What Is Employee Advocacy? Definitions, Examples, and Case Studies
Employee Advocacy Overview
- Employee Advocacy extends your brand reach and raises the profile of your people
- Proven best practices that can help make your program successful
- Techniques to show company leadership the impact of your program on the business
- Statistics that demonstrate the impact of employee brand ambassadors
- Hear from leading Employee Advocacy experts
There is one, important reason why Employee Advocacy is such a powerful driver for business, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s nothing personal. That’s just the world we live in today. While the public has long been cynical about traditional institutions such as government, media, and major companies, we’re now experiencing a shift in institutional expectations where the government is primarily trusted to take the lead in addressing all related challenges following heightened fears of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.
Yet there is a silver lining for businesses.
People do tend to trust other people more, especially as the public demand for accredited sources of information has drastically risen. According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, it’s not only a responsibility but also a unique opportunity for companies and employees to be that trusted voice and connect with communities directly through the credibility of their brands as experts in the field. This explains why Employee Advocacy has become a crucial strategy for brands and why it should be a portion of your COVID playbook if it isn’t already. Employees are critical for amplifying important facts and connecting with communities in new ways.
What is Employee Advocacy?
The definition of Employee Advocacy is when a company enables employees, through software technology and approved content, to share information with their social media networks to help generate awareness and credibility about the brand with their authentic voices while also raising their own profiles to advance their careers.
When organizations harness the untapped potential of their workforces through mobilizing employees to become influential thought leaders, everyone benefits. The result is that these employee-influencers are mobilized into a small army that amplifies a brand advocacy strategy on social media with their authentic voices. A technology platform like Employee Advocacy industry-leader Dynamic Signal can put on-message content directly in the hands of employees for easy sharing to extend the reach of the company and keep the public informed.
Employees then become your best foot soldiers in the never-ending struggle to share your company story with the world. That’s because people are far more likely to believe others just like them. The same message coming from an employee carries greater weight than it does when it’s delivered by a company. It’s more credible, more authentic, more real.
“We tend to hear from brands themselves or senior leaders, who can be very scripted,” said Danielle Guzman, Global Head of Social Media and Distributed Content at Mercer. “It lacks that raw edge and authenticity that makes it feel like a regular conversation. An advocacy program naturally builds human relationships internally and externally. Brands don’t build trust, people do. People really are the future of a brand and its voice. There’s an opportunity for brands to truly understand that you’re sitting on a gold mine with your employees.”
Does Employee Advocacy really make an impact?
Yes! Social media isn’t just about cat videos and funny memes, of course. When used effectively, Employee Advocacy has real-world business value in telling a brand’s story on a powerful channel. Recent research indicates the potential impact of Employee Advocacy.
- The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found that “My Employer” is more trustworthy than any other institution at 75 percent globally. Employees who trust their companies are far more likely to engage in beneficial actions on their behalf, including advocating for their organization. “We are seeing a further reordering of trust to more local sources, with ‘My Employer’ emerging as the most trusted entity, because the relationships that are closest to us feel more controllable,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman.
- The Authenticity Gap, a 2017 FleishmanHillard Global Study, revealed that consumers are three times more likely to trust a company employee rather than a CEO when it comes to sorting fact from fiction about a brand. “The most striking finding is in the sphere of corporate communications, where the humble employee appears to have become an unlikely hero in the quest for credible brand information,” the report concluded.
Employee Advocacy also has the benefit of strength in numbers. Collectively, employees have a much greater reach on social media than your brand. On average, according to LinkedIn, employees have 10x more connections than companies. Their combined voices can cut through a noisy, cluttered digital environment with a clear message.
“You make every person in your organization an extension of the marketing team,” said Karyn Scott, Vice President of Global Demand Center, at Flexport. “People often don’t know how to share their passion for the company with the world. But they will if you give them a super-easy way that also just happens to get into watering holes where prospects are hanging out. Take our company for example. We have a little over 1,000 people. Assume everybody has more than 500 connections on LinkedIn. Some percentage of those people potentially are interested in using us.”
Those voices are increasingly meaningful at a time when the social media world is in upheaval.
Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are coping with their own well-documented trust issues. All have made significant changes in the effort to root out bad actors who seek to manipulate public opinion for nefarious purposes. Facebook made landmark changes to its platform in 2018 by prioritizing content from people like friends and family over posts from brands, and the media. The emphasis now is on personal connections and creating one-to-one interactions.
That’s why when employees post something about their company on social media, it just means more. It’s viewed as a friend, family member, or acquaintance sharing the cool things happening at their company – not brand marketing that’s viewed with suspicion.
