Unlocking the Power of Employee Storytelling with Participation Marketing
2018 must be the year that brands unleash employees-as-media. Some will criticize this approach, but it makes perfect sense in B2B marketing.
Employee advocacy is a fading buzzword but it’s still the biggest untapped marketing opportunity for brands today. In my book, I call it Participation Marketing with the caveat is that employees must be authentic and not robotic when engaging externally with customers, the media and influencers.
Truth is, employees are impactful, authentic and influential in the digital ecosystem especially in B2B environments – executives, subject matter experts and yes, the intern too. Why? Because there are trusted, credible and rarely have an agenda other than to share knowledge and talk about technology.
The tech sector’s B2B decision makers are the “most-marketed-to” group online today. They filter out sales calls and advertising and don’t read press releases. But they do pay attention to content shared by their peers and other IT leaders. This is where participation marketing can deliver the most value.
The Employee Participation Model
The 1:9:90 influence model is also applicable to employee advocacy today. It’s a helpful way to think about how employees can add value and participate in the digital ecosystem.
Influencers (the 1%): These are opinion leaders and content creators. They will move the market when they speak, write, tweet or publish content. They’re journalists, academics, and in many cases, influential employees that have significant following in social media.
Audience (the 9%): These are industry enthusiasts who share, comment and recommend products and services in the social ecosystem. They help spread the thought leadership of the influencers they follow. The majority of your employees fit into this category.
The Market (The 90%): The majority of those who use social media are lurkers, but they consume content daily. The bulk of the market and their purchase behavior will determine how believable your story has been. They rely heavily on word-of-mouth and Google everything before making any purchase decision.
Here’s an example of how this might play out:
Let’s assume there is a data scientist who works for you company and has several patents, speaks at industry conferences and is often quoted in the media about AI and Machine Learning. Let’s say she writes a blog post about the future of artificial intelligence and its impact on automation. She posts it on her personal LinkedIn blog, Tweets about it and shares it on Facebook.
Her followers, which are other data scientists, engineers, developers and IT leaders read the post, comment on it, and provide their own unique perspective on the topic. Of course, they then re-share it with their own micro-communities.
The rest of the market, the 90 percent, will determine what’s believable from the 1 percent and 9 percent. They may refer to Google to get additional perspectives, ask their work colleagues and then share the blog post internally to their IT leaders.
The marketing team realizes how successful the blog has been and decides to repurpose it into a white paper or eBook. It’s gated on the web site, added to Slideshare and shared from company-branded social accounts in order to surround sound their prospects with the combination of branded and employee-driven content. Suddenly the potential for a slew of new leads is on the table.
Employee advocacy = business value
An increase in friends, fans and followers are great metrics. And nothing beats a PowerPoint slide showcasing exponential increases in likes, comments, shares and clicks when presenting to your superiors. But, vanity metrics only take you so far. The harsh reality is that CMOs and other c-suite executives are holding their marketing and PR teams accountable for quantifying investments in social media programs.
You can deliver business impact by focusing on content developed by influential sources (like employees), and meeting IT decision makers at the right place in the sales journey. Here are some additional drivers that showcases employee advocacy and its impact to marketing.
- Brand awareness: It’s a soft metric and vastly removed from sales, but necessary before any deal can be made. It’s also well understood. Employee-drive content living on social media is a cost-effective means to meet brand awareness objectives.
- Customer education: If done right, a stellar employee advocacy program will yield maximum visibility in Google with trusted and accurate content, reaching customers that are searching for solutions or troubleshooting.
- Word-of-mouth: More than 80 percent of Americans seek recommendations when making a purchase of any kind, IT decision makers included. It’s not difficult to measure volume, sentiment, traffic and referrals from these sources to capture and optimize their impact.
- Search engine visibility: As stated, unique content posted to social channels can improve search rankings through keyword focus, links and engagement level. The B2B purchase process always begins with an unbranded keyword search – matching what your customers are searching is table stakes.
- Social selling: A strategic employee program incorporating “social selling” requires sales teams to leverage personal social channels in an authentic way with content that delivers value. Couple great content with a clear call to action, trackable links and a streamlined landing page can be a powerful way to close a deal.
It’s clear that employee advocacy programs deliver value externally, through participation marketing. Internally, it fosters employee engagement which results in a motivated workforce that can truly deliver on the holy grail – digital transformation.
Michael Brito is a TEDx speaker, adjunct professor and Executive Vice President at Zeno Group, a Global, Integrated Communications Agency. His latest book, Participation Marketing, takes a detailed look at the benefits that arise when employees are fully subscribed to a brand’s ethos, and how this can be used to magnify the brand’s narrative.