Employee Advocacy LIVE Q&A Recap

Employee Advocacy Experts, Amanda Turner and Bernie Charland

Thank you to all who joined our first LIVE Q&A on the topic of Employee Advocacy.  Bernie Charland, Principal/Founder of Thinktwice Communications teamed up with Amanda Turner, President/Founder of ClearChange Communications, to share their insights on this hot topic and field your questions together to provide you the best answers possible.  Below, you’ll find a full listing of questions with their respective answers.  **Don’t forget to download this FREE list of Employee Advocacy Stats to reinforce your own employee advocacy program! Here are a few key points of the Q&A:

  • Gamification and Incentivizing Employee Advocacy Programs.  Several folks asked about gamification and turning your employee advocacy program into a rewards based “game” with points, scores and a competitive element to drive some friendly competition in the office while promoting the company brand.  For the most part, the answer is yes.  Incentivizing employees to establish a stronger program is effective but needs to be done correctly and must be a good fit within the company.  “Incentives and gamification should be encouraged – not coerced.”
  • Employee Social Pages and Disclaimers.  A noted concern in the conversation was whether or not employee-owned social media channels should feature any type of disclaimer.  The answer varies from company-to-company but the bottom line is that it will not harm your company to have a disclaimer or a company hashtag indicating the employee is a part of the employee advocacy program and their views may not fully represent those of the company’s.
  • Using Caution in Highly Regulated Industries.  Many companies operate within industries that have very complicated and strict rules and regulations surrounding what employees/companies can and cannot say publicly.  Organizations that fit within one of these industries can do a few things to minimize the risk of an employee advocacy program such as ensuring a detailed social media policy and providing rigorous social media training to those participating in the employee advocacy program.
  • Monitoring Employees on Social Media.  Should the brand govern what is said on social media by closely monitoring what employees say and share?  You cannot govern what the employee decides to share; you can only provide them approved content to share.  What they decide to say and which content they decide to share will be determined by what’s relevant to their likes/interests and those of their audience (friends and family).  What they say/share SHOULD be monitored, but it cannot be governed in an effective program.  That would create a “manufactured” marketing program.

Want more from Bernie and Amanda? Check out their highlight clips from their Speakers’ Corner webisode, “Employee Advocacy: Why Employees Are The Next Big Thing.
-Highlight Clip #1: Mitigate the Risk of an Employee Advocacy Program
-Highlight Clip #2: Employee Advocacy Stats

Employee Advocacy: Game Change but not a Panacea

Bernie Charland
Bernie Charland

By Bernie Charland, Principal/Founder of thinktwice communications

Bernie Charland was featured with Amanda Turner in webisode two of Speakers’ Corner Season One, “Employee Advocacy: Why Employees Are The Next Big Thing

For the past few months there seems to be growing buzz in social media (and marketing communication circles) about employee advocacy. Companies like IBM, Target, Dell and Starbucks are sharing very positive updates about their programs, and a range of providers are promoting their plug-and-play platforms.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss this important topic on the Speakers’ Corner video-on-demand series with my colleague Amanda Turner. In our presentation Amanda and I positioned employee advocacy as the next big thing, and with good reason – as I detail below.

But despite the huge potential benefits to companies (and employees), staff advocacy programs are not a magic bullet, and not for every company. Like any other social media program, you need to a smart, realistic and deliberate approach. You should avoid jumping on the bandwagon without careful due diligence and planning. So I’ve developed a checklist of issues communication pros should carefully consider before they embark on an advocacy program.

Before I get to the checklist, let’s review a quick definition and look at the rationale for employee advocacy.

Employee advocacy is mobilizing trained employees to share company-approved content through employee-owned social channels to engage consumers, peers and family. (Italics are intentional, underlining critical elements of an advocacy program.) Advocates typically do not have social outreach as a formal part of their jobs (like subject matter experts who blog on the company’s behalf.) In essence, advocacy programs allow your employees to tell your company story.

