Why Pay Influencers When You Can Activate Employees?

Influencer marketing is a hot topic these days. Businesses around the world, some of them huge, are turning to people on social platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook to tout their products and get their sometimes millions of friends to buy their product or service. 

It feels organic, right? Ha! It’s anything but that. Often it’s marketing agencies pulling the strings of those influencers, sometimes for big bucks or giant perks. It’s not some trendy person who is clever and insightful who you feel like is your best friend.

Of course, this trend is working for some. However, there are caution signs all along the side of this freshly paved road. This month in New York City, a company that evaluates business data called Sylo hosted a one-day summit on what it called “Influencer Fraudnomics.” As it happens, a study presented during the event showed that $1.3 billion was wasted by companies who paid influencers that inflated their follower counts or overused automation to do as little work as possible for their big paycheck.

It’s the Wild West out there when it comes to influencer marketing. A common theme at the Fraudnomics summit was that there are no common industry metrics or standards, or ways to certify that someone is a legitimate influencer. It’s something that was brought rather brutally to light with the debacle that was the Fyre Festival, which showed that while influencing can work, the result can sometimes be more harmful than impactful. 

Employees Are Your Ambassadors

If you run a business and you don’t want to wade into the choppy, unknown waters of influencer marketing, you may have a solution that’s closer than you think – your employees. It makes sense on paper: the people who work for you are knowledgeable about your products and services, and may even want to tell more people about the great work you are doing. In fact, it may already be happening, and you don’t know it yet.

Employee advocacy feels more organic because it’s from someone that the social media viewer knows. Various studies have been done on employee advocacy that led to some interesting insights. 

The research on employee advocacy is clear:

  • employee content gets 8x more engagement than brand channel content.
  • 21% of consumers gave likes to employee posts, far more than the average for a social media ad.
  • 98% of employees are on social media, and half of those were already posting about their company.

An Untapped Source for Your Business

A Social Media Today survey interviewed 400 marketers to see how companies are currently using employee advocacy. As it happens, it’s an untapped source of spreading the word about a business. The study found that 40% of companies don’t have an employee advocacy program in place and aren’t planning to start one.

It does make sense. Although it seems like it would be a snap to implement, advocacy programs do take a company’s resources and time to start, and it’s not top-of-mind for that many at this point. 

The survey also had some telling stats about the maturity of these programs so far in the marketplace. There were just 17% that had a program they just started, with a little over 60% in the planning stages for their own advocacy program.

Just as it’s been shown that trust by consumers is given to employees they know, businesses have to cultivate trust for employee advocacy to work – and we’re not there yet. There aren’t as many examples of advocacy as a boon to business being published yet. Without those solid case studies, it’s easy to see why some companies wouldn’t throw marketing dollars toward something they may see as being unproven.

Are You Leaving Opportunity on the Table?

So, it’s going to take more companies that are willing to have their employees advocate to cause a domino effect in the industry. It’s one that I would welcome, and it’s certainly a tactic that’s actually happening right now – your company may not know it yet.

The Social Media Today study shows this, as 35% of respondents said they share company updates on their personal profiles. That’s not a majority by any stretch, but it can be a great start to a robust advocacy program.

There’s a lot of potential on the table. That same study showed that 73% of those who took it felt that company updates shared by employees were more persuasive than those posted on the company’s site. It’s common sense – you trust your actual friends more than a business or a quasi-celebrity. 

It makes sense to at least dip a toe in the waters of employee advocacy, especially as it also could instill a sense of pride and loyalty in the work that those same employees do day in and day out. 

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

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