Employee Activation
Employee Advocacy for Marketing: Data & Strategy

Employee Advocacy for Marketing: Data & Strategy

March 11, 2020
9 min read

With any strategy or new technology your company is introduced to, there may always be some underlying skepticism. This holds true because of the rapid growth of marketing over the years, the trends, and the plethora of technologies at your disposal.

Yet, many times a few of these platforms and strategies become extremely worth investing time, money, and resources for the greater good of the company. This is exactly what is happening the concept of employee advocacy in the last few years.

The rise of social media continues and social networks are no longer a “nice to have” for brands or employees. Currently, the concept of employee advocacy has come up a lot more in marketing publications, marketing leaders are talking about it, and many companies are adopting it.

What is employee advocacy? Employee advocacy centers on employees sharing about their company, their jobs, and professional interests on social media. Said differently, it is about companies equipping and leveraging their employees as digital influencers for the brand.

Employee Advocacy for Marketing

While employee advocacy programs and strategies can greatly impact all areas of an organization, some of the immediate effects are on marketing results.

It just makes sense: marketing is tasked with producing and promoting content to the widest possible audience.

Leveraging your organizations employees to help spread that message across their own social networks is a no-brainer and is an opportunity that applies to any company with more than a few hundred employees.

  • Improves brand reach organically
  • Drives more web traffic
  • Boosts leads and quality of leads
  • Saves money on rising costs of paid social

This, of course, does not mean unleashing a spam-army of employees who are not adding their own thoughts or personal opinions.

To paint a picture of how employee advocacy is valuable to marketing and social teams, our creative team at EveryoneSocial put together an infographic and video of some interesting — and maybe even surprising — data:

  • Brand messages reached 561% further when shared by employees vs the same messages shared via official brand social channels (MSLGroup)
  • 79% of firms surveyed reported more online visibility after the implementation of a formal employee advocacy program. 65% reported increased brand recognition. (Hinge Marketing)
  • Content shared by employees receives 8x more engagement than content shared by brand channels. (Social Media Today)
  • Leads developed through employee social marketing convert 7x more frequently than other leads. (Marketing Advisory Network)
  • Earned media (press, word-of-mouth, peer-to-peer referrals) drives 4x the brand lift as paid media. (Bazaar Voice)
  • Peer-to-peer marketing is the leading driver behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions. (McKinsey)
  • An employee advocacy program costs 1/10 of paid advertising. (EveryoneSocial)
  • An employee advocacy program involving 1,000 active participants can generate $1,900,000 in advertising value. (Kredible)

When your internal experts become a part of the industry conversation, your audience will pay attention. But, in order to gain this marketing advantage, you need the right climate for activation. You need an engaged team.

Once you do successfully motivate your employees to share branded content, create their own, and to build their reputations as thought leaders in your industry, the sky’s the limit. People trust other people more than the brand itself – it’s the inherent potency of word of mouth marketing.

Which for most organizations, is still mostly untapped potential.

But, brands are waking up to the impact activated employees can have on marketing goals – on top of the productivity and recruitment benefits and even the improvement to workplace culture.

Why Is Culture So Important Right Now?

Cultivating the right organizational culture and engaging employees is going to go down as the 21st century’s greatest business challenge. In the wake of the digital era – when the name of the game was to adopt newer technology and move business processes to the digital world – we’re doing an about-face. Now that we have a tech-driven business landscape, we’re realizing that the real value comes from a tech-driven business landscape driven by human ingenuity.

It’s not that we’re looking at man vs. machine. It’s that businesses need skilled, creative, visionary, and meticulous human brains to operate and create innovative and effective ways to man the ship in this new landscape.

Prometheus just brought us the next generation of fire. We need a new approach to work in order to leverage it.

We also are dealing with a culture shift. Not just from millennials, who do truly want aligned valuesand to have purpose in their job, but society, in general, has changed. It’s a plugged-in world. We’re more connected, have easier access to information, and are more in tune to what’s going on in business and government. There are fewer walls, less mystique. As a result, from customers to employees, we all expect more.

Businesses need to catch up to these changing trends, both in messaging – how the brand is marketed – and internally – who the brand is. But, culture change continues to be a challenge for most organizations. We are still working with abysmal employee engagement rates – 70 percent of the American workforce isn’t engaged.

