June 19, 2020 • 5 min read
Employee Advocacy: The Most Powerful Voice for Your Brand Comes from Within
Building a brand can be a difficult exercise. Every business wants to be seen, heard and noticed, which makes the challenge of standing out all the more difficult. Even if you do manage to cut through the noise, many people still won’t trust a company’s marketing spin.
People are any organisation’s most trustworthy resource, making your employer brand – your company’s reputation as a workplace – an incredibly important part of your branding puzzle. As it happens, the key to attracting more of this resource, and to be authentic while you do it, is to use those you already employ.
The role of employee advocacy in employer branding
Employee advocacy is having your employees represent your brand in a positive light, helping to elevate it through word-of-mouth marketing. It gives your corporate brand a real face, adds authenticity to your company’s messaging, and results in better cut-through.
Every employee in your business brings a large personal network. Between friends, colleagues (current and past), followers and connections on social media, each team member has access to a huge audience who they can instantly reach and influence.
By sharing information with their networks, employees can increase a company’s reach and legitimacy and generate meaningful conversations about the brand. And this is far from a one-way arrangement: employees build their personal and professional brands while they build their employer’s brand.
Organisations around the world are increasingly investing in employee advocacy/ambassador programs. These programs are often built around tools which provide company content for the employees to share on social media.
In short, to build the employer brand.
Employee advocacy is on the rise
According to Altimeter’s study on employee advocacy, 90% of brands surveyed are already pursuing or have plans to pursue some form of employee advocacy initiative.
I believe this is due to an evolution in the sophistication of employer branding approaches. As the employment marketing industry has developed a more strategic focus, we’re considering how to play the long game.
We’re also responding to different consumer/candidate behaviours and a more cluttered advertising market. The reality is that people trust people much more than they trust organisations. There is so much data out there on this topic, but one stat that blew me away was that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from others, even people they don’t know, over branded content.
In such a trust-based economy, it’s no surprise that the idea of empowering your employees to become a trusted brand advocate is such a popular strategy, particularly given the rewards on offer.
The branding benefits of employee advocacy
At its most basic, employer advocacy allows businesses to do more with less – an efficient use of resources. But there are many other incredible benefits gained from using your team as brand advocates, including:
- Adding originality and trustworthiness to your messages
- Increased channel breadth
- The ability to engage with new communities (that wouldn’t normally engage with you as a brand)
- Expanded reach
Think about how your opinion towards a brand has changed when you see the employees actively promoting company life, and think about the channels (perhaps niche ones) that you are not using today to promote your employer brand (but would love to be). Multiply the number of employees you have by the average size of their individual networks (approx. 400 LinkedIn 1st degree connections, 420 Facebook friends, 360 Twitter followers), and you get the potential reach of such a campaign.
Employees are some of the business world’s most underrated and underutilised assets. Employee-generated content not only provides you with awesome content for next to nothing, it also fosters organisational positivity amongst your employees, leading to a more engaged workforce with lower attrition.
How employee advocacy solves employer branding challenges
Hearing about a brand from people you know and trust brings a level of authenticity that simply can’t be achieved through paid marketing. In terms of talent attraction, my talent market research indicates that personal and professional networks are the main sources of influence when looking for and selecting employers and job opportunities.
More and more, people are seeking validation and feedback from others at multiple stages of the consideration process. It’s now a habit to read reviews before buying any product, whether a washing machine, car or holiday. For this reason, content generated by real people – your employees – will have more influence over consumers and candidates than any other form of marketing.
The ‘why’ of employee advocacy is compelling. So let’s now look at the ‘what’.
Building an effective employee advocacy program
The shape of your employee advocacy program will depend on the marketing challenges you’re hoping to solve and the approach you feel will work best within your organisation.
The first step is to determine the type of employee you’d like to participate. My advice is to prioritise:
- Employees with the greatest reach: which employees bring the largest and most engaged networks?
- Employees who are active on social media, and who are already displaying advocacy behaviours: without the need to train or create a new habit, which employees can you have quick wins with?
- Employees who have the most influence or pull amongst their talent communities: which employees are your most interesting thought leaders?
Your next challenge is to create strategies that speak to these employees. Give them guidance, encourage the right behaviours, and equip them with the tools they need to create and amplify a message that speaks to whatever audience they might be targeting: not just talent, but customers, shareholders and/or investors too.
Ensuring employee advocacy success
It’s obvious that employee advocacy can pay big dividends – which makes it all the more frustrating when your team doesn’t engage. Let’s say your employees aren’t sharing your content. How can you help to ensure that they do?
The first step is to identify whether an ambassador or advocacy program is best for you. While the concepts are similar – employees advocating for their employer – the approach differs:
- Ambassador programs: Using well selected thought leaders as magnets for high-end talent.
- Advocacy programs: Using a larger number of employees to activate the masses with their greater reach.
Once a strategy is chosen, a methodical approach needs to be taken to managing this process. Be sure to consider:
- How you’re training employees on the dos and don’ts of advocacy.
- Educating employees on the benefits (both organisational and personal) of participating.
- How to remove any obstacles to participation, such as time and creativity burdens.
- How these behaviours can be embedded into the employee experience to create a culture of brand advocacy, where employees naturally act as influencers.
Any employee advocacy strategy must be designed and built in partnership with your corporate communications department. Create workflows for gaining publishing approval (this is often the biggest roadblock), and understand the dos, don’ts, queries and concerns of those who are responsible for managing risk and corporate reputation.
People are your organisation’s most valuable resource. Employee advocacy uses your talented employees to attract even more talented employees, creating a beautiful, self-fulfilling cycle.
Employee advocacy isn’t easy. It won’t happen overnight. But if your organisation commits to an ambassador or advocacy program, you can expect the long-term returns to be impactful.
About the author: Brie is an employer branding thought leader and pioneer in the Australian market, with over 15 years’ experience dedicated to building multi-award winning employer brands in the APAC region. Brie has successfully translated marketing and communications concepts to the world of HR to attract, recruit and retain talent.