Employee advocacy is one of those general terms that is often used to describe something quite specific. Increasingly it now refers to a programme or initiative which encourages employees to use their individual social media channels to promote their employer, usually by sharing suitable communications and content.
On the face of it these types of initiative sound a little Machiavellian, but usually at the root of it is a genuine pride and appreciation of their employer. In my view, there is nothing wrong with this and it may actually encourage organisations to live their values and carry out actions that their employees would be proud of.
Employee advocacy can’t be magically created through a process. I agree with Rachel Miller and Philip Sheldrake who say that ultimately employee advocacy is a consequence. It will be a consequence of how the firm treats its employees, its customers and the wider community. Therefore if you’re determined to create an advocacy programme but you don’t have that root engagement and pride, any initiative may feel “forced” or “rather uncomfortable”. If that’s the case, then a programme may backfire or not be sustainable. It could even be regarded negatively.
Opportunities for digital workplace teams
Because employee advocacy initiatives sometimes use internal facing digital channels to drive communications, process and specific workflow, there are some interesting opportunities for digital workplace teams to:
- demonstrate tangible value for the intranet and digital workplace
- build links across internal and external communications teams
- increase awareness of external messages
- support employee engagement initiatives.
Here are seven tips to helping to drive success for an employee advocacy programme.
1 Make it easy and reduce barriers
One of the keys to successful employee advocacy is making it as easy as possible for employees to be alerted to which stories to share, and then to do the actual sharing. Removing any unnecessary barriers is essential.
Normally stories to share need to be viewed in a distinct area or zone where employees are 100 percent confident that the stories are external-facing and can be shared. Ideally the process should also work in a mobile environment as individuals will often be interacting with social media on their own mobile device.
2 Avoid risks by providing clarity
Two of the main risks around employee advocacy are that employees can misunderstand your intentions and that confidential or commercially sensitive stories can be accidentally shared outside the company. Clear user education and communication, perhaps delivered as part of any on-boarding process to your programme, is important.
3 Target the right people
Employee advocacy needs to be targeted to the right people. They need to be confident on social media and be engaged with the company. I’m always reminded of the phrase “Go where the energy is” which PwC used when recruiting champions for their social network. I think the same applies here.
4 Measure success
Measuring success is critical for creating any sustainable initiative and for driving continuous improvement. Because some employee advocacy programmes have a very specific aim – to get employees to share stories via their own personal social media – on paper, this element should be relatively straightforward to measure. Naturally the wider agenda of overall engagement and advocacy is much harder to measure accurately.
Your company may also have some standard valuations of media mentions borrowed from the world of PR and marketing that can be utilised. Overall, this is a good opportunity to demonstrate tangible, measurable value of the digital workplace.
5 Involve the right content
It’s also key to have content which employees actually want to promote. News of your company’s successful commitment to reduce its carbon footprint is clearly more tweet-able than news of its involvement in a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
Having the right content also means being selective about what you ask employees to promote. Asking too much will inevitably lead to dwindling success and even resentment. There is an impact of asking too much. Ideally appropriate content should be targeted to different employee groups. for maximum impact.
6 Involve the employee voice
Some companies such as Southwest Airlines have used external communications authored by employees, for example in a blog format. Involving the employee voice can help drive employee advocacy, where employees may feel more inclined to share a story authored by or focusing on a colleague. Heineken did this with its Green Room environment where stories are created by employee reporters and received great levels of advocacy when the platform first launched.
7 Make it sustainable with governance
For any initiative or programme to be stable and sustainable it needs governance. There needs to be a recognised sponsor, owner and a person responsible for day to day management. There needs to be resources to support users and documented processes and measures taken to avoid risks. There need to be rules of engagement. You’ll need some ongoing budget.
Basically you need to do all the boring stuff that is actually really important and makes your programme sustainable.
Make your employees proud
Employee advocacy programmes are a great bridge between the internal and external digital workplace. In this post we’ve explored some of the benefits and some approaches for success. However the most important factor is being an organisation which makes its employees proud.
Having a brand which employees are happy to tell the world about is where you want to be. For this reason an advocacy initiative should be a natural extension of your efforts to engage employees and give back to the community. You can’t wing this with some clever communications workflow.