Social media also is where we spend our time – especially digital–native Millennials. The average American is online 24 hours a week. Your employees are already talking about your organization in their networks. An Employee Advocacy program shepherds those conversations with approved content to help your people tell the company story even better.
As FleishmanHillard has advised: “Companies should consider giving employees more support and scope to act as brand ambassadors since they tend to be more credible than social media channels or corporate PR machines.”
10 Benefits of Employee Advocacy
The beauty of developing a brand advocacy strategy with the help of your employees is that you can see impacts throughout the business. Research shows that just some of the Employee Advocacy benefits include:
- Increasing Brand Visibility
- Attracting New Business
- Humanizing the Brand
- Strengthening Employee Engagement
- Building Brand Loyalty
- Highlighting Positive Workplace Culture
- Amplifying Thought Leadership and Insights
- Raising Profile of Employees
- Sharing Customer Success Stories
- Recruiting and Retaining Talent
Weber Shandwick & KRC Research discovered that 21 percent of employees within organizations are already employee advocates. But just think how much room exists for improvement.
“We live in a very transparent world,” said Alison Davis, Founder and CEO of internal communication agency Davis & Company. “There are a lot of ways to get information about a company and what it’s really like to work there. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody. Maybe employees feel like they’re advocates, but they’re really not set up to be ones. They don’t have the information they need. A company may have a lot to offer, but it’s communicated really poorly to employees. If you have a nice story to tell, it’s a real missed opportunity.”
Employee Advocacy Case Studies
Here are three great examples of companies mobilizing their employees to create a brand advocacy strategy.
Telecommunication provider O2 is one of the best-known brands in the U.K. Part of the reason why is because employees share approved content on social media to help tell the company story and generate scalable, authentic ROI to support O2’s media investment. The result? More than 7,000 employees have driven “between GBP/£150,000 and 200,000” of Earned Media Value annually, said Kristian Lorenzon, Head of Social Media & Culture. Other annual metrics include 9 million-plus impressions and 40,000 clicks from 15,000-plus shares. “We can talk in a very transparent manner about our brand and services,” Lorenzon said. “It helps us be bold in our thinking and be more trusted with our employees. Customers are really looking for trust, and we’re starting to build that through our employees.”
When one of America’s largest independent performance marketing agencies rebranded itself in 2019 as Tinuiti (pronounced tin-NEW-ity), the firm knew that employees would be crucial to helping build awareness of the change. In the early weeks of an Employee Advocacy program tied to the rebrand, Tinuiti saw a 2,400 percent increase in social media impressions generated through shared content. Traffic driven to the company website via social media more than doubled. Overall, there were two million social media impressions. “What you learn about a company is much more genuine when it comes from the employees rather than a corporate voice,” added Yasmin Interlandi, the Communications Manager. “By providing our employees with content, we’re able to tap into their personal brands or even encourage them to start their own – all while amplifying our thought-leadership and service offering.”
Global recruitment company PageGroup uses Employee Advocacy to build brand awareness and demonstrate subject-matter expertise through the social media presence of a dispersed workforce in 36 countries. Through the first ten months of 2019, PageGroup generated an estimated $1.8 million in Earned Media Value as the company saw 106,000 social media shares – mainly on LinkedIn. “If people are sharing articles in their networks talking about topics that we find important, that has high value for us,” said Pieter Bailleul, Head of Brand and Content Marketing. “We make our consultants the curators of the information shared because they know what’s more relevant to their networks.”
OK, but how difficult is it to launch and maintain an Employee Advocacy program?
Relax. The formula to a successful Employee Advocacy program is not rocket science.
When an organization effectively communicates the mission and goals to employees, they’re more likely to be engaged on the job. And when employees are invested in the company’s success, they’ll be more willing to become advocates.
But it does require some finesse. Nobody wants to be seen as a marketing channel to promote company content. The advocacy of employees needs to be earned.
But we’re here to help.
This comprehensive guide will provide insights that our customers are using today to build brand equity through the voices of their employees. Here’s an outline of best practices, so you can jump directly to any sections that particularly interest you.
- The Right Content
- Employee Advocacy Tactics
- Measurement Tips
- Employee Advocacy Trends
The Right Content
When employees have access to great content, they will share it with their networks. The secret sauce of Employee Advocacy is a steady flow of captivating material that grabs eyeballs. Remember, your content is competing with everything else that’s coming at employees – who have a limited attention span. Give them a reason to spread the word.
