If you have employees, it’s worth thinking about an employee advocacy program. It’s a powerful way to use social media to extend the organic reach of your business while engaging your workforce.

Bonus: Download a free employee advocacy toolkit that shows you how to plan, launch, and grow a successful employee advocacy program for your organization.

What is employee advocacy?

Here’s a simple employee advocacy definition: Employee advocacy is the promotion of an organization by its workforce.

This could mean employees sharing information about specific products or campaigns. It could mean they share brand content that’s helpful to anyone in your field of expertise. Or, it could mean that employees offer a glimpse of the company culture.

All these activities can help boost brand reputation with both customers and potential new recruits.

Employee advocacy can take many forms, both online and off. But the most common and effective channel for employee advocacy in 2020 is social media.

Why employee advocacy is important

A recent study found that employee advocacy benefits companies in three key ways:\

  • It has a positive impact on growth and sales because of increased brand awareness and positive perceptions.
  • It has a positive impact on “human capital”—that is, your team. It improves staff recruitment, retention, and engagement.
  • It improves brand reputation and helps improve issues management.

Employee advocacy stats

Your employees already have social media profiles. They may even be on some platforms that your brand isn’t. And they definitely have followers that you don’t.

Here’s an example of just how much that can extend your reach. When an employee shares just six pieces of content on LinkedIn, the employer sees big gains:

  • six job views
  • three company page views
  • one company page follower
  • six profile views, and
  • two new connections.

And how about this? More people trust a regular employee (54%) than a CEO (47%). Even more people (68%) trust a company technical expert. When employees share company content, they create a higher degree of brand trust.

Hootsuite’s research also documents the brand and recruiting benefits of an employee advocacy program:

Brand and recruiting benefits of employee advocacy progra,

Source: Hootsuite and Altimeter Research, The Social Transformation Report

You can see from the chart that employees benefit as well as the company. Nearly a quarter of companies say employee advocacy helps staff better understand the brand. That, in turn, can increase engagement.

For salespeople, an employee advocacy program can increase efficiency. It also provides a great basis for social selling.

Employees can also enhance their credibility and position themselves as industry experts. Nearly 86% of employees involved in a formal advocacy program say it had a positive effect on their careers.

Still not sure why employee advocacy is so important? (Or maybe you’re convinced, but you need some help getting your boss onboard?)

We’ve created a calculator that estimates the number of new people you could reach by harnessing the power of your workforce.

Hootsuite employee advocacy reach calculator

Source: Hootsuite employee advocacy reach calculator

How to build an employee advocacy program on social media: 7 essential tips

Employees may already be sharing business content on their personal channels. Especially if they’re enthusiastic about their work or about showcasing their industry expertise.

An employee advocacy program makes it official. It allows you to create guidelines, resources, and rewards for employees who post about your brand. It standardizes how employees share brand content and makes it easier for them to do so.

Here’s how to get started.

1. Create a positive and engaged workplace culture

For employees to become brand ambassadors, they need to love more about their jobs than just their paychecks.

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 73 percent of employees expect prospective employers to provide the opportunity to help shape the future of society.

Of course, not all businesses have a higher social purpose—or at least, not an obvious one. To help meet employee expectations for social impact, you could:

  • Identify your company as an industry disruptor that inspires innovation
  • Focus on service
  • Show support for employees in times of need
  • Emphasize your company’s reputation as an industry leader
  • Give back (e.g., through environmental responsibility programs or charity work)

It’s also critical to develop a high-trust culture. The Edelman report found that trust is a key driver of employee workplace recommendations.

And, of course, workplace culture is also all about making sure your employees love to come to work. Target uses the tagline “work somewhere you love” in its recruiting materials. Employees share career successes and day-to-day wins on social using the hashtag #worksomewhereyoulove:

This kind of passionate employee post is a powerful recruiting tool.

2. Set goals and KPIs for your employee advocacy program

Employees may already be posting about work on their social media feeds. But without an organized system and clearly defined goals, you have no way of tracking results.

The better you define your goals, the easier it will be for your employees to understand what’s most helpful.

