Moving Toward 2020, It's Time To Build A Strong Employee Advocacy Program

June 13, 2019

As the vice president of corporate communications at one of the world’s largest training companies, I’m regularly in contact with our clients looking for ways to improve their internal communication strategies. One of the trends catching fire involves employee advocacy on social media.

In the past, cases of employees sharing company messages on social media have created conflict with human resources and legal departments. Today, I find that there is still a huge prejudice about encouraging any employee interaction on social media. Unfortunately, those lingering thoughts of C-suite executives and managers can impact the creation of a formal employee advocacy program. But based on what I am seeing, these programs are proving to be a powerhouse marketing, sales, and recruitment tool.

The reason I believe employee advocacy is going to be the biggest trend in communications over the next five years is that Millennials and Generation Z workers account for 40% of the workforce today, and this will steadily rise in the next decade as more Gen Zers enter the workforce. These generations grew up with social media and often know how to use it best. Utilizing the knowledge and skills of a group that lives on social media already will likely boost your efforts in employee advocacy.

What Is Employee Advocacy?  

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of employee advocacy, in the simplest terms, it’s when an organization promotes itself and its brand through its employees, specifically using social media. With an effective employee advocacy program, your company can:

• Build authenticity. When your employees act as authentic and trustworthy voices for your company, it can help improve your brand’s image, therefore increasing its credibility.

• Enhance employee engagement and company culture. Giving your employees a voice for their company can help to improve the culture, which may make your organization an attractive place to work for current and future employees.

• Piggyback on employee social posts. Your average employee already spends at least two hours a day (subscription required) on social media, so why not leverage it to your company’s benefit through an employee advocacy program?

• Develop thought leaders and influencers. Employee advocacy can also help to create future thought leaders, as continuously sharing high-quality, curated industry content will showcase them as knowledgeable experts and help to grow their networks.

Additionally, employee advocacy impacts how employees stay connected with each other and company management, which can be key to reducing employee turnover.

Unfortunately, however, only 34% of U.S. employees feel engaged in their place of work. Dynamic Signal’s 2019 “Annual State of Employee Communication and Engagement Study,” which surveyed 1,001 U.S. employees, found that 78% believe their company’s efforts to improve communications and engagement should be a higher priority. In the same spirit, 82% said that if their company’s employee engagement efforts were better, they would be an advocate.

Social tools add value for enhancing communications, knowledge sharing and collaboration within and across enterprises. McKinsey suggests that by implementing social technologies, companies can raise the productivity of their workers by 20-25%.

Four Steps To Building An Employee Advocacy Program

Any successful venture begins with a solid business plan. Here are four considerations before pitching your idea to leadership.

1. Align your company’s business objectives to your social media strategy. Instead of a haphazard approach, create a marketing plan for social media. For example, social media can help you gain more insights into your clients, including who they are, what they like and what they say about your brand. Social listening provides an opportunity to engage and read feedback from your customers through your company pages and your employee advocates.

2. Update your company’s written social media policy. A social media policy has many benefits: Your employees have a better understanding of your strategy and communication goals, and the organization is better protected from security risks and legal issues such as privacy laws and loss of brand credibility. At a minimum, your social media policy should entail details on sharing confidential business information, posting images or content that is illegal or sharing information that is defamatory, derogatory or inflammatory.

3. Pick your program’s team members, and educate them. Teaching your employees about brand advocacy is an important step. Share your social media strategy, including why it is important and how to be an employee advocate. Encourage sharing and commitment to growing the brand by creating content that is relevant for others to broadcast. If necessary, use incentives such as a leaderboard, and share the highlights and metrics of your advocacy team members’ posts.

4. Help your team members establish their own personal brand. Employees should also understand why their expertise and outside connections are important to advocacy. Their influence and areas of expertise can reach an entirely new audience for the company. Help them promote themselves through content, such as with images that showcase a company event. It not only showcases the culture, but it also promotes an impression of what it’s like for employees at the company.

Remember that training your advocacy team should be ongoing. Make it consistent, and continually update your strategy to meet company goals. Also, provide and show plenty of examples of the kind of content you’d like them to share, but don’t mandate what they can share and when. It’s the quickest way to turn employees off and doom your program.

With careful planning, effective training and trust, your employee advocacy program can be one of your most effective marketing and sales tools. Furthermore, small and midsize companies can be just as efficient with their programs as large organizations. Get ahead of your competitors, and start building an effective employee advocacy program today.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

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