So, how can you activate your employees?
The key is in understanding what employee activation truly means. Hint: it’s much more than offering a carrot.
When you look at examples of excellent employee advocacy programs in action, you’ll see that it’s more than a few tweaks to your organizational processes and internal communications. It’s a shift. A transformation that’s going to take time and conscious effort, but one that you can fully achieve with the help of a few tools, tips and strategies to help you activate your internal experts.
Let’s get started.
What Does Employee Activation Involve?
Employee activation is all about motivating your employees to share content with their social networks. We already know that word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective techniques for generating leads and boosting sales.
Employee activation takes this one step further, tapping into your employees to expand the reach of your brand. Just how much of a difference will this make? It can potentially have a seismic effect. This is because, for the typical business, the social networks of employees are 10 times the size of the social following of the company itself.
“When you can activate your entire company to be brand ambassadors, the full effects of social selling can be felt globally.”
-Koka Sexton, Sr. Social Marketing Manager formerly of LinkedIn and Hootsuite
Being able to activate your employees offers more benefits than a wider social media net for your brand to reach out to. Way more.
Your organization will experience a cascading positive effect because as you put in the effort to activate your employees through training, supporting, mentoring, and mobilizing, you’re also aligning their work with the purpose and mission of the business. You’re making their job more meaningful.
This isn’t just a shiny ideal. Purpose is what makes getting out of bed in the morning to come to work appealing. And it’s something consistently profitable companies have been focusing on for years – take Southwest Airlines for example.
They focus on both company culture and customer service and make a point of recognizing employees regularly on their website, their brand magazine, and they have a library of videos sharing stories form real customers who appreciated the experience they’ve had with the brand.
Taken further, active employees have a lot to gain. When they share their insights, expertise and vision, they are building their own personal brand, which can support their careers in the long run.
“If you help brand your people, they will help brand your company.”
–Jennifer Jones Newbill, Dell
You’ll have employees who are both engaged and motivated, and who can benefit themselves from their experience as an employee advocate. The more they invest into the company through sharing content and brand advocacy, the more they have to gain professionally. Win-wins tend to be good for everyone.
Here are just a few of the bonuses other companies are already seeing from a serious approach to employee activation:
- Improved reputation. Increased brand advocacy from employees can lead to a 43 percent more favorable public image.
- Easier to attract top talent. Employees are trusted 3 times more than your organization’s CEO by potential recruits. When they are visible on social media as brand representatives, it’s a lot easier to attract quality hires.
- Increased employee retention. Companies with active social engagement are 20 percent more likely to retain talent.
- Better brand storytelling. Want more authentic content? Get it from the people who are the heart of your business by inviting them to share their voice. Neil Gunn, the Digital Strategy Advisor for the World Wildlife Fund in the UK says, “The theory is that people who have the stories to tell are on the ground. If you really are going to do social well, you need to make the connection with those who have the story to tell.”
- Boost in sales leads. For employee sharing on LinkedIn, research shows that sales leads increase by as much as 58 percent.
A Word on Individual and Brand Authority
Looking for a way to bring your brand authority to the next level? Consumers don’t just have higher expectations today, gravitating towards quality content, better experiences, and meaningful brands. It’s also harder to gain their trust.
Over 40 percent of American consumers trust brands less than they did 20 years ago. And, nearly half want to see a stronger identity in the brands they engage with.
In order to, not only gain back consumer trust but also to keep it, brands need to reveal the man behind the curtain and stop hiding every company’s greatest asset – employees.
Which is why employee activation is critical to energizing your marketing right now, let alone reaping the productivity rewards of an engaged culture. Studies show that consumers are more likely to buy from brands they feel are authentic, and are less likely to be swayed by ads.
Activated employees are the key to establishing your brand as a trustworthy company in this evolved consumer-brand-employee relationship matrix. When they are engaged and empowered, they become something more profound than brand advocates. They are the passionate people who your target audience can look to as industry thought leaders.
