When making a purchase decision, an increasing number of people today rely on the opinion of their peers over most modes of advertising. In fact, studies show that the ‘social media generation’ is less trusting of the traditional marketing methods. In times like this, advocacy marketing – especially, employee advocacy – stands out as one of the best ways to promote and market your business.
So let’s get down to it. What is brand advocacy, and more importantly, what is employee advocacy?
To understand the unique concept of employee advocacy, we’ll first have to delve into a few basics. Let’s start with –
Brand Loyalty vs Brand Advocacy
Every marketer worth their salt knows that even though a consumer may love their product, the struggle, to get them to talk positively about it, is real on a whole new level.
That’s the difference between loyalty and advocacy in a nutshell.
When someone chooses your brand over others, every single time, they show brand loyalty. But when the same person goes a step forward and talks positively about your brand to friends and family, they become brand advocates.
It’s important to understand that a brand advocate may not be your best customer and similarly, those who are loyal to your brand may not necessarily be brand advocates. There is tremendous potential in converting this lot though; careful monitoring and direction is all it’ll take.
The Importance of Engaged Employees
Your employees are the cogs and wheels that keep your company running smoothly. The more engaged they are, the higher their job satisfaction and thereby their productivity. In fact, productivity is increased by nearly 38% when employees are engaged. The likelihood of such employees being brand loyalists and brand advocates also increases.
Surveys show that today’s customers are likely to hold a company employee’s opinion in higher esteem than even that of the company’s CEO! So in reality, employees are the company’s most influential brand advocates. Unfortunately, few realize the potential and even fewer use this untapped potential to their advantage.
What is Employee Advocacy?
At its heart, Employee Advocacy is the promotion of a product, service, or brand as a whole, by employees of the said organization, through personal social media channels or word-of-mouth.
The organization could instruct and direct employees to show support by sharing brand content on their personal social networks, but the most compelling kind of employee advocacy is rooted in freely offered communications from the workforce.
A well thought out employee advocacy program is the best way to incorporate the direction and motivation required to begin and sustain employee advocacy within an organization. The aim of such employee advocacy programs is to educate and inform the employees while also keeping them engaged and entertained.
How Social Media and Brand Ambassadors Impact Buyer Decisions
What used to be the place for catching up on the latest gossip and staying in touch with friends and family, has now moved on to be the go-to place to make your business grow. One that has opened the doors to a global market more than you can imagine.
But when the entire world has looked to go digital, can there be any real impact found in social media? Can purchase decisions really be altered and influenced?
A Deloitte report showed that a staggering 47% of millennials confirm that their purchases are impacted by product reviews on social media. Including Gen-Xer’s and Baby Boomers, it works out to be 19%.
Given that Millennials now make up almost 2/3rds of the current workforce, the significant amount that the age group has on that statistic proves how much buyer behavior can be altered with social media.
If you aren’t convinced yet, the same survey goes on to say that those who referred to social media were 4x more likely to make a purchase and moreover, 29% wouldn’t wait till the next day; they’d just buy it on the same day.
Among the many benefits that social media offers both marketers and consumers, we’ve listed a few –
- Better brand awareness and visibility
- Better product descriptions
- Simpler product searches
- Product recommendations and reminders
- Past surveys, reviews, and statistics
The Psychology of the Social Impact
If we go back to the origins of social media, it’s core function was to remain in touch with friends and family. From that, it moved to being a place people went to keep up with the latest trends, new services and products. Ever so often though, these functions of social media coincide with each other.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for friends and family to share and recommend products that they use to their networks. To add some perspective, this Forbes article says that nearly 80% of all consumers say that they are more likely to make a purchase if a friend recommends it, while 81% say their purchase habits are directly impacted by friends.
Think about it, if a bunch of your friends have iPhones, you are more likely to purchase an Apple product over an Android device. Mainly because you’d be able to share functions like Facetime, but also because of the sense of being “one with the gang” that comes with it.
