We expect employee advocacy to be a source of many client inquiries in 2016, so as a primer, here are a few thoughts on the subject:

Employee advocacy is still the best way of making companies more visible – In a recent survey of business professionals, more than 79% said that the key benefit of employee advocacy was increased brand visibility, and 65% that it improved brand recognition. Almost 45% reckoned that it increased inbound web traffic, perhaps a more concrete indicator of customer activity.

Customers want to engage on a personal level and authentically, which means with real people – Paid advertising is likely to give way to a more authentic level of engagement, between customers and individual employees. Customers want to build relationships, and that needs to be person to person, albeit with employees who understand that they represent a brand or organisation. What’s more, we are all more likely to trust the word of another individual than that of a faceless brand. It’s human nature. Brand messages are reshared 24 times more often when tweeted by an individual, not a brand.

…and employees also want to engage as individuals – Companies that encourage employees to engage with customers as individuals via social media tend to see much higher employee retention rates, and lower turnover. One study using two employee orientation programmes, one focused on individuality and one on company values, found that the former increased retention rates by more than 40% above the latter.

Remember that employees mirror the organisation to the world – What employees say genuinely shows the nature of the organisation to the world, whether good or bad. If the leadership values customer and supplier relationships, so will employees. On the other hand, if relationships are not valued, that will also be abundantly clear through what employees say or don’t say on social media.

There are three main steps to creating employee advocates: identify, mobilise and measure – First, identify the right people and find an internal advocate for the programme. Then mobilise, by setting programme goals and providing guidance, training, and policies to govern it. Finally, analyse the data, and provide feedback on success, which might include a rewards programme.

Employees can tailor content to their networks, engaging users more individually… – This may be quite frightening for organisations used to the idea of ‘lines to take’ and ‘customer service representatives’ who do all the talking to customers. But it is essential. Customers expect personalisation of contact with companies and brands, and that can only be achieved by allowing employees to tailor the content that they publish to suit their social media contacts.

…but employees may need help to create and publish effective content – This may take the form of practical help, including effective tools to help employees to publish and disseminate content. It may also, however, be more nebulous, such as coaching programmes to support early work, and train employees in how to be effective advocates.

It is a good idea to provide content for your employees to tailor and use, as this makes it far more likely that they will post and share – ‘Good’ content provokes discussions, and is something that people want to share and talk about. The best way to create it is to find out what people are talking about, and what they are passionate about, and create around that. It’s also a good idea to have a changing group of contributors, to ensure that different voices are heard.

Using the 4-1-1 rule means that you can supplement branded, ‘home-produced’ content with content from others – The 4-1-1 rule says that for every one tweet of your own content, you share one relevant tweet, and four pieces of content written by others. Not only does this make content more interesting, because there is more variety, but the unwritten rule of reciprocity means that if you share my content, I might just share yours. Employees are also more likely to share other people’s content freely, so it is worth providing them with a supply of news stories and relevant third party content.

Internal communications, especially using an ‘agile’ model, has a role to play in developing employee advocacy – Electronics giant Lenovo builds internal excitement about new products before their release. This means that employees are already talking about the products, and are therefore ready to discuss them on social media. A good internal communications programme that responds swiftly to change can therefore boost employee advocacy by raising awareness.

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