Empowering advocacy through storytelling
Employee Advocacy Programs are the most popular form of employer brand and EVP expression right now. I have been closely following the rise of employee advocacy ever since the mid 2010's when companies such as Sodexo USA, Dell were SAP early adopters.
Over the past year, a company that has stood out in connecting their employees across multiple regions and increasing engagement through employee advocacy has been Coca-Cola Hellenic's (CCH). It has not only benefitted their external audience, it has helped to connect employees at a time when most of them having been working remotely through the pandemic.
I have been fortunate to meet some of CCH's leaders when they participated in one of our accelerate-Certificate in Employer Brand Leadership courses in the first half of 2020. Ever since, I have been closely following their employer branding initiatives and one that has always stood out is their employee advocacy program. Over the course of a few months their employee voices were getting louder and louder across social channels and in late 2021, I reached out to Maria Dinu, CCH's Group Employer Branding Manager—and invited her to share their story in a case study for "Employer Band Excellence-A Case Study Approach V," the fifth edition of an employer brand
Below is a copy of their case study
Coca-Cola HBC is a growth-focused consumer packaged goods (CPG) business and strategic bottling partner of The Coca-Cola Company. Coca-Cola HBC creates value for their stakeholders by supporting the socio-economic development of the communities in which they operate, with the belief that building a positive environmental impact is integral to future growth and the growth of the communities in which they operate. Coca-Cola HBC and their customers serve more than six hundred million consumers across a broad geographic footprint of 28 countries on three continents.
Their portfolio is one of the strongest, broadest and most flexible in the beverage industry, offering consumer-leading partner brands in the sparkling, juice, water, sport, energy, plant based, ready-to-drink tea, coffee, adult sparkling and premium spirits categories. These brands include Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Zero, Schweppes, Kinley, Royal Bliss, Costa Coffee, Valser, Romerquelle, Fanta, Sprite, Powerade, FuzeTea, Dobry, Cappy, Monster, Adez, and more. They promote an open and inclusive work environment for more than 27,000 employees and are ranked among the top sustainability performers in ESG benchmarks such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, CDP, MSCI ESG and FTSE4Good.
The employee advocacy program objectives include:
1. Amplifying existing employer brand
In 2017 Coca-Cola HBC began working on refining our Employer value proposition (EVP). The employer branding team created a thorough process that involved detailed research to secure their value proposition. The goal was to provide an external facing EVP that was more than just a nice story; we wanted it to be a genuine and authentic representation of Coca-Cola HBC's internal culture.
What followed, were a few years of creative growth that focused on creating the right channels and content strategy that would enable the EVP. By 2019, Coca-Cola HBC’s Employer Brand was already realizing great progress and results. Their social media networks grew and they started to gain an understanding of what it’s like to work for the organization.
Taking the next step in our employer brand journey highlighted the need to connect authentic content and real interactions with Coca-Cola’s secret ingredient: its people.
2. Attracting like-minded talent
We already knew from the Edelman Trust Barometer that candidates believe other employees more than they believe corporate brand messaging or even official statements from leadership. We knew that in order to attract like-minded talent, we had to show how our employees engage and our overall internal culture.
“We want to attract people with the Coca-Cola HBC mindset. The environment we work in moves quickly. People here love challenges and the fast-paced industry. They genuinely care and want to support others, and they are eager to learn and drive results. Finding people that share that mindset is the key to our success." (Maya Tsankova, Group Employer Branding Manager CCH)
The value in attracting the right talent is simple: Hiring people that fit the culture of Coca-Cola HBC is a major driver of employee satisfaction and successful job performance. When new hires are a good cultural fit, they are more likely to succeed and enjoy their work. Furthermore, hiring a good cultural fit greatly improves employee retention.
3. Humanization and authenticity
In 2019, we were clear that we wanted to launch the Employee Advocacy program and by June 2020 we were due to launch the program. However as the pandemic started to impact, we questioned whether it was the right time to launch. Ultimately, we decided that humanization and authenticity should become one of the key missions of our Advocacy program.
We could not have imagined the breadth and speed in which the platform grew. The platform allowed employees to connect with one another and to show who they really are, with authenticity, vulnerability – ultimately humanizing the work behind the brand.
It became one of the main pillars of the program, and the connection amongst employees became one of the most valuable benefits.
Formal external communication
Coca-Cola HBC’s external corporate communication tends to be formal, carefully crafted and highly professional. Our aim to bring more authenticity came with trusting our employees to post anything, anytime, about their job and experience at Coca-Cola HBC. In addition, a few employees lacked confidence in their online skills and how to create an impactful online presence.
We had to encourage our ambassadors much more than we initially anticipated. We started with intensive advocates’ induction sessions, enriched with another series of digital boosters helping them to build their personal brand, storytelling skills and etc. We carefully aligned with our Public Affairs guidelines and prepared detailed training materials to support our Advocates to better understand the company’s Social Media guidelines and to be confident when posting content. Our main aim was to create a strong, engaged, and capable community.