If you apply the same logic to advertising a product, you need only imagine the impact your employees can have on sharing your brand message with friends and family; their personal networks. They’re more likely to have an impact on direct conversions than any other form of paid advertising.
Brand Ambassadors and the Consumer Bandwagon
The crowd mentality is the majority of the individual consumer mentality. To get the individual onboard with your product or service, you need to convince a few influencers, and let the word spread like wildfire.
While Micro influencers don’t really have large followings, they bring in high levels of engagement that will easily be targeted to a particular niche. Look at the rise of the iPhone if you don’t believe us.
Can Employees Really Stand Up to Paid Macro Influencers?
The value of influencer marketing in social media marketing can’t be disputed. It’s worked too many times, in too many ways, for anyone to question it. Macro-level paid influencers can bring in the quick results you were looking for.
In case you’re wondering what we’re on about, you need only visit a Kardashian’s social feeds and get a glimpse of the latest watches, outfits, or waist trainers, they are now endorsing.
Besides the celebrities though, there’s a whole section of influencers that are yet to be tapped into. These people are the average joe or jane on social media. They are the friend you went to school with or the colleague from your previous workplace – they are real people, with real followers.
These are advocate marketers. They love the brand and as a result, they’re continually engaging with it. They can be a formidable force. They can be satisfied customers, business partners, or even employees.
So how do these two marketing approaches match up to each other? We weigh them against each other to see which one wins over the other.
Paid influencers will only endorse a brand or product for the monetary compensation they get out of it. They will probably have very little brand loyalty and passion once the payments stop. A written contract is the only way of getting them to fulfill their part of the bargain.
Your employees, on the other hand, have a passion for what they are endorsing. For engaged employees, the brand is not just their livelihood but also a joy. When it succeeds, they become part of the success. It’s their genuine passion that makes them true brand ambassadors.
Paid influencers have big followings, and will usually have an equally large network of other influencers they can collaborate with. Of course, their endorsement can give your brand more visibility quickly. But the problem remains that not all influencers play the game fairly. There are several who are able to buy followers and such bought followers aren’t very connected to them. Audiences are aware that the influencer’s endorsements are advertisements, so in a way, skepticism always remains.
Employee advocates have smaller followings but these followings are more connected and engaged. Friends and relatives are more likely to believe what they say about a certain product than they would if they heard it from an influencer. In the long run, the collective network of employee brand ambassadors gives the brand slow, but ever expanding visibility.
Gaining access to an influencer can be quite a challenge. Technorati reports that influencers get solicited 10 times a week on average. In addition to asking huge endorsement fees, exclusive favors are a norm when it comes to hiring an influencer. They will also have no reason to continue endorsing the brand after the contract is over.
Employee advocates will willingly spread the word about the brand in the course of daily interactions with family and friends. They have a stake in the brand and will keep playing brand ambassadors as long as they are in the company, making advocate marketing a more sustainable approach.
So there! If quick, attention-grabbing results are what you’re looking for, then a macro influencer is probably your best bet. But, if a more sustained visibility and awareness on social media are what you’re on the lookout for, then there’s no need to go elsewhere; your employees will have you covered.
Benefits of Employee Advocacy
It goes without saying that the application of employee advocacy brings about benefits for the entire organization. Although some may be obvious, others may surprise you.
1. Better Employee Engagement
Employee advocacy and employee engagement go hand in hand. By empowering and having faith your employees, you are literally passing them the torch to light up your brand! Engaged employees want the company to grow; they want to see it prosper.
2. Create Thought Leaders
It is important to let your employees know you are interested in their personal and professional development. Employee advocacy can help communicate the ‘WIFME’ (What is in it for me) value proposition to your most trusted brand advocates by providing interesting brand content for them to share on their personal and professional pages, thereby increasing their credibility.
3. Amplify Social Reach
We may have covered this already, but the importance and benefit can’t be stressed enough. Say you post content via your brand’s social pages regularly. You get a few likes, comments, shares, and everything’s great! But imagine what 10X those numbers would look like. It creates a cost-effective channel that’ll reach thousands.