A company recognized for its skilled, enthusiastic experts, on top of quality products or services, dedicated customer service, and a strong brand identity – now that’s a force to be reckoned with.
But, activating your employees to be more than passive participants is going to require more than an incentive program. You have to create that spark in your employees and then commit to keeping it alive.
3 Brands with Employee Advocate Programs
Take a look at these examples of brands who have made engaging their employees a priority.
Dell excels at activating their employees on social. What they’ve done is create a dynamic training, support and facilitation program to empower their sales employees to be active on social and to ensure social usage is as effective as possible.
Dell’s Social Media University involves over 16,000 employees in 46 different countries. This is how it works:
- Employees who want to be a part of the program go through training.
- Dell then gives their employees branded accounts to use (@dell).
- There’s a Governance system in place to guide the process, approve ideas, and, in general, facilitate more worthwhile marketing and recruiting content.
- They also have a specialist team to monitor and respond to customer service issues and branded conversations on social media.
This highly structured approach has been a big win for both employees and Dell.
Sales employees who use social media outperform nonsocial salespeople by 23 percent. For Dell, they get way more customer engagement – social content posted by employees, for Dell, is eight times more engaging than the content the brand publishes. It’s also boosted profits, by over $14 million.
Adobe’s Social Shift Program is another forward-thinking approach to employee brand advocacy. It offers education and best practices to help employees become better brand advocates. Employees can even test their ambassador skills by practicing with simulated experiences.
Lauren Friedman, head of Global Social Business Enablement for Adobe says of their employee advocacy, “We believe that people trust people. People buy from people. Relationships fuel our overall success.” She also points out the program works through enabling and encouragement, giving employees plenty of room to be themselves, saying, “We don’t want to create an army of Adobe-bots!”
Adobe then encourages employees to share on different platforms.
- Post on the Adobe Life blog
- Participate in contests for social sharing with weekly recognition for top ambassadors
- Adobe scouts out ideal spokespeople to post on LinkedIn and Glassdoor
- Employees who really stand out are invited to special events like Adobe’s MAX conference
Their strategy works. Over one-third of Adobe’s employees have gone through the Social Shift. Adobe is known for having the most social employees in the entire tech industry.
Headed by the always visionary Howard Schultz, Starbucks is another company that has been motivating employee brand advocacy for years. This hasn’t just led to active employees on social media and boosted trust in the brand, it’s also sparked their customer-based brand advocate army. Starbucks is king at inspiring user-generated content.
Starbucks encourages employees to share brand updates and stories on their social media profiles. They also use their internal team to gain feedback before releasing new products. This is an excellent technique for B2C brands who want to test out new ideas on ‘consumers’ before launching into the real-world.
“[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance, and as such, the primary catalyst for delighting customers. [They] elevate the experience for each customer – something you can hardly accomplish with a billboard or a 30-second spot.”
7 Tips for Activating Your Employees
Your employees are more trusted, more social, and may be some of your brand’s best storytellers. Here are tips and strategies you can use to motivate them to be vocal about your brand.
1. Start Small with the Social Stars You Already Have
Talent consultant Lars Schmidt warns that starting an employee activation initiative with your HR department or upper management can backfire. “Employees may be skeptical if HR or leadership pushes them to act. If they see their peer participating, they’ll be more compelled to follow suit and your initiatives can grow organically and authentically.”
Identify your employees who are already advocates on social media and start small with them. Once you’ve trained them to use their social profiles or their dedicated branded profiles, you have your internal leaders who you can then use for a larger program.
2. Make It about Personal Branding
The best way to motivate brand advocacy within your organization isn’t by offering a financial or physical reward. It’s about personal incentive.
Especially for B2B brands, employees have the chance to share their own expertise and establish themselves as industry experts while they work for you when they post well-researched or thought-provoking content on LinkedIn, publish how-to videos on YouTube, or share links to content on Twitter and Facebook.
Your employee activation should be about empowering your employees to be the best professional version of themselves. This, in turn, benefits your brand as they are your organization’s social representatives. It also fosters an authentic interest in giving their best to the organization they work for.