- Create compelling content
- Curate third-party content
- Cultivate employees to submit content
“Once we let go and let our team members tell our story, and we started telling our team members’ stories, it gave us much better impact and much better exposure for our brand,” said Jenny Robertson, Vice President of Corporate Communications at FedEx.
Must-read content will become must-share content.
When you only provide content for employees to share, you’re not treating them like valued insiders. Internal-only information, such as executive insights and strategic priorities, give employees deeper connections to the company and show how they’re contributing to achieving goals.
This will cultivate “hand-raisers” who will want to post your sharable content. Think of it as a win-win for your organization – increased employee engagement and more advocacy.
Employees are the most valued part of your organization. When they submit content, it creates a greater sense of community. It also ensures that a broader range of perspectives and interests are represented.
Encourage employees to contribute short success stories that they see in the daily workplace. Great things their co-workers are doing. Why they’re proud of the company. Once approved to be shared, these personal stories resonate on social media because they’re about real people – not impersonal, corporate initiatives.
Don’t just rely on content generated inside your organization. Curate content, such as media articles, from outside sources about your organization or industry. Include a variety of topics such as health and wellness, career development, social trends, or anything else that will catch the eye of employees and their networks.
Curation doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Dynamic Signal has a SmartContent feature that collects content from the internet with IBM’s Watson Artificial Intelligence technology. Then you can review and post if it’s relevant to your audience.
Tailor the content to employees as individuals. If it doesn’t speak to them, they will ignore it. Employees are more likely to share something happening at their work location rather than, for instance, an event at the corporate headquarters that has little impact on their lives.
Emphasize content that shines a spotlight on employees. Create day-in-the-life features and content about “unsung heroes.” Highlight employees of the month/week/quarter. Find ways to put employees on a pedestal.
What happens when you recognize employees? They share. Then their friends and family share it. A cascade effect is launched.
Employee Advocacy Examples
Not everyone wants to be involved in an Employee Advocacy program, and that’s OK. Focus on the employees who can’t wait to get involved. These are the people who love social media and probably are already active in online discussions about your company.
They are your catalysts. Explain how you’re going to help grow their personal brands and increase their number of followers. They can be part of a pilot as you test out ideas. Once your program is up and running, these will be your peer leaders. You can also mobilize them to start sharing particular pieces of content to jumpstart the rest of the organization.
Michael Brito, the author of “Participation Marketing: Unleashing Employees to Participate and Become Brand Storytellers,” believes in the “1/9/90 rule.”
- 1 percent of employees create and post content
- 9 percent of employees share it
- 90 percent of employees just follow the conversation
“You don’t need everyone in the organization involved,” said Brito, Executive Vice President at the Zeno Group. “If you can get the one percent of storytellers and the nine percent engaged, then you’re going to win. That one percent is going to write the blog post, write the Glassdoor review, start a discussion. Then the nine percent is going to amplify it by sharing. That’s a huge opportunity for a company.”
Who doesn’t like being asked to stand up at a company meeting to receive an ovation for a job well-done? We all want validation for our work. That’s especially the case for the Millennial generation, which research has shown values recognition almost as much as monetary rewards.
Highlight the people who are doing a great job of sharing the company story. Celebrate the top influencers in your program. People want to know that their contributions are noticed. It can be a quick “Twitter Done Right!” acknowledgment. Take a screenshot of a great Tweet and explain why it worked so well. (Was it clever? Did it have a strong use of hashtags? Was it a personal perspective?) Maybe create a weekly video that highlights the best posts of the week.
There’s an added benefit – education. By showing who was terrific, other employees can follow their examples. It also helps everyone see the value of having a social media presence.
Contests to encourage and incentivize participation can inspire the gamer inside all of us. Dynamic Signal customers have seen success when they introduce friendly competition into their Employee Advocacy programs.
Studies also indicate that compensating the same top performers again and again won’t change overall organizational behavior. So, spread the wealth. Focus on celebrating others with honors like “most improved” to highlight the contributions of others who are trying.
Prizes are nice, of course. Small cash sums. Lunch with an executive. Maybe even PTO. But there doesn’t necessarily need to be a prize. Never underestimate the power of bragging rights. Just seeing your name at the top of a leaderboard sometimes can be satisfaction enough.
Social media can be intimidating for some people. Even with a platform like Dynamic Signal, which provides guardrails to ensure employees can only share company-approved content, employees sometimes are afraid of making a mistake or looking bad on social media. Training sessions can demystify social media for the wary. It helps make people feel more confident and comfortable about participating in an Employee Advocacy program.