COVID-19 and other priorities
The planned commencement of the program start coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown. It was clear that people had other concerns – their health, the uncertainty, and care for friends and family affected by the pandemic. However, simultaneously, people were on social media to keep abreast of the news and to pursue social connection.
We wanted countries to have a say in how we designed the Advocacy program and what platform we chose to scale it. After presenting the project to the entire community, more than half of the countries chose to participate in designing and piloting the program.
We wanted to cooperate with an advocacy platform in order to:
Provide employees with easy access to ready-made content in case they needed support
Track posting and performance of our content
After scanning the market, we discovered Smarp, a platform offering flexibility, multiple languages, multiple channel versions, and excellent customer service. Smarp quickly became a trusted partner in supporting both the design and launch the program.
We created a space for our advocates across countries to grow, feel united and engaged.
We did this by:
Providing access to exclusive trainings
Regular digests and building awareness about their business impact
Making it easy and fun in an informal environment with digital challenges, specially designed LinkedIn banners and Teams backgrounds, and friendly competitions
Keeping advocates inspired – peer-to-peer storytelling, access to external resources, i.e., articles and events
Corporate Storytelling blossomed in the organization within several areas in 2020. As part of our employer brand strategy, we designed brief storytelling masterclasses, in cooperation with a LinkedIn expert and a seasoned copywriter. We delivered the program to a few hundred participants, starting with senior leadership.
We encouraged people to tell their personal stories in order to create engagement and conversations, and to build their personal brands online (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Internal advocacy examples
What we achieved
By the end of the first year, our initial success of the advocacy community was visible, with more than 550 advocates on the actual platform, and a total estimate of 900 employees posting online.
Tangible benefits of the program include:
Overall impressions: 6.3+ million people on LinkedIn and Facebook
6,500 posts shared by advocates, 5 times more than the total number of posts shared by company pages across all countries
High rate of engagement for advocate content (22 reactions/share, on average)
If Coca-Cola HBC had used paid advertising to reach a similar number of people, the cost of advertising would have been nearly 174,000 Euro in earned media value.
We designed and delivered 20+ Storytelling and personal branding sessions, 20+ Advocacy sessions and Digital Capability Boosters series for advocates.
Currently, we are assessing the impact of recruitment referrals and using advocates to increase the exposure of recruitment materials. The initial trials are promising.
A video summary of the Employee Advocacy program including achievements was created and distributed internally and externally which also resulted in a high level of engagement and sense of achievement among the team (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Video summary of the Employee Advocacy program
The immediate effect of a well-run advocacy program is the drive up of the employer brand consideration. The power of our employee’s voices increased awareness of Coca-Cola as an attractive employer five-fold.
The 2021 talent market survey, executed annually with external vendors, showed that we grew in ranking as one of the most preferred employers in 61 percent of the countries in which we operate.
The Covid-19 crisis captured how we connect and unite, with social media being main vehicle for staying in touch. Despite the challenges, the engagement levels in 2021 are high, with more 86 percent of the employees saying they feel connected to their teams and colleagues, and 89 percent willing to help each other above and beyond their usual job activities.
This was influenced by the stories we all shared. Our people embraced social media as ’the place to be’ with around 40 percent growth of employee presence on LinkedIn compared to 2019.
Our Internal Communications’ Channels survey in Jan 2021 found that LinkedIn is in the top 3 channels where our people go to learn about the company, their colleagues and to feel connected.
After only a year following implementation of the program, we firmly believe employee advocacy matters and have made it a key priority in our strategy. This is both positive in terms of impact versus investment, and the engagement of employee advocates. Working as a cross-country team has created a strong commitment to the program and has become a competitive advantage for our employer brand.
Our secret ingredients include:
Trust employees to post: Employees that are naturally engaged and proud of their work want to share company posts and will also be open to share their work experience externally.
Magic of Storytelling: We chose to focus less on DOs and DON’Ts and instead, empowered employees to share their stories.
Make it easy: We relied on an e-platform for making advocacy a process that is gamified, fun, easy to use, and rewarding.
Build a community – We wanted the advocates to feel part of a strong, informal, like-minded community, where their contribution is appreciated and where they can nurture their digital skills and personal branding needs.
Plan well – ensure you start with a well-researched business case and hard data to support your request for investment in employer brand initiatives to senior leadership. Involving the local teams into the business case creation ensures an early adoption.
An Advocacy program brings the internal communication to new level, and moreover can have a significant impact on employee engagement, not just for the Advocates involved, but also other employees across the organization following the Advocates on social media.
The strongest part is the authenticity in our brand-voice and having the ability to share employee stories that connect who we are as people, who we are as teams, and who we are as a company.