The voice of your employer brand
Since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, the number of social media posts by employees has skyrocketed. There are more than 5 billion internet users worldwide, which is 63.1 percent of the global population. Of this total, 4.7 billion or 59 percent of the world's population are social media users. This presents a huge opportunity for companies to connect and engage with future employees which is one of the main reasons why employer brand ambassador programs have become so popular in recent years. Traditional programs have involved a small group of selected individuals trained to create or share stories with their online networks. While there has been varying degrees of success with this approach, it is difficult to sustain at scale—a company either runs out of ideas or creativity, leading to a sea of sameness and/or a disengaged audience.
When you have a pleasant experience you want to tell everyone about it. The same applies in the labour market. When you feel part of a team and you know your job well, your passion extends beyond just turning up (or connecting in) for work every day. When you get together with colleagues, friends, and family, you want to talk about the company you work for, and in doing so, you become an advocate or detractor for your company based on your experience.
A broader, more effective, employee advocacy program should be a carefully planned and well executed part of your employer branding strategy. It is aimed at facilitating and motivating a large proportion of employees to champion their employer. This program is beneficial to both the employer and employees as it increases trust, boosts employee engagement, innovation, and productivity. In terms of marketing and business growth, employee advocacy can also drive awareness, sales, and engagement. It can be as simple as a personal post thanking the company for a birthday lunch, sharing excitement for an upcoming training program, or sharing a career achievement. This organic promotion happens all the time, especially when employees are actively engaged, and it is part of building a healthy culture.
Word of mouth promotion is widely accepted as the best form of promotion for your products and services and companies are fast realizing the benefit of encouraging their employees to use their voice to endorse why someone should join, stay, and grow in their company.
There has always been companies who have empowered their people to be the best promoters of their workplace and in the environment we now live in with many employees working remotely or hybrid, the voice of the employee has never been more important if a company wants to project an authentic voice to the market and reassure their employees that they are in the right job at the right time.
Engaged employees are more likely to be advocates of your company without being asked. If you ask a group of employees what engages them most to give their best at work, the results are varied, though there are some similarities. In fact, we recently asked the same question to 28 leaders from 16 countries studying for their accelerate-Certificate in Employer Brand Leadership. Here is a summary of what they shared:
Build a culture and behaviour systems to support positive experiences, one experience at a time.
Consider what type of experiences you want to create for your people and align it with the organizational purpose, vision, and values.
Engagement begins with leader, focus on story doing, not story telling.
Be authentic in what you share, show insights into the real world, showing everyday real challenges such as preparing family meals, conducting meetings from the car, taking outdoor walk breaks with colleagues on a group chat, listening to podcasts while exercising, rushing to pick children up after school—the list of how we juggle everyday life with our work is endless. Sharing stories of how your company makes you feel in supporting you achieving everything in your day without added stress will attract people to your company who are looking for similar support from an employer.
Advocacy with intention (mental health, real-life working from home, support of leadership, etc.) is more trustworthy than highly scripted corporate posts.
Make employees feel safe and courageous to tell their stories—without them, a company doesn’t have the power to share the culture.
Shine an empowering spotlight on your people and elevate them on your social channels. Recognizing them and empowering them is likely to encourage their peers to follow their lead.
The future of employee advocacy
So where to from here? With turnover rates at their highest in many industries and many jobs being left unfilled, how can companies develop a culture that supports employee advocacy at an organisational level?
We propose the Employee Voice Value Framework to guide leaders in their strategy development to support a culture that showcases what it is like to work at an organisation through the shared employee voice of everyday experiences you could expect in working for the employer (see figure 1)
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Internal drivers of employee advocacy
So, what facilitates developing a positive culture for employees to be willing to share their everyday experiences to the outside world and advocate for your organisation. We have identified seven key drivers including:
Leadership engagement: If your leaders are not active advocates how can you expect your employees to be one? Leaders at companies such as Dell, Starbucks and video game publisher, Electronic Arts (EA) were early adopters of ambassador programs and have actively led from the front. With 20,000+ employees spread across 30 offices in six different geo-regions, EA was suffering from multiple, competing internal cultures. In 2014 they launched their employee advocacy program, called “EA Insiders.” Within a very short time employees from around the globe were writing to the program managers about how much more connected they were to their co-workers. New members were sent official certificates and an EA Insiders stocker thanking them for joining and participating in the program, and leader boards and contests were created to spur friendly competition. With thousands of active users across the globe, the EA Insiders program now generates tens of thousands of social shares each month to a network of over 1.1 million.
Employer brand strategy: A well-defined strategy will support your objectives to attract and retain the talent you require to drive innovation and growth. Advocacy and referrals are a key element of effective employer branding, especially in industries such as IT, retail, construction, childcare and hospitality where talent shortages are prominent and referrals are key.
Team structure: An effective advocacy program needs an integrated strategy where every employee in the organisation has a role to play. Clearly define the scope and objectives of your program and the roles of responsibilities of the program leaders.
