Employee Advocacy Comes of Age: #EASummit14 from a Practitioner’s Perspective

By

Hello from Atlanta! I am writing from the 2014 Employee Advocacy Summit (#EASummit14) and the Social Shake-Up (#SocialShakeUp), both organized by the awesome team at SocialMediaToday. Dynamic Signal was a proud sponsor of the EA Summit portion, and I ended up with an open spot to attend it along with my colleagues G.I. Sanders, Alex Cramer, and Jordan Shultz.

Before I share my thoughts about the conference, I must share with you what I do at Dynamic Signal, as it is very relevant to the theme of my post. I run the Client Services team, which represents strategic customer success functions with operational project/program management – think of us as T-shaped individuals. My team works with all of our clients in planning, preparing, launching, tracking, and scaling programs focused on employee and customer advocacy.

So, I am always thinking about the implementation of an advocacy program (well, usually many more than one!) – be it customer advocacy or employee advocacy. At Dynamic Signal, we have been thinking about and evangelizing benefits of the amazing cultural transformation that is employee advocacy long before it became a common topic of discussion. In fact, one of our first brand partnerships focused on employee advocacy goes back to 2011-2012. With all of the recent buzz in the market about the idea of mutual empowerment of company-employees, I started seeing a lot more thought leadership content – articles, white papers, and presentations talking about the what and the why. As with any new business discipline, I thought, employee advocacy has started seeing its fair share of educational content on making the business case for its practice. However, as more thought leadership content guiding brands continued to surface, in parallel, we at Dynamic Signal were already in the process of developing program plans, engagement play books, implementation (and social media / disclosure) guidelines for a number of our clients. In other words, we were working on the how of employee advocacy – with actual business practitioners, implementing employee advocacy programs across their organizations; documenting tactics, developing metrics and benchmarks, etc.

As this happened, I wondered when the market (brands, bloggers/experts, vendors) overall will collectively start talking about this next phase in the evolution of employee advocacy: the practitioner’s phase. Where can we all discuss examples from different brands/verticals? How do/did we feel about implementing an employee advocacy program in a group/geo/company? What stories do employees have about being advocates for their brands? What is the right approach to learn from our experience and create growth plans?

Attending #EASummit14 gave me answers to these exact questions!


A few notes on activity that had me excited (and hurriedly taking notes):

    • Program Planning: Liz Bullock gave a thorough overview on Performance and Risk Management, during which she outlined a helpful 10-step checklist for planning, launching and integrating an employee advocacy initiative into an organization’s existing engagement efforts. You can find Liz’s presentation here. Even if you flip through the slides for a few minutes, you can quickly catch many helpful ideas/guidelines as food for thought for your employee advocacy initiatives.

 

    • Content: I often think of content in the digital/social realm as the ‘currency for engagement’. Michael Brito gave a thought-provoking overview on how best to think of content in the context of employee advocacy. One notion that really got me thinking was to think of employees as brand journalists creating content that can tie to multiple brand objectives while also empowering their relationship with their brand/organization. Michael’s presentation can be found here. I was pleasantly surprised at how well his guidance and ideas resonated with our approach at Dynamic Signal. We always emphasize the importance of employee-generated content in any employee advocacy initiative. The diversity, depth, and perspective of various topics interesting/relevant to employees can never fully be achieved by the brand alone; leveraging their voice can yield to great returns from a content marketing perspective, while also ensuring that employees feel that they are truly collaborating with their employer in advocating the brand.

 

    • Metrics: Tracking an advocacy program’s efforts and establishing efficacy is an important consideration for any program practitioner. Susan Emerick and Jeanne Murray led a great session covering various types of social metrics and how to tie them back to business objectives. They touched on everything from establishing executive metrics-based buy-in to potential/common objections. I certainly plan to explore more on the topic in Susan’s book The Most Powerful Brand on Earth (co-authored by Chris Boudreaux, who also had great insights at the summit).

 

  • Employee Ambassador Stories: The summit kicked off with this session, and what a session it was! Employee ambassadors from Sprint (Ben Brenneis) and Intel (Mike Ambassador Bruny) shared their experiences from being brand advocates. They talked about ways to identify and nurture employee advocates, ways to reward them (tangible rewards and recognition/empowerment within the organization) and also how employee advocacy initiatives began and grew at their respective organizations. While the other panels and sessions were sharing experiences from the brand’s perspective, this session shed light on how employees think about advocating for their company and how they see the benefits of such a collaboration. My biggest takeaway from this session was how powerful emotional motivation can be in driving an employee to talk about their employer. Ben said he “loved Sprint” and Mike shared similar sentiments on being a brand ambassador. While both talked about specific incentives, what seemed to motivate them even more was the empowerment they felt from their respective brands allowing them to talk to the world about their experiences working there. Establishing such a connection and relationship can yield powerful rewards for any organization. I certainly intend to continue to emphasize this perspective when talking to our clients at Dynamic Signal.

Now, I may not have done justice in describing the full depth and breadth of these sessions and other proceedings of the summit here, but hope this gives at least a good high-level overview of what took place to all reading this post. I always refer to ‘information-to-session (I-to-S) ratio’ when talking about conferences, and, given that #EASummit was just over half a day, I can say that it certainly had a very high I-to-S ratio!

As an employee advocacy recommender, planner, manager, and collaborator, I felt excited to be amongst so many practitioners from so many brands, with so many different objectives, such varied approaches, and diverse metrics (while aligning on pretty similar business objectives – like sales, earned media, customer success, etc.). Employee Advocacy is no longer just an exciting theoretical concept. From the breadth of discussions and the passion, creativity, and expertise of the attendees, #EASummit14 proved to be a pivotal congregation marking (and celebrating) the rise of this transformational business practice.

As with any trendsetting approach, business case challenges, legal hurdles, ROI proofs and other important considerations will find their way onto the practitioner’s emails and meeting agendas. However, if the vision and tactics of the #EASummit14 attendees are any evidence, I feel extremely optimistic that employee advocacy will only continue to grow in prominence and efficacy across brands’ marketing plans (and minds) worldwide.

Thanks again to SocialMediaToday and others involved for orchestrating such a wonderful confluence of minds. I certainly had a field day exploring employee advocacy in practice and look forward to its continued growth.

Post Author

G.I. Sanders

G.I. Sanders is Senior Director, Creative Services at Dynamic Signal. He specializes in entrepreneurship, digital and social media, design, and marketing. G.I. is based in Dallas, TX with his wife and two sons. Passions include technology, startups, music, fitness and sports.