This article Think back to your company’s last piece of really big news. Maybe it was an important round of funding, a highly anticipated expansion, or some really exciting press coverage.
Now honestly reflect: how much did your employees share that news with their networks? Perhaps more importantly, how much did you encourage them to do so?
If the answer to either question is “not much,” then you wasted a golden opportunity to amplify the reach of your content.
Consider this: brand messages shared by employees on social media earn 561 percent more reach than the same messages shared by the brand’s social media channels — and eight times more engagement.
No, this doesn’t mean your employees are all secretly social media influencers (though surely some are). But every employee does have their own network, and when you add up all those online connections and followers, you’d be surprised by how much brand awareness is within reach. Some suggest it’s as much as ten times what your brand could earn on its own.
Even so, it’s unlikely for employees to play along and share your company’s branded content without the right processes in place. Some are too scared to do it without the company’s blessing or official guidelines, while others have never given it a thought.
To make matters worse, those who are sharing brand-relevant content may not be doing it in a way that is on brand or on tone.
When it comes to empowering your employees to become brand advocates, a little structure goes a long way. With the right encouragement, tools, and systems in place, you’ll gain access to a powerful megaphone that you actually had all along.
Consider The 'Why'
Before launching your own employee advocacy program, it’s worth considering the ‘why.’
There are three main reasons companies decide to empower their employees to represent the brand online: to improve recruitment, drive awareness, or reshape messaging.
Improving recruitment is fairly straightforward, and is particularly helpful for large companies with huge recruiting needs.
Take Wells Fargo, for example. The company has 280,000 employees, and filling those roles — especially scarce tech roles — can be a horrible drain on resources. An employee advocacy program helps Wells Fargo proactively push out content to attract applicants who might not have otherwise applied.
Driving awareness, on the other hand, is great for smaller or mid-sized companies who would benefit from staying top of mind to attract business long-term.
Of course, neither recruitment nor awareness initiatives are much help for international brands with widespread recognition who already have a strong application pipeline.
Pfizer, for example, may be far more preoccupied with external pressures around the cost of its drugs. If the public doesn’t understand the link between Pfizer’s drug prices and its ability to fund research for life-changing drugs, then it risks getting painted with the same brush as Shkreli.
In such cases, reshaping messaging is critical. The goal of an employee advocacy initiative for Pfizer might be to explain how today’s drug prices help to recoup billions of dollars spent on drug research, which in turn helps fund the next billion-dollar research project.
Empower Your Employees By Removing Hurdles
Chances are, you have employees right now who would be happy to share brand-relevant content online — if only it wasn’t so time consuming. You may even have the same objection about alerting your team to new pieces of shareable content.
These are valid concerns. Curating relevant content from around the web and sharing it in a thoughtful way isn’t an easy process. It requires diligent research, creativity, and a lot of reading. That doesn’t even take into account changing algorithms, hashtags, and different formats for different social media platforms.
It’s enough to make you want to drop the whole initiative in the first place.
To remove that barrier to entry, LinkedIn launched its own employee engagement tool called Elevate in 2015.
The backend of Elevate feels much like your typical social media platform. Employees get access to a feed of pre-approved content and decide what they would like to share with their networks on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. Administrators are then able to track outcomes to see which pieces of content are having a measurable impact and which ones aren’t.
It’s exceedingly simple, yet remarkably effective. Since 2015, LinkedIn has helped countless companies, including the likes of GE, HSBC and PepsiCo, turn their employees into brand advocates.
LinkedIn isn’t the only one with this mission. Others include Bambu (by Social Sprout), Dynamic Signal, and the Finland-based Smarp.
Smarp’s employee advocacy tool actually predates Elevate by a few years and takes a slightly different approach. While Elevate allows a company to assign curating privileges to a small group of curators, Smarp offers the average employee the ability to generate their own content.
There’s undoubtedly an increased risk when you encourage employees to generate their own content, but Smarp insists that the engagement numbers speak for themselves.
“The most successful programs we have seen are the ones with the highest amount of employee generated content,” said Smarp Co-Founder and CEO Roope Heinilä.
“The engagement rates are usually about twice as high in the programs where employees contribute over 30% of the content compared to the ones mainly driven by top-down communications.”
Another main difference is the level of tracking available for employers. LinkedIn’s ability to directly attribute job applications and new hires to specific pieces of Elevate content is unmatched thanks to its use of proprietary data.
But what Smarp doesn’t offer in recruitment tracking, it makes up for in its Estimated Earned Media Value (EEMV). By multiplying the number of clicks your content receives by the price of advertising on the social media network, it assigns a monetary value to the traffic attributed to Smarp content.
Curate — And Create — The Right Content
If Elevate and Smarp are the mechanisms that allow your employees to share valuable content quickly, then it stands to reason that those mechanisms are only as good as the content that is shared.
This is where your initial goal-setting becomes invaluable. If your company’s goal is reshaping messaging, then the curated content is going to look very different from content that appeals to job applicants. The same goes for companies whose goal is to position their employees as thought leaders to generate long-term awareness.
Overlap is natural, but it’s difficult to reach all three goals effectively. Content that is catered specifically for a particular audience is more likely to resonate than content made for everyone.
By becoming more intentional with your goals and the content you’re curating and creating, you give your employees the best chance to make a measurable impact on your bottom line.
Develop A Culture That Gets Jazzed About Sharing
Just because your employees can share content with their networks doesn’t mean they will do it every time you ask. Nor should they.
This is perhaps the most difficult -- and critical -- principle for an employer to understand.
So the next time your company releases some important news, make a point of circulating it internally. Explain to your employees why the news matters and the kind of impact they can make by sharing it around.
But don’t make your requests sound obligatory. Earning resentment on day one is like planting a tree in diseased soil. Instead, allow your employees to use their discretion about when and how to share that information with their personal networks.
Praise those who engage and try introducing a layer of gamification to make the initiative more fun. For example, consider awarding points for exceptional traction earned on social media. If you create engagement benchmarks and goals, ladder them up to larger quarterly goals to give the initiative context and weight.
Lastly, teach by example. Engage with your employees on social media and do your own part to amplify the same content you’re asking your employees to share. Make it such a regular part of everyday life that it becomes habit, baked right into the very fabric of your organization.
Soon you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it.
This article originally appeared on forbes.com