In October 2016, I had the opportunity to present a Teach Me How! session at the Marketing Profs B2B Forum in Boston. Along with my colleagues, Ami Chitwood, Senior Manager at Deloitte Services LP and David Honig, VP, Corporate Partnership at Dynamic Signal, we shared a framework of the “5 Ps of starting an employee advocacy program.” We created this framework based on our own best practices and advice on starting a program. Our goal was to help those in the room think through the steps and the lifecycle of a program.
Keeping in mind that everyone’s path to employee advocacy is different, I realize that not every program will check the box on each of these steps, and may not even follow the same order. Additionally, aspirations may not always equal reality. Even with the best of intentions, the path ahead may not be as simple or straightforward as we’ve outlined, so I would encourage you to use your own company’s lens as you continue reading. With those disclaimers in mind, here are the 5 P’s of starting an employee advocacy program.
This first stage to focus on is the planning stage: getting proof points for starting a program and identifying the resources to make it happen. First things first, identify key stakeholders for the program. Paramount to this step, and truly making the program successful and transformational, is identifying a leader (or leaders) to champion the program and extra points for identifying a C-level executive to carry the torch forward (ahem, Chief Marketing Officer). Beyond leadership, bringing in stakeholders from Marketing, Communications, Brand and HR teams who can help you with the sourcing of content; IT to help build any infrastructure needed to execute the program; and Analytics to help you identify KPIs and measurement tools to determine your program’s effectiveness.
Speaking of KPIs, start identifying those metrics that will help you determine the success of the program. Do you want to measure growth and the number of members registered in the program? Do you want to measure the number of times content is shared? Are you interested in seeing how much traffic your program is generating to your website? Set these goals early on with the program, and as you continue to mature, continue to reevaluate these plans and make sure you continue to stay on track.
Consider also identifying a governance body: a group of individuals who can help you think through the purpose of the program, its goals, and the content it should support. This group can work not only as a sounding board, but can also become those chief advocates of your program, spreading the word to their departments, and helping the program achieve greater reach and greater synergies than individual efforts may accomplish. Think about your stakeholder group identified and ask leaders in each of those organizations to become a part of the program governance team.
And finally, it’s important to determine your path forward and decide whether or not you want to go with a manual process, or bring in a technology vendor to assist. Many employee advocacy programs start out with a manual process, which could be as simplistic as sending out emails with social sharing language that employees either copy and paste to their social channels of choice or include a “one click to share” option. Of course, if you have the budget and are interested in what technology can provide, you may want to go about selecting a vendor. Do your due diligence, though, and make sure that you evaluate multiple vendors and select one that will meet the goals of your program, can be implemented with your existing IT infrastructure, and can be customized to meet your specific needs. Don’t forget about the user experience, and identify which system will get your users excited and engaged. And, of course, make sure to engage your IT teams to assist with the technical aspects of engaging a vendor.
Now that you’ve created a plan for your program and a determined your path forward, it’s time to pilot the program. A pilot program can help you build the proof points you need to further convince your leadership, while also providing a testing ground that can help affirm your initial assertions (or help you reevaluate those assertions). Before you begin, though, determine what the scope of your pilot will be. Will it focus on specific departments? A specific event or marketing activity? What type of content are you going to focus on when testing?
Next, identify the users you’ll be taking on this initial journey. A best practice is to work with those employees who already have a high level of brand affinity and are also socially savvy. That might not always be the easiest to assess on your own, so be sure to get your stakeholders involved and look for suggestions from their networks. Remember, you’re just piloting the program, so no need to boil the ocean here. Focus on these influencers first, and they can be your biggest evangelists once the program is rolled out to a broader audience.
Don’t forget that one of the most important reasons to run a pilot is to determine the long-term viability of this program. So be sure that you are measuring performance across your identified KPIs from the Propose stage.
When you’re ready to start your pilot, be sure that communications plans are in place throughout the pilot. Keep your participants in the loop and continue to encourage them to try each and every aspect of the program. Make sure you’re also communicating any early results to your stakeholders and any leadership members as well.
After the conclusion of the pilot, collect data around the program. Gather up all the metrics from the pilot and have them at the ready for the next phase.
In this phase, you should take a step back, evaluate the pilot, and take those learnings forward to polish up the program for broader release. To get started, take the metrics you collected from the pilot and evaluate against your KPIs. How did you compare? Were the results what you expected? Should you think about measuring different KPIs moving forward?
After collecting your quantitative data, it’s time to also gather some qualitative feedback from pilot participants. Try surveying your participants, or if possible, holding calls to get candid feedback. What did the participants like and what worked well with the program? What didn’t work? If they were to participate moving forward, how could the program be better integrated into their daily lives? Was the content share-worthy? What would be content that would be of interest to share? By answering these questions (and the quantitative questions above) you can start to truly gauge the success of the pilot and consider what tweaks to make to the program before moving forward.
Now would also be a good time to also readdress your path forward. Should you continue on with a manual process or should you think about moving forward to a technology option? Even if you think you might go down this road in the future, it may be beneficial to begin having those conversations with a vendor to understand how best to set up your program for ease of transition onto a technology platform. Again, bring in IT into the conversation early to understand what will (and won’t) work with your existing core technology platforms.
Taking all the learnings to date, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and expand the program broadly. Start by determining your communication plan, thinking through how to inform your employees of the program, its benefits, and any training that they may need to get started. Make sure that your considering your company’s social media policies and rules of the road, and that those guidelines are baked into your communications plan.
Start promoting the program with your employees. Leverage your pilot participants and help them spread the word to their teams and peer groups. Tap into your stakeholder leaders and get the news out through newsletters, team meetings, and go for the holy grail of executive endorsement (especially at large events like town hall conversations). Never stop hustling!
Educating participants shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if your program has some steps to get started. You’ll want to make sure your employees are comfortable and understand how to participate in the program. Don’t forget about what’s in it for them. Employee advocacy can be an important stepping stone for people looking to build their personal brand. As more customers and targets leverage social media to learn more about who they are doing business with, having a strong social presence around important topics will help build that business trust.
Now that you’ve gone live, remember to also continue to report on the KPIs of the program and make sure your stakeholders and governance body have visibility into performance.
Who wants to sit back and simply rest on their laurels? Certainly not you! Kick your program into high gear and focus on perfecting it. A quick way to get started is by surveying your users and learn what improvements they may be seeking from the program. After all, this program should be designed for them, so make sure you’re listening to their needs.
Step back from the processes you’ve implemented and determine what you might do to improve upon them. Can you source and curate content better? Are you working with the right people to get the right content? Is it time to rethink your staffing model? Are you doing enough to keep your employees engaged? Never stop improving upon what you’ve got going, and you’ll continue to reap benefits for years to come.
Move beyond basic reporting and think about ways to improve your reporting. Perhaps it’s time to tap into your vendor’s API and build a real-time dashboard view. It certainly beats pulling manual reports all the time and adds a layer of transparency to the program itself.
And on a final note, make the program even easier for your employees. Have fun with the program and look for ways to continue to keep them engaged. If you haven’t implemented gamification or had a focus on mobile app adoption, maybe now is the right time to get these initiatives off the ground.
According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, employees are the most trusted sources of information about a company’s engagement, integrity and operations – more so than analysts, CEOs and government officials. There’s never been a better time to get started with an employee advocacy program. And, if you’ve already started down the road, keep focusing on your employees and make their experience the best it can be.