How an Airline Used Employee Advocacy to Lift Off
“If you show that you treat your employees well, and your employees talk about it, people are going to trust them, and they are going to trust you”
– Jamie Rutter, United Airlines.
This, from someone who’s had to deal with the first-hand experience in dissipating the fires of bad publicity, this advice is golden.
Back in 2017, the Twittersphere was up in arms after United Airlines had a rather unfortunate overbooking incident. The situation by all measures could have been handled better in a million different ways, and the fiasco that followed was a PR nightmare for the airline giant.
So naturally, United was painted as the big bad wolf who took on a helpless sheep. And obviously, the oaths and pledges to never fly United were rampant.
No matter what they chose to do, the company had little choice in the matter and decided on pleading their case in a way that the social media universe would get them.
Playing the Employee Advocacy Card
United is a large conglomerate with employees in all corners of the globe. Boasting a 90,000 employee count – with a little of any and every function within that number – they decided to use the full force of their employees to combat the negative press that all the world, and their competitors as well.
Jamie Rutter, Manager/Digital Engagement & Advocacy Programs at United Airlines, says, “Since we have such a large company, [and] people working different shifts, in different time zones, communication is sometimes a bit of an issue. But social media, of course, is 24/7.”
Employees who are passionate about working with you will want to have their say to defend their brand.
All you need to do is empower them with the right platforms and content to spread your brand message and point of view.
A billboard, Facebook ad, or magazine story can’t create a meaningful discussion. Yes, it will distribute your message, but if someone has a different opinion, how are you going to respond with an equally valid side to the story?
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, your employees are even more trusted than even the CEO of your company,
So if people actually value and respect the opinion of your employees even more than your official brand page, it only makes sense to strategize that army and use it to your advantage.
The Way Forward
United Airlines wasn’t the only one to ward off the wrath of the Twitterati with the power of employee advocacy.
Employee advocacy can lead big businesses to benefit internally and externally besides of course being an invaluable PR strategy.
Be it in the marketing, recruitment, or sales sphere, choosing employee advocacy can give you an upper hand when you need it the most.
Even with the curveball that Facebook threw at businesses and publication houses earlier this year, employee advocacy still wins out as the more feasible option as compared to any other sources of advertising.
Because People listen to People.
Uses of Employee Advocacy
From Sales, Marketing, Recruitment, and many others, the uses of employee advocacy are immense. Let’s take a closer look below:
1. Improve Brand Image
Leveraging your employees as brand advocates helps increase your social reach tremendously. This, in turn, increases brand visibility and sets you on the path to building, or improving your brand image. Baby steps; you’ll get there.
2. Recruit Amazing Talent
Through employee advocacy, people on your employees’ personal networks are given insights into the company’s culture and work ethics. For example A Facebook post such as – “Had an amazing trek to the national park with the office crowd this weekend – just one of the reasons I love working at SocioAdvocacy!” – will probably be the deciding factor for millennials on a job hunt.
3. Grow Your Network
Surveys reveal that employees have 10X more followers than some brand channels. Can you fathom the number of connections that can be made? This, in turn, can help generate brand awareness, a wider social media reach, more traffic, and increased conversion rates.
4. Generate Leads and Increase Conversions
If an employee of the company uses a product or service and loves it, they’d be might be tempted to share it on social media. Even if they don’t use it, they know the ins and outs of the product or service and any talk of said product or service can influence family and friends to make a purchase decision way more than any other mode of advertising. It’s that simple!
Applications of Employee Advocacy to Your Brand
1. Student advocates for Universities
From relatives, friends, and juniors, existing students have access to prospective applicants who may otherwise be difficult to reach using traditional mediums of advertising. Student brand advocacy allows students to share posts, placement brochures and news and updates, which leads to increased engagement and improved recruitment numbers.
