Are your people your brand superheroes?

Mark Ralphs

10 November 2021

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We’ve all done it – seen a post on LinkedIn, Instagram or even Facebook from a colleague who we admire or a friend whose style we like and then gone on to click the link to find out more, or even to sign ourselves up for the course they recommended or buy a similar style of coat from the same retailer.  

The advocacy from a trusted person – be it a colleague, a peer, or a friend – has been valued at more important than that of a company post telling you the value of their product or service. And it was this topic – of advocacy, particularly employee advocacy – Jean-Louis Bénard, CEO of Sociabble, and myself took to the Zoom airwaves to talk about in our Trust and Impact: How to effectively implement a sustainable employee advocacy strategy webinar.

Advocacy? Influencers? Who are they and why bother?

So, what is an advocate and how do they differ from influencers? And why should we bother with them? Isn’t this just another marketing ploy to get everyone to do their job?

An advocate by definition is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy”. Put simply it is someone in your corner, someone who has a good word or two to say about you, your company, your brand and your organisation. It doesn’t particularly need to be someone who works for you, but could be volunteers or Trustees if you are a charity, or even students if you are an educational institution.  

The differentiator, the thin line between advocates and influencers are that advocates do not receive any economical retribution but their content (although there is usually a value proposition and a set of incentives to power any advocacy project).  Their voice is genuine, they are authentic and their content is, well, theirs and not taken from a cribsheet or a brand manual (more of that later) and they use their social platforms to reach audiences often organisations and companies don’t and can’t.  In Nielsen’s latest Global Trust in Advertising report 92% of consumers globally say they trust recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.

But, why bother? Does people talking about your business really support your new business pipeline? Can social posts really lead to sales? Real employee advocacy done well and strategically is far more than company promotion by individuals or organisational ego PR. It’s about creating trust for your brand and credibility that works hand-in-hand with increasing traffic to your website, lead generation, recruitment and retention of talent, and even supporting your sales strategy – suddenly employee advocacy becomes interesting, doesn’t it?

Who are your brand superheroes and what superpowers should they have?

We all know people are at the heart of every successful business. And getting the right people onboard as advocates is the most crucial step for success. So, what superpowers do your heroes need to have?  

  • Passion, but with a purpose: It goes without saying, they need to be passionate about your company, your brand. But they also need to be aligned to your brand’s values and vision. Having someone who loves trains might not be the best advocate for First Great Western Railway. Yet someone who understands that trains are more than a way of getting from A to B but can support the levelling up agenda by bringing accessibility and connectivity from rural areas to cities, might just be the right person.  
  • A bit of nous: Having a little bit of nous about social media and digital skills can be a bonus too as can someone who is confident and has a track record of posting, sharing and understands the ins-and-outs of the different media platforms. Yet, unlike shared vision and passion, skill set can be learnt.  
  • Don’t be influenced by the influencers: And forget looking for those who scale the giddy heights of social media followers. Yes, they might understand how to work a social media platform to its max but often their own personal brand might outweigh the desire to promote yours. 

Advocacy with a purpose: the corporate role and responsibility

Of course, there is also a responsibility for your organisation to support and facilitate your advocates so what is the corporate role and responsibility in employee advocacy?

  • Have and communicate a clear brand proposition and connect it with your business objectives. Understanding what differentiates your organisation from its competitors and what is its USP, what your purpose, value and ethos is should be part of every company’s business strategy. So, make sure you have communicated this clear brand proposition and that your advocacy programme is connected with your business objectives and that your people work alongside your company’s aim.
  • Invest in your people. It goes without saying you need to invest to progress. So what training is needed and how far should you invest in your people? Giving them a clip to watch on YouTube probably isn’t going to cut the mustard when it comes to creating great employee advocates. But a combination of tailored in-house training as well as resources online that are considered, match individual advocates’ skillset and experience and bring a sense of one team and a shared purpose might just start the journey to great employee advocacy. You are not creating an advocacy University but a community where ideas, cocreation and colleague inter-support can thrive.
  • Don’t kill them (and the programme) with guidelines. Trust can only be generated if your advocates’ content is real, is genuine and authentic. Providing a 100-page guideline document will not only stop them in their tracks mid post but also curtail any creativity they might have themselves. And I am not making all this up. We know it first hand from our experience developing advocacy projects with world class brands. When we worked with IKEA, we had a one-page manifesto that gave ideas, sparked thoughts, and empowered rather than prohibited. Having templates, image libraries and other digital assets and other content frameworks can also often help advocate virgins to step out of their comfort zone. 
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  • Moderate but in moderation. It is important to know what content your advocates are creating and monitor this (especially to be able to measure it – more of that later too). But doing it from a constructive perspective will be essential in order to keep motivating and encouraging your team of ambassadors. So,  think before you moderate – explaining to someone why something might have been better expressed another way is far better than never allowing them freedom of speech (or tweets!).
  • Ensure your Senior Management are with the programme! So many times we see sales and marketing departments, corporate communications or people & culture teams taking ownership of employee advocacy programmes when, in fact, having advocacy as the golden thread through your organisation is the only way to make a silk purse. Senior team advocates leading by example are more likely to put advocacy higher up the organisational agenda, and can be a way to convey not only the benefits of your products, but also thought leadership, expertise, the quality of your management and your team, and corporate culture. In turn, managers will allocate time and importance to their advocates in their team to their advocacy programmes. This might mean allocating 10 minutes every Friday for your advocates to schedule their social media posts for the week ahead or team leaders brainstorming content for the week ahead in weekly Ops meetings.

It’s not all about likes and thumbs up: How to really measure your EA programme

Getting your Senior Management team onboard and understanding the value of employee advocacy is often one of the hardest parts of the puzzle. Which is why measurement of your programme is so important. Which in turn, is why clear objectives aligned to your brand’s proposition is key. 

We have already put a lot of thought into how the impact of an advocacy project should be measured from a KPI perspective. However, being aware of the goals of your project will be key. Therefore, if your company mission is to recruit great talent and your advocacy objectives are around talent acquisition then measure the success of your employee advocacy programme against the traditional cost of using a recruitment agency or advertising on a jobs’ website. If it is around being known for being the best home improvement retailer on the block and your advocates objectives are to create engaging content and visuals that make their followers want to live in their houses, then cost your programme up against your PR or content creation agency. The fiscal value of your advocacy and the ROI that it brings can often be the swinging point for CFOs and management teams.  

Celebrate good times, Come On!

And finally, if there is one piece of advice we would give to those looking to implement a successful employee advocacy programme – apart from speaking to Good Rebels, of course – it is to celebrate your advocates. Having people who are happy to tell the world how great your brand is, should be nurtured, encouraged, rewarded, and recognised. This can be done simply by sharing the impact that their advocacy is having or gamifying outcomes through league tables, or even as one of our clients has done running a deforestation campaign aligned to advocacy success. As the old adage says, “Saying thank you never costs anything” and of course we know acknowledgement and feeling good can often create more good karma and oil the wheels of employee advocacy forever more.