Approach brand advocacy as advantageous for both company and employee and you’ll get sustainable interest.
3. Teach Your Employees to Fish
Have a support system in place at the beginning. You don’t have to start out with a social training academy like Dell or Adobe. But, at least have established guidelines, tips and best practices, and identify social experts within your organization for individuals to go to with questions or for some one-on-one guidance. This will set the foundation for a successful program.
An effective strategy is to create regular educational content. Webinars, a library of educational videos filled with social media pointers, training sessions, or short weekly or monthly meetings are all methods you can use to make sure your employees know what’s acceptable to share and the best ways they can be successful sharing their expert voice on various social media platforms.
4. Make Social Sharing Convenient with Curated Content
Your employees are more likely to be active when you make it easy for them. As part of your employee activation program, you can regularly supply curated content. Include relevant blog posts, videos, industry news, and case studies. Then, encourage your advocates to edit the posts so as to use their personal voice.
5. Incentivize with Contests
You won’t be able to maintain a sustainable employee advocacy program on incentives alone, but they definitely can keep people interested. Think weekly contests or giveaways. This type of motivation is more about keeping your employees engaged than it is the reward itself so make your contests fun and interesting.
6. Leverage Technology
Yes, there’s an app for employee activation. In fact, there are several, including plenty of machine learning algorithms and AI-inspired platforms. Take advantage of these tools to make motivating your employees that much more effective.
- Elevate is a LinkedIn resource that you can use to share curated content at scale. It’s a built-in feature, making it too convenient not to use.
- EveryoneSocial is the employee advocacy platform used by Dell and Adobe and makes it exceedingly simple for employees to share content to their social networks at scale.
- Dynamic Signal is another useful tool for employee sharing that comes with analytics. The platform includes the ability to send out real-time notifications and personalized invites. You can also create quizzes, surveys and interactive content to keep your employees engaged.
- Influitive is an advocacy platform that is used by companies like Quickbase and MongoDB. Their AdvocateHub motivates advocates to share content, reviews, and testimonials across the social web.
- DrumUp lets you create custom posts and curate content. It also comes with a point system to recognize social stars and analytics to track activity. DrumUp uses machine learning and Natural Language Processing, which means you’re going to see highly relevant content with the curation function.
- There are also solutions from social platforms like Hootsuite’s Amplify and Bambu from Sprout Social
7. Use Your Advocates Wisely
While your employees’ social profiles may have the Midas touch, you still need to be careful how much you use your employee advocates. This is true for two reasons. First, you don’t want to make your advocates feel pressured to spend too much time on social sharing. For them, it should be simple and easy, not another task. Otherwise, you’ll have less people interested in your voluntary program.
Second, and more importantly, too much social sharing will dilute the value and authenticity of employee content. The reason employee sharing is so powerful is that it is an individual sharing content rather than the brand. If your employees’ social networks are being inundated by posts, people are going to start ignoring the content and, at some point, it will start to feel like brand marketing content rather than authentic insights.
Employee activation gives your brand’s online presence and reputation a mega boost of trust and engagement. Leads that are generated from employee social sharing convert seven times more often than other leads. It can increase sales and establish your brand as a more trustworthy organization. It can even help you attract premium hires to help your business succeed more in the future.
On the other hand, overlooking the potential of your employees can be a fatal error. Not only will you miss the chance to rake in more leads and sales and to enjoy a brand reputation boost. You are also missing the opportunity to help your employees grow professionally and to experience a greater sense of value and connection with the company they spend 40 plus hours a week working for – and this will cost you big time.
Are you interested in activating your own thought leaders inside your business today? Contact me here and let’s talk about how we can help.
I use a combination of personal branding, consistent social audience building, and support in creating authentic and ongoing thought leadership content. I’ve done it for myself. I’ve done it for the companies I’ve worked for. I’ve helped activate hundreds, even thousands of thought leaders. I’ve done it for numerous clients. And I can do it for you.