Which means the potential benefits of an empowered organizational culture are blowing out the window of 70 percent of businesses.

The Shared Goals of an Engaged Culture and Marketing

No department understands the idea of change like marketing does. Forced to adopt new technology, upskill like crazy, reshuffle positions and create new roles to manage content marketing, social media marketing, and marketing analytics, marketing has already gone through the ring of fire. I challenge you to find a single CMO or marketing manager who doesn’t recognize the dire need for culture change and increasing employee engagement.

We get it. What a lot of marketing professionals don’t understand, however, is why the C-suite doesn’t.

Blame it on a half-baked approach – Cesare Mainards of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Paul Leinwand of PwC explain that executive management focuses on reacting to problems rather than creating change. “In these reactive responses, the company leaders avoid the difficult work of developing a better strategy and making the fundamental changes that are needed to build real competitive advantage.”

Or, blame it on millennials. Culture change has become linked with making a few changes to attract millennials – more flexible work hours, unlimited vacation time, gym perks. Which has totally watered down what culture change actually is. Letting people come to work in jeans and a t-shirt and showing up at 9 is a pretty narrow-minded view of culture change and employee activation.

The C-suite is thinking too short-term or too small. Which is where marketing comes in. We think big for a living. Culture change isn’t bean bags. It’s overhauling internal communications, creating mentorship programs, offering better training for new technology, launching platforms for employee advocacy, giving employees a voice in the brand conversation. It’s empowerment and support. It’s bringing the best out of each employee, which in turn, brings the best out of the brand.

Whatever you want to blame it on, the fact remains, two out of three change management initiatives fail.

Which isn’t just a hiccup in business. It’s serious wasted resources, wasted time, and the type of frustration that has led to what Hubspot’s Katie Burke calls a “can’t do attitude” when it comes to culture.

This is exactly why culture should be in the hands of someone who understands its significance. Marketing professionals understand the urgency, importance, and the complexity of what’s involved. They also have the most to gain – the benefits of an activated workforce support the goals of marketing seamlessly. And, getting people energized and motivated about the brand – ahem – that’s what marketers do. Translating the practice from motivating and empowering customers to stakeholders isn’t a big leap.

Here’s the thing. Those potential benefits are the same goals on any marketing department’s agenda.

Attracting top talent

This has been a huge priority for marketing managers as there are so many new skills and roles to hire for or to upskill your current employees for. We’ve already been focusing on bringing on top talent in order to fill the data science and tech skills roles and to cope with the changes to marketing from an ad-based form of demand generation to inbound. And a huge chunk of that recruitment effort by marketing has focused on culture change.

Boosted brilliance

Marketing could be described as the crossroads of creativity and business. It is the application of strategy and new ideas to achieve business goals. Which is why marketing managers are always adopting ways to squeeze out that creative and strategic brilliance. Just look at the agile movement in marketing today. This is the same reason organizations launch employee engagement programs – for the improved idea sharing, faster innovation, and higher rates of productivity.

More authentic brand identity

Building brand trust and authority with customers is always one of the top content marketing goals. Culture change has the same aim, just with a focus on employees. The win-win comes from the fact that when your employees are engaged with your brand, they themselves help to build your brand, making your company more appealing to your market. When you evolve your organizational culture, you create an empowering, meaningful environment:

  • You can more easily recruit top talent because potential candidates are attracted to more meaningful brands
  • Those talented hires become your internal experts, inspired by your leadership and culture, which helps to build your brand’s authority
  • Your customers trust your brand more because your employees are part of the conversation

Employee advocacy

A lot of marketers are catching on to the importance of employee advocacy for marketing. This is also one of the benefits of a culture change. With the right culture, employees are both naturally inspired and well-supported to share content, create content, and become industry thought leaders – which furthers the reach of your marketing and puts employees in a greater position of value within the company.

Why Marketing Leaders Are Primed for the Culture Shift

Marketing should own culture and employee engagement not just because they have the most to gain but also because engaging employees is so similar to engaging customers.

Marketing professionals already know how critical authenticity is. They know how to create strategies that will draw people in and keep them engaged. They also know how to deliver the right messaging with content in order to both engage externally for recruitment purposes and internally for employee activation. Even better, they know how to measure the results.

Burke sums it up well with Hubspot’s motto: “Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.”