2. Guest advocates for Hospitality chains
Only a small percentage of guests actually go online to say positive things while they’re on holiday. However, this doesn’t diminish the opportunity for guests to engage with their hospitality chains. Offer free Wi-Fi as part of a “Post Your Opinion” promotion that allows guest to share the hotel’s social media content as well as post their reviews on various platforms.
3. E-commerce Seller Advocacy
Besides the Amazon’s and Flipkart’s of the world, there are several e-commerce brands that don’t necessarily get the visibility they deserve. As such, e-commerce seller advocacy provides sellers a custom panel that allows them to see their store and share products from the store directly on their social networks, leading to a more controlled promotion and increased social media reach.
4. Reseller Advocacy for Insurance companies
Insurance providers typically move door to door to generate leads. This process is tiring and slow. Social media and brand ambassadors empower employees to share the brand message on their personal networks. The result is an amplified conversations rate from increased leads.
Challenges of Employee Advocacy
We’ve probably converted you to an Employee Advocacy believer by now. But before you dive headfirst into working out your own employee advocacy program and setting a launch date, you might want to read our take on the 6 mistakes to avoid when launching an employee advocacy program.
So you see, running a brand advocacy program may sound simple, but there’s a lot that could go wrong. Marketers should always keep in mind that each brand advocate is unique.
In an attempt to create a uniform style of communication, marketers may end up creating advocacy puppets that won’t bring anything fresh to the table. Recognize your brand advocates’ likes and strengths; it will only help you run and execute the brand advocacy program more efficiently.
Things to Remember When Implementing Employee Advocacy
1. Quality over Quantity, EVERYTIME
Employee advocacy is an indispensable marketing technique in today’s ever competitive business environment. Compared to the past, things are marketed very differently than the way they were. Now, it’s all about thinking digital or going home. Yes, traditional marketing will still float the boat, but that’s all you’ll be doing – surviving.
Several studies show that the employees within a company garner more traction with customers than previously thought. So, a message from an employee is more trusted than the same message from senior management, or even a dedicated sales team.
In simple terms, employee advocacy programs thrive on the opportunity by empowering employees to speak positively about their workplace on their personal networks in their digital voices, through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Now even though the concept is strong, ensuring that your employee advocacy program lures in more traffic and leads isn’t always a walk in the park. One thing is sure: choosing quality over quantity wins every time.
1.a Quality of Content
Most employee advocacy programs will have a ton of content uploaded on a daily basis. Forcing employees to share a certain percentage of said content just to reach a goal isn’t going to cut it. Mandating employee advocacy is only going to create puppet advocates.
Now if you gave your employees the chance to add their own views on brand content, instead of forcing their hand, you’d probably have a better chance at forming a connection with their personal networks.
When they go for quantity over quality, you run the risk of spamming your employees, and subsequently their followers too, with posts that mean very little to them. That is why it is paramount that they share only when they have something valuable to add. Both the readers and sharers need to find the content appealing. Personalized, high-quality content will certainly be read and shared much more. And the more they share, the further your message gets.
1.b Quality of Employee Advocates
One other part of the employee advocacy program that you need to keep a keen eye on quality over quantity is the number of employees you choose to be a part of your pilot batch. A select few socially savvy employees can do more for your brand than a whole lot of clueless employees who can’t work their way around a social media platform.
You want a group that knows how to leverage visual content (videos, memes, photos, infographics, and GIFs) to create a buzz about your business.
The last thing you want is a group of employee advocates who cannot connect with your audience on a personal level!
1.c Quality of Incentives
It’s no big secret that rewarding your employees can motivate them to participate in your advocacy program and in an honest way too.
An employee advocacy program that chooses quantity over quality will most likely pick monetary incentives. But if you want to kick it up a notch, you can try quality incentives like allowing employees to take an extra day off, or paying for a weeks’ worth of lunches.
A well thought of incentive will get your employees on social media where they’ll soon be promoting your fantastic work culture.
