The Good, Bad & Scary of Employee Advocacy Through Social

Having employees act as brand ambassadors at all can be scary (and should be extensively considered/planned out ahead of time). Here’s why.

You need your employees to help you spread the good word about your business online. Unfortunately, the way you’re going about it is failing, or worse – harming your brand, because you’re doing it wrong. Here are some tips to help you do it right!

When it comes to “employee advocacy” many businesses follow the same path, sending a company-wide email with links to the latest blog post (or whatever content on hand) and a request for tweets, LinkedIn posts and so on. But having employees act as brand ambassadors at all can be scary (and should be extensively considered/planned out ahead of time). Here’s why:

Best case: They share as requested and interact positively with your potential audience.

Worst case: They share nothing, but spend lots of time fighting with people on Facebook with your company name proudly attached to their profile.

To head off the bad, you need to have a solid social media policy and privacy checklist in place that includes clear guidelines for online interactions and sets expectations around behavior on any platform where employees could be viewed as expressing views endorsed by your business.

Moving beyond that, you need to understand your own expectations around social sharing before you can encourage the ‘right’ behaviors. As Mark Organ, founder and CEO of Influitive, points out – many businesses are pretty clueless:

The majority of so-called employee advocacy programs today focus only on social amplification of marketing content. Employees are encouraged or sometimes even forced to post verbatim the latest content and campaigns. But strong-arming employees into sharing company content on Twitter is not advocacy.

So then what is advocacy? Well, businesses need to consider “what actually might motivate their employees to advocate for the company.” Seems obvious, doesn’t it? And Organ offers tips to sort that out:

  1. Provide a truly exceptional employee experience. When 70 percent of employees are disengaged (the reality, according to a Gallup survey of 350,000 Americans), they’re not going to be very convincing advocates. They’re also not going to be effective at inspiring advocacy from other stakeholders in your company, such as customers and partners.
  2. Employees are human too. Understand what motivates them and why by asking what they’re willing to do, how they’d like to do it, and what kind of recognition they would appreciate in return. Don’t be surprised if each employee gives a different answer.
  3. Make employee advocacy easy, fun and sustainable. A great employee advocacy tool allows employees to do more than just social sharing. Ideally, it also features game mechanics to keep advocates hooked over the long term, allows leaders to share feedback on the results of employees’ advocacy, and builds employees’ social capital as they advocate for their company.
  4. Empower employees to be autonomous advocates. True advocacy is what your employees say about you behind your back. Stop taking control of their social accounts and scripting everything they say.

And while letting go and encouraging unscripted social advocacy activity is scary, it’s certainly essential if you want it to work.

If you can’t commit to “doing social” in a way that actually works, you probably shouldn’t bother with it at all, as you’ll be throwing your time and money into a vacuum (the social world is vast, and disorganized efforts are utterly worthless).

But, wait! Organ also offers hope for those unsure of “social” as a strategy, as “there’s so much more your employees can do to help build your company’s brand.” To name a few:

  • Posting anonymous Glassdoor reviews.
  • Referring high-quality candidates for hard-to-fill roles.
  • Providing feedback on the employee experience.
  • Speaking at or hosting events.
  • Creating content.

Depending on the effort employees commit to any advocacy on your business’s behalf online, the results can be fantastic – or disastrous. It’s up to you, business owner, to understand the power online offers and create requisite guidelines and opportunities to support any employee advocacy efforts.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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