As for the potential benefits of employee advocacy, they have been well documented and are backed by robust research and results. At its core employee advocacy helps amplify your marketing efforts – increasing the credibility, reach, audience and engagement well beyond levels for typical corporate outreach. This can translate into a boost in online profile, reputation and fan base. But the bigger payoff is the potential for an increase in sales leads, revenue and ultimately profits.

Enlisting your employees in an advocacy program can also help drive staff engagement, and given the stubbornly low engagement levels and related drag on productivity, that’s a very good thing. Advocacy programs are an excellent way to foster employee participation in your brand story, both as messengers and content contributors – or storytellers.

Beyond the profile boost for your branded content – the explicit messages you are sharing – advocacy programs send powerful symbolic messages to both consumers and employees. For employees it says: your ideas matter, we trust you, we believe in our company and we support your personal brand. For customers it says: we’re part of the conversation, we live our values, we’re proud to tell our story, we trust and value our employees and we’re a leader.

So with all this promise, why shouldn’t companies start an employee advocacy right now…if they haven’t already? The short answer is they may not be ready. The list below provides a good template for readiness for an advocacy program.

Can you be authentic? – To be effective long-term, employee advocacy programs must authentically align with their culture, brand and employee interests. Authenticity is a central ethos of social media, with a premium on transparency and responsiveness. That means no hype, no fluff, no dishonesty and no hiding. Does your companies’ marketing and PR content truly align with these values?

Is your culture toxic? – Very low employee morale or engagement is not a good foundation for an employee advocacy program. Ask yourself if your employees are likely to be positive and supportive as online ambassadors? If you’re not sure, you need to fix your culture before you think about advocacy. It’s true that many companies start with small pilot programs, but author/pundit Jay Baer said it best: “If your employees aren’t your biggest fans, you’ve got bigger problems than social media.”

Do you have social infrastructure? – Though there are good technology platforms that companies can easily adopt to manage their advocacy programs, companies with limited or no social capability and/or cultural acceptance will have a much steeper learning curve and a tougher time driving adoption. It’s also important to have internal systems that allow (even foster) multi-directional dialogue and content sharing.

Is your social media policy overly complex or restrictive? – No matter how well you design and execute your advocacy program, it will lag if your social media policies confuse or inhibit your employees.

Is your content compelling? – Perhaps the biggest barrier to a successful advocacy program is stale, self-serving content. Boring is bad. Leading companies use a formula that emphasizes industry and employee-generated content (multi-media of course) over typical marketing content. In other words, treat this as a conversation and not a pushy hard sell – which is anathema in social media.

Do you recognize and value your employees? – Good advocacy programs do a great job of recognizing and rewarding participants. (IBM even ranks the most prolific and popular advocates.) Do you already have credible programs in place to recognize your staff? Are you willing to make your employees the stars of the program?

Will you be social in good times and bad? – Any social media program requires sustained commitment to be credible and relevant, and advocacy programs are no exception. Shutting down during a crisis will create a backlash and erode your credibility. Furthermore, your staff will likely want to have their voice heard in tough times.

Are you good at listening? – Beyond the marketing boost, a big advantage of employee advocacy programs is the acquisition of content-related data and insights on your customers and employees. If you are not already in the mode of listen-learn-adapt, however, these benefits will be lost on you.

Do you trust your employees? – The most important litmus test of any advocacy program is whether you trust your employees. The best programs assume their employees have good intentions, and give their staff plenty of leeway – including choosing the role and content that fits their skills and interest. Programs that are dictatorial or stifle creativity will not be successful. Monitoring and discipline should be a last resort, not a default out of the gate.

It’s likely true that a good advocacy program can actually help fix many of the issues listed above. But I would suggest you start with a strong foundation. Walk before you go social, as it were.

For more info on Bernie Charland and Employee Advocacy, click here!

For more info on Speakers’ Corner including pricing, package options or how to get involved, email us at info@speakerscornervod.com

By Bernie Charland, Principal/Founder of thinktwice communications