2. Incentivize the Program Creatively
We’ve hopefully moved past the stage where we have to explain the value of employee advocacy for small, medium, and large businesses alike. Let’s all just for the record state that it’s value is absolute. By placing workers in the driver’s seat, employee advocacy program work best if employees are inclined to do their part.
But how does one motivate employees to share brand content on their personal digital networks?
The right kind of incentivization of employee advocacy programs can be the real game changer and has proven to be a fantastic motivator. But, caution must be maintained, as unregulated incentivization can actually be quite counterproductive.
When done incorrectly, it could cause morale and performance to plummet and unfortunately, many businesses fall victim to this common employee advocacy mistake.
By learning from experiences, here are a few fresh ways to keep brand ambassadors motivated.
2.a Monetary Compensation
The first thing that probably comes to your mind when you think the incentive is probably financial bonuses – a little bulge on the paycheck. Now although this is a fantastic motivator, you might not want to become too dependent on it.
Spruce up the motivation of your employee advocates with quintessential gifts like shopping vouchers, gift cards, and even free taxi rides back and forth to the office. Keep in mind that this type of indirect monetary compensation will sit well with junior-level employees, who will honestly appreciate the money.
For more senior level executives, pushing for a free upgrade on their LinkedIn account to “Premium”. Such kind of compensation offers a touch of quality and consideration.
2.b Winner Based Rewards
Junior-level employees might find a gift voucher or a boost of $100 on the paycheck sizzling, but that might not do the trick for seniors. That’s why you need to prioritize your incentives based on the employee’s rank in the company.
For the more experienced lot, consider paying for training seminars, conferences, and workshops that the employee has been wanting to attend. This will add more value for those who want to add to their skills.
2.c Corporate Picnics
Who doesn’t like a day off from the daily grind of the business world? Employee advocates will definitely love the idea of having a day off to kick back and relax. These outings can incorporate recognition speeches. Besides, corporate picnics are networking havens.
By offering an extra day off, a day picnic, or a day at the spa, brand ambassadors will be incredibly motivated share your brand message.
2.d C-Level Q&A Sessions
Employees understand that moving up the corporate ladder can be an uphill task if they don’t have adequate training.
That is why training sessions or simple one on one Q & A sessions by seniors will be appreciated. Not only will it give them a sense of what it’s like up the corporate ladder, but they also find a sense of belonging. These work great as a way to promote recognition and also give employees at all levels a chance to learn something new. This way, employee advocates have an opportunity to network and learn the ropes at the same time.
3. Incorporate Employee UGC for Social Selling
The average employee is capable of generating tons of content for a brand on any given day. This content is relatable and trustworthy can be harnessed to improve your brand visibility, spruce up sales, create more traffic, and generate more leads. Although most businesses don’t see the value in such content, several have already taken advantage by building some fantastic campaigns merging User Generated Content (UGC) and employee advocacy.
What is User Generated Content?
UGC is exactly what the name says: content generated by your fans for your fans. The scope of UGC is so vast that it can virtually cover any subject. Plus, the type of content and the medium of distribution can vary too. It can be just about anything, from video to blog posts to comments to images and much more. Whether the user is a customer, a social media follower, or just a site visitor, his or her contribution can be crucial to your brand.
How Does UGC Fit In the Inbound Marketing Cycle?
In inbound marketing, creating or overseeing content generation (graphics, video, blog posts, etc.) is probably one of your main tasks. But, what if you empower every employee with the chance to create the content for you? For one, it definitely takes a lot off your plate, but more importantly, it gives you a whole new perspective. From attracting customers to converting and closing leads and delighting promoters, UGC plays a key role in every step of the inbound marketing cycle.
Enhanced Engagements: Research by comScore showed that UGC increased user engagement by 28%
- Enhanced Credibility: Brand-created content is less trusted by people than that created by fellow consumers
- Improved SEO Ranking: User-generated content can help you increase traffic searches by more than 25%
- More Leads and Sales Conversions: A consumer is 4.6% more likely to make a purchase after viewing user-generated content
Leveraging UGC to Drive Engagement
3.a Create Content that Engages
A user-generated campaign can draw a lot of attention to your brand, and your employees are sure to get the ball rolling. Moreover, the engagement factor for your employees and prospective customers with such campaigns cannot be compared to any other. Obviously, since user participation is the key factor here. Once you’ve got the attention of your audience, you can then generate content that is relatable, actionable and in line with the running campaign.