Many Dynamic Signal customers incorporate training as part of their onboarding process for new hires. It’s a perfect time to introduce them to your program. It’s also a way to explain that this is an opportunity for them to build their personal brands.
One of the most critical elements is executive buy-in. When senior managers show that Employee Advocacy is essential, the workforce will be more likely to get involved. In a perfect world, the CEO will also be the Chief Advocacy Officer. She’ll be encouraging people to share content that the company is providing. And she’ll be leading by example with her own sharing.
Don’t Set and Forget
Employee Advocacy is like a garden. It needs to be well-tended. If you launch a program – even with great fanfare – and then walk away, it will wither and die. Making sure your program doesn’t grow stale is the best way to keep employees engaged.
Maintaining momentum is about understanding what employees want. Employee Advocacy shouldn’t be a lecture. It’s a conversation. Solicit feedback. Conduct surveys. When employees feel like they’re being heard, they will be more likely to be active company ambassadors.
Companies may instinctively know that having employees share posts about the company has a positive impact. But data proves it.
What are the best metrics to track? It depends. Success is different for every business. Identify what your organization is trying to achieve.
- Improve company morale?
- Keep brand reputation strong?
- Grow the audience?
- Expand the share of voice online?
- Increase sales pipeline?
- Impact recruiting?
It’s easier to measure activity such as likes, clicks, reactions, impressions. But these can be “vanity metrics.” While there may be a lot of feel-good activity, what is the business getting out it? Social media experts who work with Dynamic Signal say there are two metrics they use to gauge the health of their program.
- Percentage of employees engaged with the platform
- Amount of content being shared
Metrics also allow you to refine and improve your program continuously. For instance, if employees are more eager to share cool stories about company culture rather than industry news, that’s a good indication of what they want to receive.
Another pro tip: Once you’ve established realistic, achievable KPIs, make sure to champion your successes with leadership. Use those data points to explain why Employee Advocacy has a bottom-line impact.
Popular Content for Sharing
- Company news
- Employee stories
- Customer stories
- Awards, accolades, honors
- Company culture
- Executive spotlights
- Product announcements
- Community involvement
- Fundraisers, donations, disaster relief
- Friends and family promotions
Employee Advocacy Trends
Founded in 2010, Dynamic Signal launched the Employee Advocacy category. Today, we have more than 300 global customers and empower 5 million employees to be advocates for their brands. The 2019 Dynamic Signal Customer Impact Study of more than 160 randomly selected customer contacts found that 92 percent of respondents agree that we continue to be a leader in Employee Advocacy solutions. Also, 91 percent said that Dynamic Signal is committed to customer success.
The study showed the direct impact Employee Advocacy has on the business. On average, they saw:
- 106 percent increase in social media reach
- 39 percent increase in brand awareness
- 12 percent improvement in online reviews
- 11 percent increase in appearances on “best places to work” lists
Dynamic Signal also found that Employee Advocacy customers saw the click-per-share of content distributed by workers grew significantly throughout 2018 – just as social networks like Facebook were de-emphasizing the importance of brand content.
You can do this, too.
But Employee Advocacy will only be a success if you remember the most important word – employee. You don’t want them to be an army of robots who are programmed to all say the same thing. You’re giving them the ability to start conversations in their own authentic voices in ways that will promote their careers.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of people who are sharing content, which demonstrates how they are proud of their contribution to keeping society safe and secure,” said Yvonne Harley, the Group Head of Communications at NCC Group. “Those sharing through the Dynamic Signal platform like that they can see the results. You can see how many people interacted with you, and it helps them to understand how their social network engages with them.”
At the end of the day, Employees own their personal channels and networks. They have to want to be involved because they see themselves as part of something bigger than themselves.
That means earning their respect, willingness to participate, and every share. When that happens, employees will be your most passionate advocates. And they will improve the level of trust people feel about your company.
There are plenty of brands today and not enough humans.
Employee Advocacy changes that.
- Dynamic Signal’s Becky Graebe on Employee Advocacy during a crisis
- Influencer MarketingHub: 8 Employee Advocacy Examples to Power Your Brand
- Forbes: The Key to Reaching Your Brand’s Reach by 561%? Your Employees
- Flexport’s Karyn Scott shows the benefits for the brand of Employee Advocacy
- How SAS coaches employees not to be “social media zombies”
- Kirt Zimmer of Robert Half discusses how Employee Advocacy drives the business forward
- “Getting Real: Employee Advocacy in a Time of Eroding Trust” eBook