Training and development: Consistent branding will assist companies to be easily recognizable and their employment offering clear. Avoid bureaucratic governance policies that result in employees being fearful of what they can share in social media. A tiered training program and guidelines will help employees progress through the levels and build their social media confidence along the way. This also improves the adoption of employee advocacy tools and helps to avoid employees spamming irrelevant content to their networks that has been provided by corporate systems.
Rewards: Implement incentives to entice employees to enlist as employee advocates. However, monetary incentives are no longer as effective as they used to be, so creativity is necessary for crafting the reward program. One option is to gamify the campaign goals, to make for a more enjoyable experience. This not only improves business performance but employee engagement as well.
Technology: Remember, we are immersed in an online world now and live in an age where technology is powerful and portable. There is an abundance of tools such as EveryoneSocial to make it easier for employees to share content with their social networks and also provide the metrics and data the employer needs to support the business case for investment in the program—it is a sharp reminder that technology really needs to be user-friendly and easy to activate. Seenit, a video crowdsourcing platform enables organizations to create video with their people from anywhere in the world to capture and edit truly authentic, personal, and trusted user-generated content at scale.
Content: Keeping your employees informed about company news and initiatives to maintain a healthy culture for content generation is necessary. It needs careful attention because you are leveraging employee’s social networks. At the same time, you want to encourage your employees to engage in authentic conversations that don’t sound overtly salesy or corporate. This means letting your employees do most of the talking rather than feeding them corporate scripted posts and messages.
The collective success (or failure) of the internal drivers to support employee advocacy is what drives your advocacy culture and provides it with the best chance of long term success.
We propose there are five levels of advocates in an organisation including:
Level 1: Highly Engaged Advocates / Strategic Approach – These are your best and most active ambassadors that have the most impact on your employer brand with internal and external audiences—these are employees who share authentic content and are trusted by their followers.
Level 2: Self Motivated Advocates / Uses own content – This cohort is well on the way to becoming your best advocates, support, and nurture them to become Level 1 advocates.
Level 3: Time Poor Advocates / Willing to participate – This is most of your people—they are willing to get involved but constantly find the workload of their day-to-day work too much to take on additional responsibilities.
Level 4: Curious Advocates / Not willing to participate – This cohort is curious but may be holding back through lack of skill or confidence—seek to engage these employees through training and support.
Level 5: No Advocates / Low engagement – These are your least engaged people and those likely to be undoing the decent work you are doing at the other levels. Connect with these people and understand what you can do to improve their employee experience to increase their engagement.
The collective quality, relevance and impact of the content created and shared by your Level 1-5 advocates will determine the level of value created for your external audience.
The external value of employee advocacy
The external value created by your advocates includes:
Brand awareness: Your advocates will help build awareness of your brand among the audience you are trying to reach. Don’t limit communications to a tightly defined persona or candidate stereotype as you will likely miss out on reaching a large cohort of people that may never have considered working for you but have the transferable skills to be successful employees in your organisation. Increased brand awareness will support your short to long term talent attraction efforts.
Reputation: We live in an age where the public does not always trust the messaging of corporate entities. However, they do trust their friends. When a recommendation comes via one’s social network, it truly means something. Research shows 92 percent of social media users trust content shared by people they know, compared to only 36 percent for content used in social media ads. Research also shows 90 percent of internet users consider consumer recommendations to be the most credible form of advertising. The benefits are clear, people simply listen to and trust people they already know.
Authenticity: Encourage socially active employees to speak authentically about their experiences. One way to encourage employees to use their authentic voice and share positive sentiments about their employer is by making sure that they enjoy working for you and their experience is overall, a positive one. When team members feel valued and appreciated, they are more likely to spread the word. Salesforce found employees participating in their social ambassador program see their networks grow at 3 times the rate and 6 times the profile views than before joining the program. Salesforce's employee advocacy software enables them to deliver authentic and personalized content to every employee. It makes it easy for employees to find and share the company’s content on multiple social media profiles in seconds.
Scalability: If your company has one hundred advocates with a social network of 500 people, with just 10 shares a month, you have already created 500,000 potential touchpoints for your brand. Advocacy from your employees lends credibility, influence, and a human touch to your brand communication, making it far more valuable in terms of promoting your organisation as a great place to work than your corporate pages may afford you. Dell, for instance, an early adopter of an ambassador program specifically trained 10,000 employees in social media listening and outreach. One of the reasons why Dell’s program is so successful is because employees share 8 times as much Dell information on their personal social accounts than is shared on Dell's corporate accounts.
Cost savings: The employee voice is more trustworthy, organic, and more likely to grab your audience’s attention, saving advertising and marketing costs. In 2020, Coca-Cola Hellenic implemented an employee advocacy program. By the end of the first year, CCH’s initial success of the advocacy community was visible, with more than 550 advocates on their social media distribution platform, and a total estimate of 900 employees posting online. The impact of the program included the following overall impressions: more than 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 and a high rate of engagement for advocate content (22 reactions/share, on average). If the CCH had used paid advertising to reach a similar number of people, the cost of advertising would have been nearly €175,000 in earned media value.
