5 Questions on Brand Advocacy for Dave Hawley of SocialChorus

VP of marketing talks turning employees into advocates

Everyone in communications knows that “brand advocacy” is more than just a trending phrase, because fans of a brand and/or product may prove more valuable in many contexts than any media placement. We also know that a company’s most valuable advocates can be its own employees.

Yet a concerning, if unsurprising, survey by Gallup found that most Americans — especially those working in the tech and healthcare fields — are in no position to fill the brand advocate role.

Today we reviewed the issue with a specialist: Dave Hawley is VP of marketing at SocialChorus, a business designed to help clients turn their employees into more effective brand advocates.

1. How important is brand advocacy today, and why?

Businesses make huge investments in content, stories, and marketing campaigns…but their highest-value asset is their own employees.

The clients are disconnected: they spend all this money to convey things about their businesses, but they skip the most important step in the process: communicating with employees. When employees have all the relevant information on hand, they’re more motivated and able to do their jobs more effectively. For modern marcomm leaders, this is considered paramount: it’s an under-utilized muscle.

Information about what a given brand stands for and its purpose is disseminated poorly in most cases. Stories get trapped in the sales/marketing funnels, and the end result is that companies don’t understand these relationships with their customers.

It’s difficult to get this information out, but the problem presents a wonderful opportunity.

2. So how can brands encourage and then leverage the support of their own employees?

Step one is simply getting the information out there: what will it look like? How will you disseminate it? This is especially difficult to do because most of the tech portals used are 10-15 years old, and the info ends up jammed next to pay stubs and insurance details.

Most employees only visit these portals to get what they need to do their jobs done, and they ignore the other stuff because it’s not relevant…so framing it in a way that engages them is a first step. Another big problem is that they can’t access related content and don’t know what’s OK to share, so step two is training them on how to talk about it (both digitally and in-person).

For years, marcomms people have known that employees need to be treated like customers; they need to have something to talk about, and training them to do so has companywide benefits.

3. How does your company work in that respect?

Our employee advocacy app follows a very simple tenet: give them info they can consume and share in two minutes a day. We used gamification apps as a model and came up with a series of cards that employees can read and share by swiping left or right and schedule so they’re not spamming their audiences.

This material will typically be a link and an image (because we know people like images better). And its not just company information, because an important part of this equation involves sharing what’s happening within an employee’s industry and sub-industry.

You don’t want to become a parrot for your company — you want to share things that are contextually relevant. We see it as both a real-time internal comms channel and an external marketing channel by which you can train your employees for “brand-safe social business.”

We’ve all seen the problems that occur when comms pros get too exuberantly excited about sharing on social, so we need to put some guardrails in place.

4. What did you take from the Gallup survey?

Our experience is that all industries are unprepared to leverage employees…not just tech.

Key is to make it easy rather than just cramming it into Yammer. The issue in tech is that employees are very silo-ed (for example, they’re only working on one product line), and this limits their ability to know what’s going on within their own companies.

In retail, on the other hand, you’re dealing with both the product and the customer every day…so it’s not surprising to see that industry score higher marks in the Gallup survey.

5. How can brand advocacy be valuable to the public, especially when employees receive incentives to do it?

At the top levels, we talk about “what’s good for the business.” But employees who know more about their companies can do their jobs more effectively, and they’re also more likely to stay in their jobs and help attract future employees. This is especially true for marketing, sales, and PR.

Fact: if you are well-versed in using social then you will probably be more valuable as an employee. This is even more relevant to younger people who know that they will probably spend three years with a company instead of 30.

We’re not giving out schwag: “rewards” come in the form of access to training, recognition from leadership, and the ability to communicate the fact that you’re excited about the path of the company (which is one of the best paths to future leadership positions).

This process only works when employees share info because they think it’s valuable. In those cases, there’s a higher likelihood that someone within their communities will explore the company in more depth.

What do we think of Hawley’s take on encouraging brand advocacy among employees?