If your goal is to increase awareness, encourage employees to post about the brand in general. If you’re launching a new product, create shareable content employees can be proud of.

An advocacy campaign should align with at least one of your company’s primary business goals. Once the goal is clear, you can decide which social media metrics to track. These might include share of voice, website traffic, or leads.

Once the campaign wraps up, summarize your results in a report to show return on investment (ROI). Include information on general metrics (like increase in reach) as well as employee engagement.

Some key metrics to keep an eye on are:

  • Top contributors. Which individuals or teams are sharing the most? Which advocates are generating the most engagement?
  • Organic reach. How many people are seeing the content shared through your employee advocates?
  • Engagement. Are people clicking links, leaving comments and re-sharing content from your advocates? What is the engagement per network?
  • Traffic. How much traffic did the content shared by employee advocates drive to your website?
  • Brand sentiment. How has your advocacy campaign impacted your overall brand sentiment on social media?

Don’t get so wrapped up in specific advocacy campaigns that you forget about day-to-day employee shares with your branded hashtags.

For example, Reebok encourages employees to post with the hashtag #FitAssCompany. The posts showcase Reebok’s commitment to helping employees and customers achieve fitness goals. They also provide a picture of the company culture.

3. Identify employee advocacy leaders

For large companies, the C-suite often has the most visible social media presence. (At least, until you put an employee advocacy program in place.)

But these top leaders are usually not the most logical drivers of an employee advocacy program. Instead, tap people who are natural social media users, who are enthusiastic about the company and the brand.

Empower them to help build your employee advocacy program. Engage them in defining and communicating campaigns and goals or creating proper incentives. They will help you learn what kinds of tools and resources employees are most likely to use and share.

Then, work with your advocacy leaders to identify potential beta testers. They can help guide your strategy and provide honest feedback.

You may see an initial flurry of social shares when you launch your employee advocacy program. But without effective internal leadership, this enthusiasm will fizzle out over time. Employee advocacy leaders help make sure that advocacy is an ongoing focus.

Bonus: Download a free employee advocacy toolkit that shows you how to plan, launch, and grow a successful employee advocacy program for your organization.

Get the free toolkit right now!

4. Establish social media guidelines for employees

Employees need to know not just what the message is, but also the best way to communicate it. What kind of language should they use? How often should they post? How should they respond to comments?

An employee advocacy social media policy and style guide take the guesswork out of these questions.

Guidelines also help protect your company’s reputation and avoid legal trouble and security risks. Some guidelines are just common-sense—for instance, avoiding vulgar or disrespectful language. Others might best be left to the legal department.

Ask employees themselves for their input. The Edelman Trust Barometer found that 73 percent of employees expect to be involved in planning. Engaging staff early on helps encourage buy-in.

Keep in mind that each employee will have a different level of comfort with social media. Start by getting everyone up to speed on social media best practices in general, as well as on company policies and guidelines. This helps create a level playing field.

Make sure the guidelines are easy to understand and follow. They should enable advocacy instead of restricting it. Include recommendations on what, where, and how to share.

Starbucks posts its employee social media guidelines right on its website. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Share your passion, but don’t let social posting get in the way of your job.
  • Take the high road, and remember who can see your posts.
  • Be clear that you’re not a company spokesperson, and direct media enquiries to the media relations team.
  • Don’t share future promotions or insider financial information

Finally, they encourage employees to use the #tobeapartner hashtag.

This Instagram post from an employee at a California location got 787 Likes from 1,312 followers.

That’s an unheard of 59% engagement rate. So what’s really going on here? The hashtag benefits both the employer and the employee. The employer gets second-hand engagement from 787 people who may not follow @Starbucks, while the employee gains extra Likes from the hashtag.

5. Get employees on-side

Once you’ve got your goals and guidelines in place, it’s time to reach out to employees. Let them know about your advocacy program and tools.

Of course, you should never force employees to share brand content on their personal channels. For one thing, this is not a great way to foster trust. (And remember that trust is a critical component of organic employee advocacy.)

For another, forced social shares will lack enthusiasm. They’re unlikely to spark excitement among your employees’ followers.