Internal and external feedback is important to maintain fluidity in the relevancy and frequency of the content being shared so ensure feedback systems are implemented to track the success of the program and to adjust it along the way to maintain engagement and relevancy.
Key focus areas
So where do you start in developing a strategic approach to your employee advocacy program? While there are many moving parts to consider, we recommend focusing on three key areas:
1. Change management
Managing the change around the implementation of an employee advocacy program is critical, especially if you want to sustain the program over the long term. Research has shown that employee productivity is more than 25 percent higher in organizations that enable their people to use social media at work. Early engagement can evaporate quickly if engagement or momentum wanes due to lack of focus or access to quality content. Some leaders may not be comfortable in letting employees’ authentic voices roam free. However, it is as simple as accepting that you need to engage. Even if a company blocks social media on work laptops or phones, employees will still go on social media during the working day on their own devices. This means that outright banning social media at work is not effective. Leaders cannot stop people from going on social media and talking about their experiences. So why not invest in a positive culture instead, and teach people what to do the right way?
An effective employee advocacy program should be strategic, planned, and measurable. Even if you make mistakes from time to time as more employees become accustomed to what does and doesn’t work online, there will be more positives than negatives if you support and invest in the right culture. In addition, it requires a shift in business thinking. Most businesses are set up around functional silos and expertise i.e., a marketing team, HR team, sales team, operations team, etc. This is not necessarily a bad practice, as a specialization of skills has a lot of benefits for the bottom line. However, encouraging advocacy requires you to loosen the reins on “who does marketing” a little bit, and that can put the fear into bureaucratic, process-oriented companies.
2. The need for leadership engagement
According to Brunswick Group, 82 percent of employees will research a leader’s online presence when considering joining a company. By a 4 to 1 ratio, employees would prefer to work for a CEO who uses social media compared to one who does not. People follow executives on social media to glean insights they cannot get elsewhere. They want to see personality, vulnerability, empathy, and transparency. In other words, they want to connect with a real human—not a corporate bot. That is why Executives on social media should write their posts in their own voice, share their thoughts and experiences, and mix in a bit of personal content. Serial entrepreneur, Elon Musk is a standout Executive is this area.
3. Employee: what is in it for me? (WIIFM)
Besides the obvious benefits for the company, being an active ambassador can help fast-track an employee’s career because it is a subtle way to show company leadership that you are invested in the business and are engaged in the company’s long-term purpose, vision, and values. This can help an employee set themselves apart as a leader, which is valuable when promotions or other opportunities become available. When continuously presenting opportunities for additional personal and professional development and opportunities to bond with co-workers, it will make the in real life or online office an exciting place to do business. In turn, it becomes an organisation that employees are proud to advocate for online and offline.
Meanwhile, engaged employees can lose enthusiasm for incentives and gamification over time. The authenticity of content sharing can also be compromised if sharing is done solely for points in the program. It is more effective if sharing stories is encouraged as part of an employee’s personal social media strategy.
As we look towards the future, how can you get started and make an impact in the short term while maintaining a watch on the increasing benefits of advocacy over the long term. We recommend:
Your advocacy program should form a key part of your employer brand activation strategy.
Induct every new employee into your advocacy program from Day 1, train them and show them what success looks like. Be clear on the program governance from the beginning.
Be relevant and engaging when bringing your leadership’s presence to social media. Activating executives and leaders on social media is no longer a nice to have—it's essential. Modern leaders stay tuned into the conversations of their communities every day. Five years from now, any company that does not have an executive social media strategy is likely to be left without an authentic voice.
Let your employees’ step into customer’s shoes. If your employees understand the experience a customer has with your company, they are better placed to know how to represent it. Provide them with your company’s products and services and let them experience the benefits or downsides, put non-customer-facing employees in front of the customer, and involve them in finding solutions.
Engage your disengaged employees. Create gamification, leader boards, training and rewards to stimulate engagement. Although communicating the benefits is one thing, you should be looking to communicate the competition, excitement, and chance to win benefit and rewards for the disengaged.
Creating a strong company culture where people are treated with kindness, empathy and respect will encourage employees to be natural advocates of your employer brand. Especially for millennials, cultural fit is a top priority when looking for a job. People are even willing to accept a decrease in pay for a company that is positively reviewed online.
Create a people-focused advocacy program: identify, train, seek, provide tools for distribution and measurement and provide a sense of belonging.
Create a community where employee contributions are appreciated and where employees can nurture their digital skills for personal branding needs. Continue to engage with your alumni.
……………………And a final thought
It takes time to build long term advocates for your brand so think long term beyond a traditional short term campaign approach. In the not-too-distant future, the competition for talent may lay in the trusted voice of your very own employees!