Using Employee Advocacy to Drive Authentic Diversity
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Your employees are your most authentic employer brand advocates. If they genuinely believe in your company and the value it brings to them, they’re the best voices for your target audience to hear, because that’s who candidates believe – real people, with real experiences, who tell real stories about what it’s like working for you.
Empowering people to share their experiences – both the good and the not-so-good – is an opportunity to showcase your positives and benefits, your character and values, and how you effect necessary change when it comes to things like diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. In a nutshell, if you’re serious about DEI and attracting a truly diverse workforce, what your employees say, think and feel about your company matters.
But when it comes to encouraging employee advocacy, what steps should you take to get it right? We asked a number of employer brand leaders to share their thoughts.
True (and authentic) employee advocacy is when employees can vouch for their organisation, and hand on heart say "I'm proud of where I work."
This concept can be brought to life in so many ways through a content marketing strategy – and there's no one size fits all. Every employee will have a different perspective, or story, of why they feel passionate about their workplace. A solid employer brand strategy will empower its people to feel confident sharing those stories.
Focus on finding advocates who have passion. Naturally, that will bring a diverse group of employees with various backgrounds.
The concept of employee advocacy has been around for decades in various forms and continues to evolve. But many companies/organisations fail to leverage it.
In the past decade, BCG has tripled its size to a workforce of 21,000+ worldwide and we see those employees as 21,000+ content creators who can show what life is like at the company. We know that candidates want to hear from employees that look like them or do what interests them, so we strive to provide an authentic view as well as a consistent flow of employee storytelling on what it is really like to work with us.
A lot of companies believe that by doing a few diversity-related activities, or even just focusing on one aspect (for example, recruitment), they will solve their diversity problem. I have seen some just focus on gender. But it isn't that easy.
Diversity is recognising that an intersectionality of identities (racial, cultural, gender, etc.) is what creates a truly inclusive workplace. We need to look at the entire candidate/employee journey. To foster a genuine sense of belonging in the workplace, diversity initiatives should address race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, each individual’s unique upbringing, current experiences, and more.
I don't believe employees feel as if they are being used as a token if you have trust and transparency. So when managing or launching an employee advocacy program, it is critical to be authentic and transparent and to build trust with the employees and your audience. You want employees to be honoured to be featured on a branded social channel, career site, company email, etc. Most importantly, they must be comfortable with how they, as a human being, are being showcased.
At BCG we also take into account how we can make the program/initiative as easy as possible to participate in, as well as make it rewarding for those who do. Furthermore, we want our employees to actively propose content to be shared as we all want to bring in the best and most diverse talent into BCG.
Many employer branding strategies focus only on the positive: the opportunities and benefits of working at a company. Yet the challenges are just as important and are a key part of creating a sense of belonging.
Your employer branding should include employee stories of triumph, motivation, and aspiration, but also of challenge, failure, and adversity. This makes it easier for your talent audience to decide whether they identify with your workforce. By telling stories of both the good and the bad—the benefits and the challenges—you reveal the work ethic, personality, character, preferences, values, and behaviours of your employees.
Your talent audience is able to live vicariously through the eyes of your employees, giving real insight into how it might feel to work at your organisation. With an honest picture of what it is like to work at your organisation, applicants will be better able to assess whether it is a place they could belong.
Your employees are what make you, well, YOU. Showcasing their work, their stories, their experiences really brings to life the reality of what it's like to work for your company.
Empowering your staff to share their stories about their work and their experience with you is a great way to reach candidates and make sure they have a better grasp on what to expect in your organisation. It's all very well to make claims about your organisation, but if you hear the same claims in the context of someone talking about their experience with them, it means a lot more.
You can use employee advocacy at all stages of the content marketing strategy – put their quotes in job ads, profiles on the career website and in videos. Really, the possibilities are endless.
I think a lot of organisations understand the business case for diversity, and set targets to achieve it, but they invest a lot less time in actually doing the cultural change work. You need to make sure that people from diverse backgrounds are actually included and supported once they are on board – if it's just another target to hit on paper, you can do more harm than good.
You also need to make sure you are listening to the perspectives of the people that you're trying to include – it's no use putting into place a whole heap of initiatives if the people they are meant to attract don't actually find them useful.
Make sure you let your employee advocates be themselves – no one is defined by just one aspect of who they are, so using an employee advocate as a spokesperson for a diversity initiative, without celebrating them as a rounded individual, falls flat.
It is so much more meaningful when you celebrate someone's experience and role without limiting them to just that one part of them. Additionally, let them be honest about their experience – even when it doesn't paint you in the best light – because honesty and authenticity is critical in this space. Use the negatives to learn and grow, and hopefully when you revisit their story a while later, they can see the impact of the changes that you've made.
Employee advocacy is when a sense of pride, passion and gratitude fuels an individual's desire to promote their current and/or former employer as a great place to work.
In a digital world where the majority of candidates research an employer before applying or accepting an offer, it’s never been more important to encourage advocates to share their experiences - and to make this easily accessible for people to find. Candidates trust the views of current and former employees to weigh up if the employer value proposition is consistent with the real-life employee experience. It also helps retain employees.
Therefore, employee advocacy should form a key element of a content marketing strategy and be included at all stages of the employee lifecycle – from attraction, to alumni and beyond. It ideally includes a variety of formats to be inclusive of the way listeners, viewers, and readers digest content. It’s most powerful when employees unite their voices together, i.e through the use of social media hashtags.
