Employee Advocacy: The Secret Hero of Employer Branding

Employee Advocacy: The Secret Hero of Employer Branding

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Optus is one of the largest telecommunications companies in Australia, providing mobile, internet, satellite, entertainment and business network services to more than 10 million customers each day. We also employ more than 8000 people across Australia, and thus compete against some of the country’s largest tech giants for the best workers.

Given we operate in a candidate-driven market, where candidates can choose where they work, we needed a unique strategy to market careers that attracted top talent to our organization.

And so we turned to employee advocacy.

The Optus employee advocacy program

With 106 million monthly active users – 4.5 million of which are in Australia – LinkedIn is one of the most widely used social media platforms in the world, and comfortably the most used platform for career-related content.

Research shows that on LinkedIn, the reach of employee-generated content is far greater than company-generated content. We also know that companies with socially-engaged employees are more likely to attract top talent, and that talent is more likely to be retained.

The Optus Employer Brand team took these insights and developed the ‘Talent Ambassador Program’. It’s designed to inspire our people to celebrate, promote and showcase their careers at Optus. We focused on LinkedIn, using the hashtag #OptusLife.

Every six months we do a companywide call-out for Ambassadors, encouraging those who are passionate about their jobs and the company to apply. To be considered for the program Ambassadors must submit an application telling us about their passion for Optus, and why they feel they’d make a great representative for their employer.

Beginning in October 2019 we’ve had two intakes, each attracting more than 100 applications. Today we boast a diverse group of 75 Ambassadors who represent our workplace culture. The Ambassadors are an incredible mix of high-achieving, super engaged people from various backgrounds, locations, departments and levels of seniority.

For each new intake we host a full-day training session to induct Ambassadors to the program. Ambassadors get to know each other and receive training on social media marketing skills to help them share their #OptusLife stories. This training is ongoing, with Ambassadors benefitting from a bespoke training and development program to evolve their personal brand and social media marketing skills.

To recognize our Ambassadors, we give them branded gifts as a symbol of their efforts in promoting Optus careers. We also send out a fortnightly newsletter to celebrate top posts, provide content tips, and note any program updates. Lastly, we have a Yammer group where all the Ambassadors can come together and discuss or share learnings.

The tangible benefits of employee advocacy

One of the most underestimated aspects to this program is the employee engagement. Six months into the program we did a spot check survey to ask Ambassadors if they felt less, similarly or more engaged after being part of the program. Every respondent said they felt more engaged.

Ambassadors have also noticed a shift in their personal brands. They’re getting more visibility with senior leaders, they’re being picked for projects, and they’re standing out amongst their peers.

From a recruitment perspective, Ambassadors have been receiving messages from candidates wanting to learn more about particular roles or teams at Optus. They almost act as the face of Optus careers, and as a result this has helped our recruitment team get organic brand awareness.

Other notable results include:

  • Ambassadors collectively generated 1.3 million organic views from #OptusLife posts (saving over $150K in LinkedIn advertising costs.)
  • We saw a 356% uplift in LinkedIn company pageviews in the first 30 days of the program.
  • We saw a 17% increase in candidate applicants in October and November 2019 compared to October and November 2018.

The challenges of employee advocacy (and how to overcome them)

The biggest challenge of employee advocacy is simply starting a program. Getting executive buy-in can be difficult, as this is quite a new type of program. Showing data on cost savings for employee-generated posts versus sponsored posts, while adding in the element of an employee’s content being more authentic, can help to overcome this challenge.

An employee advocacy program works best when employees aren’t inhibited by approvals and consent. Granting employees free reign in posting content can feel risky however. The key to minimizing this risk is to offer excellent training, to monitor the posts, and to provide on-the-spot coaching where required.

Many programs tend to lose momentum; the excitement and passion can decrease as the months roll on. But the answer to this issue is structure and strategy. We put a lot of effort into ensuring our monthly meetups are engaging, fun and fresh. Our fortnightly newsletters help us to stay front of mind. As a result we have people from across the business reaching out asking when the next intake is opening and what they can do now to help increase their chances of getting in. Great energy surrounds our program.

Scaling can be another major challenge. As the program grows it becomes harder to track content and ensure Ambassadors are posting responsibly. To overcome this, we might look to have some of our top-performing Ambassadors become program coaches to have more hands on deck.

Start small and build employee advocacy up

As a large corporation Optus has the luxury of being able to make significant investments in employee advocacy. But other organizations can start their journeys on a far smaller scale. You just need to ensure you’re accounting for the challenges that come with starting small, such as Ambassadors leaving, or people being too busy to post. Spreading the Ambassador load across multiple employees is wise.

But the most important ingredients of employee advocacy success, no matter the size of the program, are to get executive buy-in, to track posts views and engagement to be able to demonstrate ROI, and to incentivize effective advocacy.

The resources you need to attract top talent can be found sitting at office desks. As we’ve proved at Optus, employee advocacy is not only economical and effective, it serves to enhance your brand and strengthen your organization in the long term.

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Employee Advocacy: The Secret Hero of Employer Branding