3.b Improve Brand Awareness
User-generated content has tremendous potential to go viral – they can be shared and re-shared, improving your brand awareness. The Starbucks White Cup Challenge and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge are just a few to be named. In fact, surveys can come in handy here. Use EverNote, Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, and TypeForm to collect feedback and take go next level with your brand.
3.c Leverage Reviews to Get More Leads and Sales
We’ve already established that people trust customer reviewed products way more than those without a customer review or paid reviews from influencers. That’s why it’s actually worth the time and effort invested in employee advocacy. Harnessing user-generated reviews from your brand ambassadors can garner more sales and leads.
Drawing up the Numbers: Paid Advertising or Employee Advocacy
We’re willing to bet that any marketer worth their salt would ask one, very important question –
What’s the difference between Employee Advocacy and Paid Marketing?
Super valid question. With global internet advertising spends going up by a whopping 42% in the last 2 years, it’s on its way to being a $330 billion dollar market by 2020, clearly companies and those that run them see the benefit in spending their marketing dollars here.
We may be a little biased, but we truly wanted to see which one won out over the other. So we decided to put our money where our mouths are (figuratively, of course) and run a little experiment.
Because what matters most at the end of the day is what gives you maximum return on the dollars you put in.
For the purpose of the experiment, we’ll analyze costs for one month and work with a group of 250 employees. We’re also considering –
- The clicks generated by employees
- The cost-per-click (CPC), per social network
- The cost of an employee advocacy program
We’re going to keep the formula simple (Math isn’t my strong suit) –
Engagement generated from employees X CPC = Total savings
Here goes nothing,
Typically, Twitter promotion costs can range from $0.5 – $4 per engagement. We got 4451 retweets from our lot of 250 employees in one month. Punching in the numbers considering an average cost of $2, we save –
4,451 * 2 = $8,902
That’s just under $9K saved on Twitter alone, and we’re nowhere close to finished.
For Facebook, we’re taking two routes. One, where we only consider Engagement boosts and the other considering targeted click to website ads.
The former runs about $0.8 to a dollar. We’re feeling generous, so we’ll go with the lower number.
We got about 10,368 engagements, including Likes and Shares, so that amounts to…
10,368 * 0.8 = $8,294.4
Click-to-site ads run a tad bit more expensive, with the average targeted ad running at $3 per click. We achieved 1033 in click-to-site numbers, so that saved us –
1033 * 3 = $3099
That brings our total Facebook savings up to a massive $11,393
Costs on LinkedIn
We saved the mother of them all for the very last. LinkedIn targeted ads can run as steep as $5 per click. For the purpose of our little experiment, we’re going to go with a very reasonable $2.
So, considering the modest 2,498 engagements we saw on LinkedIn, we saw a saving of –
2,498 * 2 = $4,996
So adding up, we saved $8,902 + $11,393 + $4,996 = $25,291
Now taking away the $749 (based on a yearly plan) you’d spend on the SocioAdvocacy program, you’re still saving upwards of a whopping $24,000!
That’s over a quarter of a million dollars annually.
In case you’re still on the fence about the effectiveness of employee advocacy, interest in the concept increased 587% in the last year alone, as reported by IDC.
While both Paid and Advocacy marketing may have their clear benefits, identify the method that works best for you as a brand. One that optimizes your marketing efforts, captures the interest of your target audience and maximizes the ROI.
If you need help finding a starting point, SocioAdvocacy is a best-in-class brand advocacy tool that simplifies the process. It makes it easy for your employee advocates to discover and share brand content, and its touch of gamification makes it engaging for those involved.