It’s important to remember that employee advocacy is underpinned by the experience an employer provides. A healthy and happy culture equals happy employees who will naturally want to share their experiences and promote career opportunities to friends, family and their networks. Ever heard the saying ‘people are your biggest advocates’? Well, it’s true.
Building an inclusive and diverse workforce does not happen overnight. Many corporations will have good intentions, but without truly understanding the people and skills that exist in the market, it will be hard for them to drive impactful change.
One of the biggest problems can be setting immediate diversity hiring targets that are simply unrealistic due to the skills and people that exist within the market. In these cases, the focus needs to shift from ‘buying’ skills, to ‘building’ them. Each industry will be different, but it’s important for corporations to look to the future by creating platforms or initiatives that inspire skills development – both for young people and experienced professionals.
Employee advocates should never feel they are just a ‘tick box exercise’. If an employer has an internal engagement platform, I would highly recommend asking for people to come forward to share their employee and life experiences.
It’s also common for employers to run specific employee spotlight campaigns to promote their inclusive culture and ultimately inspire others to join them. In this situation, I’d recommend being open and transparent about plans to build an inclusive and diverse workforce. That way, advocates understand the need to unite their voices and are comfortable being involved.
Employee advocacy is giving your employees the platform to share their authentic stories about life and culture at your company. It can be used in content marketing to help tell your company's story, shine a light on the people who work to drive your company's success, and to show potential candidates in their networks who they may be working shoulder to shoulder with in the future.
I often say that I am much more likely to eat at a restaurant when I know someone who has eaten there and had a positive experience – and candidates seek career opportunities the same way. They want to know what others' true experiences have been.
I think some company diversity initiatives can appear to be performative, which rings hollow. If diversity, equity, and inclusion are truly imperative to your company's success and culture, the evidence of that should be omnipresent in everything from your executive leadership, to what organisations you support through fundraising, etc. It is not just when a calendar signifies it's time to recognise a certain group of people.
The biggest piece of advice I have here is to not look at your employee advocates merely as the DEI boxes they check, but rather as what they bring to the culture of your company as individuals. If the only time you are reaching out to certain employees for their participation in advocacy initiatives is when they meet the criteria of a certain demographic, you should reconsider your motives.
Research shows that through employee advocacy, companies can benefit from a boost of trust from their audiences. It manifests both online (social media, blogs, podcasts etc.) and offline (e.g. accepting to be speakers at different events).
At my company, we are tapping into employee advocacy at different stages of our content strategy, from creation to lead generation. We write our colleagues’ stories (or they write them) and create different types of content, like podcasts. Content is uploaded to our blog and into the advocacy tool that we use and from there, people can choose what and where they want to share.
We encourage everybody to share their experience working with us at any point in time. Some of the things they’ve done by themselves were well received: photos of their online team activities or of the office (before the pandemic), posts about their teams and different company-wide activities.
I believe being authentic is at the core of employee advocacy – if your employees don’t buy into the message you want to send out, they won’t be true advocates of your brand. They need to feel comfortable sharing information about your company with their networks, using their own voices. On that note, here are four steps to get you started:
First, look inside your organisation. Are your employees happy and inspired? Look at pride and engagement levels. Are they supporting your product or service? If the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’, then you’re on the right track.
Then, make sure you explain the ‘why’ and give them the right data to convince them of the ROI of sharing more about your work environment or product/service. If needed, orchestrate pilots, measure their reach, and share the results.
Now that they are aware of the ‘why’ and the potential outcomes, teach them how to do it. Share any social media guidelines that you might have, train them on using any employee advocacy tools you have, and make it as easy as possible for them.
Finally, get their feedback and provide recognition to those who are champions. This can be a beautiful and organic process, confirming that what you’re doing, both as an employer and as a product/service creator, is great. So, enjoy the ride!
For me, employee advocacy is one of the most important components in an authentic EB strategy. I've found previously that a fair amount of work needs to be done to get employees to become advocates or champions, and that's done by addressing the internal employer brand before focusing on the external employer brand.
What I love about employee advocacy is that it can be used at pretty much any stage of the candidate experience, and different messages can be used at different points in time to create something that feels unique to a candidate. Whether content sits on company-owned channels or employee platforms, it enables your advocates to become thought leaders in their field and I love celebrating the people that I work with, their expertise and thinking.
I think there are a few issues with how DE&I is approached. The first (and obviously largest) problem is simply not having any diversity. Sometimes you also see brands constantly using the same person because of their race/gender/identity/sexuality, and whilst I believe that representation matters and these stories need to be told, diversity isn't diversity if you are only telling one story.
I think the best way for companies to address diversity is to own where they are at on their journey. What are the company's DE&I goals, and how are leaders developing diverse talent? No company is absolutely perfect, so I think a big part of employer brand moving forward should be about what you are striving to achieve and being open with targets and what you are doing to make positive change on systemic issues.
I think building relationships with people is key. Understanding the stories your people have to tell and what they want to tell (sometimes these are different), knowing what topics resonate with them and why their experience stands out.
The main thing is that you don't see it as a diversity box-ticking exercise. If you ask around, and you notice that there's a lack of diversity in the people who do have stories of recognition, experience, growth etc, go straight to whoever is in charge of people. Be an ally. Call out what you are seeing and ask what's being done to recognise diverse talent.