Marketers are motivators. Why look outside of the company or try to find solutions within management on how to activate employees and evolve the company culture when this is the marketing department’s bread and butter?

How Employees Can Boost Your Marketing ROI

Today’s consumer, from business professionals to everyday buyers, research a company’s products or services way before making a purchase decision. That’s why being a major player in the conversations going on in your industry is so important.

However, those conversations shouldn’t be solely brand-started. Your employees are consumers. They are the human face of your company and so are more trustworthy in the eyes of your audience. 84 percent of people trust recommendations from people they know over all other types of marketing. According to Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer, 41 percent of people believe employees rank higher in public trust the company’s CEO, Founder, or PR department.

This is why you want your employees to be starting those industry conversations. Your internal experts then establish their place in the conversation, sharing their insights, sparking questions, providing answers, and becoming recognized experts. Ideally, over time, consumers will look to your employees for solutions.

Not only will this help to drive traffic, customer engagement and conversions, it also transforms your campaign into a team of influencers.

Is Your Company Ready for Employee Activation?

But, you can’t just send out a company memo and have this new marketing superpower.

In fact, if your organization is like most, only a fraction of your employees would be interested in becoming employee advocates. Gallup’s 2013 State of the Global Workforce Survey revealed that only 13 percent of employees consider themselves to be engaged.

In order to get to a state of employee activation – where your employees are active participants in industry conversations – you’ve got to inspire engagement first.

Here are three strategies to prime your organization for successful activation:

Become a Socially Engaged Company

People who work at socially engaged companies are more connected to each other, inspired and optimistic about their company’s future.

  • Create LinkedIn or Facebook groups for internal conversations
  • Use tools to make social sharing easy and engaging
  • Provide content that aligns with your employees’ interests and values so they are proud to share it with their social networks

Improve Employee Communications

Often, where engagement falls short or breaks off completely, is in poor communication. You may have a communication network in place but often what happens is the connections aren’t, well, connected.

  • Your company uses an internal communication platform like Slack or Cliq, but only half of your employees ever use it
  • Emails are sent to company email addresses but everyone doesn’t have one
  • Newsletters are created but are rarely read because they don’t speak to your employees’ interests
  • Content is there to share but employees have to dig to find it

Identify where communication is falling short or isn’t streamlined. In order to successfully activate your employees, everyone has to be on the same page. That may mean dwindling communication channels down to one or two so everyone knows where to look, better onboarding so more people will use team collaboration tools, and ensuring someone is managing communication and can address future shortfalls.

Prioritize Support and Approachability

In order to activate employees so they’ll want to become a part of your brand’s marketing strategy, you need to empower them to optimize their potential.

  • Check-in on a one-to-one basis to see what each individual needs to do their job and advocate.
  • Offer growth opportunities through training and mentorship.
  • Make sure managers are accessible and approachable – according to a recent survey conducted by Ultimate Software, 75 percent of employees say approachability is the most important quality their manager should have.

Give Your Employees a Reason to Be a Part of Your Marketing

To really activate your employees, look at your brand values. The most successful brands have a clear vision that doesn’t just guide the brand, it also inspires both your employees and your customers. Apple, Nike, Intel, Burt’s Bees – these companies aren’t just selling a product or service, they’re selling a vision.

Equipping innovators. Empowering athletes. Setting the bar for environmental awareness or corporate social responsibility. What does your brand do to help society, a group of people, or to address today’s challenges?

According to a 2016 Gallup poll, only 23 percent of US employees feel they can apply their organization’s values to their everyday work and just 27 percent would say they believe in their organization’s values.

The more meaning and fulfillment your employees get out of their job, the more inspired they will be to further the reach of your brand through social sharing, content creation and conversation.

Start Activating Your Employees Today

No matter what size your organization or your budget, you should start activating your employees today. In fact, with a team of motivated, activated employees, even a small company can grow because of the organic marketing your employees initiate.

But, to make it really work, start by laying the groundwork for employee activation rather than jumping directly into advocacy. Without a system in place for employees to share and create, and a reason to participate, your employee activation program won’t last very long and you won’t get that sustainable boost to your marketing KPIs.

That’s the secret to successfully bringing your employees into marketing. You have to look beyond employee advocacy and aim for activation, unlocking the vast potential of your skilled, passionate, visionary internal experts.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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