When it comes to (Employee) Advocacy: Safety First, Speed Next.

By G.I. Sanders

January 6, 2015

We at Dynamic Signal live and breathe (and share/tweet) Employee Advocacy – the idea, the vision, and the practices – everyday. We have been doing so longer than anyone else in the digital marketing space, and take great pride and care in ensuring we continue to innovate. As the person leading the account management and customer success team, and also as one of the earliest employees here, I can say that focus on our clients, our product, our services, and our thought leadership are up high, and on repeat, on to-do lists of every employee at Dynamic Signal.

Positioned for Ongoing Success

As part of this focus, we work to ensure every new advocacy initiative with a company, be they part of the Fortune 100/500, or a company with 100/500 employees, is positioned for ongoing success. Doing so requires effective collaboration with our clients (which we love doing!), and also an eye for longer-term planning (which we’re always thinking about). As the practice of employee advocacy grows, we see a lot of other vendors offering solutions to engage employees, amplify content, and track results, which is great. We appreciate healthy competition, and love standing out above and beyond them.

Got a Plan?

However, I want to highlight a slightly troubling observation across some of these vendors and the initiatives they power. It is the desire to go faster, simpler, louder…at the expense of longer-term planning success. Do not get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for technology and planning efforts that enable an employee advocacy program (or any program for that matter) being fast to deploy, easy to use, and producing maximum impact. We’ve invested over $33MM to establish and enable exactly that at Dynamic Signal. Only a year ago, creating a new advocacy hub would take us a few weeks, and today, it takes us less than 15 minutes. In fact, one of our ‘launch time records’ is 1 week, for a Fortune 500 client, with thousands of employees, all being invited within the first week. However, it is important to note the difference between launching a site, and launching a program. The science nerd in me wants to say: it is all about velocity, not about speed!

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Scale

What I want to caution against is short-term gains and longer-term scaling challenges. Creating an employee advocacy program has many critical planning components with technology and business implications; I am sure any experienced marketer/PR pro/HR & comms exec will appreciate this. Given that this idea and practice are still gaining traction across enterprises, we often find that careful planning, ongoing education and focus on contingencies is key to ensuring program success. After all, your employees (and even customers, partners, fans, etc.) are your most valuable advocates and assets, and rushing to create a program to get ‘a ton of them auto-sharing a ton of content all the time’ is not and should not be the definition of success. More importantly, it can have serious implications on the perception these various groups will develop about the brand and such programs as a result.

So, what do I mean here specifically? Considerations such as branding, social media guidelines, content planning, metrics, etc. are relatively well understood and planned, but, many other aspects are equally important and easily missed. Longer-term planning avoids missing these and other such important criteria. Here are just a few commonly-missed-but-very-important examples:

  • Employee Social Media Training – to avoid the “awesome store but no customers scenario” – understanding their existing digital appetite, sharing preferences, and guiding them on how best to utilize the advocacy initiative (we do these through webinars, easy ‘how to’ guides, weekly tips, and other helpful ways)
  • Activity Caps – to avoid the “omg share overload” scenario – ensuring members do not (accidentally or deliberately) share excessively per article / per day / per social channel, etc. (we enable these within the platform through various filters and rate-limiting filters)
  • Ongoing Content Plan – to avoid the “that was fun, now what?” scenario – content to launch the program is great, but what about 30/60/90 days later? We ensure a plan through scheduling content/sources and aligning with the brand’s marketing calendar; we also have an actual calendar as part of our manager tools to accomplish this.
  • Points (with or without rewards) and Recognition – to avoid the “so…what is in it for me?” scenario – not every program requires explicit gifts or incentives, but employees appreciate recognition (points and rewards are just a subset of this) and simple yet powerful ways exist to enable this (e.g. employee kudos from execs, printed leaderboards in office cafeterias, office hours with execs, promoting employee content, preferred parking spaces, etc.) Our brainstorming-list goes far and wide, and has been implemented more than a few times for clients big and small.
  • Socialization and Buyoff – to avoid the “what is this program and why wasn’t I informed” scenario – Often times, employee advocacy overlaps with and feeds into the broader notion of employee empowerment (i.e. nurturing, recognizing, and empowering employees, to strengthen the overall brand to employee relationship. This understandably involves building consensus for it among multiple disciplines with a company, like HR, Corp. Comm, Marketing, CEO/CIO’s office, and others. We ensure this happens from the early stages by building necessary business case with the initial program liaison, and individual value prop scenarios for the various parties involved. We also encourage ‘program management by committee’ if multiple groups are involved, and develop launch and growth plans accordingly.

Longer-term planning is not complicated planning. Longer-term planning is also not slow planning. It is just prudent planning.

So, concepts such as ‘easier marketing’, ‘auto share all content’, ‘sign today, launch tomorrow’, ‘think about employee recognition after launch’ can be risky, and while seemingly accelerating launch, can have detrimental effects to longer term growth. We strive to encourage clients to plan ahead, scale well, and always think longer-term.

At the risk of sounding like a public service announcer, I will say when thinking about digital/social advocacy, be it with employees, customers, partners, or fans: Safety first, speed next!

Post Author

G.I. Sanders

G.I. Sanders is Director of Marketing 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.