Another way to get employees excited about your brand, and thereby encourage advocacy, is simply to recognize their great work.

An “employee of the month” program or notice in a monthly newsletter may sound old-fashioned, but it can still be effective. So can setting aside time in team meetings to recognize employees. Recognition or a re-share on the main company social accounts can also be a great motivator.

Ochsner Health System creates social videos showcasing its employees who work on the frontlines of healthcare. Using the hashtag #OchsnerHero, Ochsner recognizes its employees’ dedication and puts a human face to the work they do. Ochsner has about 300 employee brand advocates, and these videos are easy content for those brand ambassadors to share.

COVID-19 Frontline Diaries with Ochsner Hero,Tahj Joseph

Meet today’s #OchsnerHero, Tahj Joseph! Tahj Joseph is a supply chain technician for the Materials Management Department at the Ochsner Medical Center – Kenner receiving dock. He has been working seven days a week to make sure that all departments within OMC-Kenner have the materials they need to function during this pandemic. Tahj feels that he has been blessed to be able to assist every day during this difficult time. “If it were me in one of those patient rooms, I would want everyone including the supply chain and logistics staff to do all they could to support our front-line healthcare workers. I feel that everyone is coming together to play a role in combating this virus and giving my all as a contribution is the least I can do.”Thank you, Tahj, for being an #OchsnerHero! To support our heroes like Tahj, visit Ochsner.org/heroes

Posted by Ochsner Health on Friday, May 1, 2020

6. Create and share valuable resources for employees to post

Give employees all the tools and resources they need to spread the word about your brand. Develop a robust content library of pre-approved resources your employees can share with just a couple of clicks or taps.

Remember: They’re much more likely to share something interesting or fun than a boring brand update.

If you’re announcing a new product, make sure employees really understand it and are excited about it. Create shareable resources like videos and graphics formatted for various social platforms.

But don’t stifle their creativity. Encourage them to share what excites them personally about your brand, as long as it follows your social media guidelines.

Regularly update the social content you provide to employees. This helps create consistent social media sharing habits. Offer a mix of fun, shareable content, and industry trends.

7. Make advocacy rewarding

Since you’re asking something from your employees, it’s only fair to offer something in return.

Make sure they understand the industry benefits, like increasing their visibility and credibility as a subject matter expert.

But internal incentives for sharing brand content can also help employees feel like they have a stake in the program.

Everyone appreciates concrete rewards like gift cards, bonuses, and even company swag. And maybe that branded hat or T-shirt will show up in a future social post, creating even more advocacy opportunities over the long term.

A simple way to reward advocacy is to make it into a game. For example, create a hashtag to promote a specific employee advocacy campaign. Then create a leaderboard to show who’s getting the most impressions or engagement for the hashtag.

Organize a prize for the leader, or hold a draw for all team members who create hashtagged posts.

Give your advocacy leaders the freedom to create other unique ways to make advocacy fun and engaging. For example, Cisco employees participated in a virtual talent show, and company swag made an appearance.

Employee advocacy platform

The hardest part of employee advocacy is often the execution. So now that you understand the value of an employee advocacy program, let’s talk about a platform to help you put one in place.

Hootsuite Amplify is a mobile employee advocacy platform. It makes it safe and easy for employees to share approved social content with their friends and followers.

Amplify also integrates with Workplace by Facebook. That allows employees to share social content from a platform they already use every day.

Antalis is the leading European distributor of professional paper, packaging, and visual communications projects. They used Amplify to create an employee ambassador program.

Working with employee advocacy leaders, they launched their advocacy program on LinkedIn. They regularly checked in with early adopters to ask what they wanted from the program

Over time, 87 percent of Antalis employees signed on to the employee advocacy program. There were 2,400 posts shared through employee advocacy last year.

The most significant effect has been on recruiting. Some jobs have been filled in just a couple of weeks with candidates that came through employee advocates’ LinkedIn posts.

Tap into the power of employee advocacy with Hootsuite Amplify. Increase reach, keep people engaged, and measure results—safely and security. Learn how Amplify can help your organization today.

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