The premise that people don’t care about brands has been around for years. This is especially true for social media: users are completely overloaded with information and are increasingly unfollowing brands, which they deem as not credible. Instead, they tend to trust the opinions of people they know or can relate to.
Faced with this situation, many companies are leveraging the voice of their employees to generate credibility (employee generated content, EGC). A strategy that not only generates external trust but also strengthens the relationship between employees and the company.
But just like influencer marketing and branded content back in the day, advocacy strategies are nearing saturation. Yes, the voice of your employees will continue to be central to building your employer brand, and their recommendations will continue to be more effective than advertising or messages from corporate profiles for generating sales.
However, when it comes to reputation, expectations are changing. Society is increasingly demanding senior management, particularly the CEO, to play a more visible role and engage publicly in social debates to defend corporate values.
In this context, leveraging the personal brand of your executives on social media to convey key company messages, can be the perfect fit for your employee advocacy programme.
The opportunity: we trust businesses, so why not their leaders?
People don’t care about brands. However, they do trust businesses to a large extent. In fact, according to the most recent results of the Edelman Trust Barometer, they are the only institution that people consider ethical and competent, ahead of NGOs, government and the media.
Paradoxically, trust in businesses does not quite lead to trust in the decision-makers and leaders shaping the companies’ roadmaps. Compared to 62% trust in companies, only 48% trust CEOs to make the right decisions.
What is the reason for this disparity? It is mainly due to a lack of visibility. In fact, 60% of the population can’t name a CEO, and 25% of employees in large companies do not even know the name of their own CEO. Let’s not even talk about the top management.
It’s pretty clear: high expectations in the company + low visibility and trust in the C-Suite = the need to reduce the gap through a more engaged leadership.
An executive advocacy strategy will not only help humanise the company, showing that their leaders are approachable and relatable people, but will also reinforce their thought leadership by placing them at the centre of the conversation alongside the media, experts and other stakeholders. This will enable them to be perceived as a relevant voice, whose expertise endorses the company’s roadmap.
In addition, the voice of executives is key in crisis management. From their own profile, an executive can generate empathy for the company’s position, something that corporate channels can’t achieve.
Eventually, all of the above translates into an increase in the reputation of the C-Suite, a critical driver of corporate reputation.
Employee advocacy vs. executive advocacy: one asset, different action levels.
How does all the above come into practice? While executive advocacy programs can be effective on their own, they work best when combined with employee advocacy. Activating both layers simultaneously will not only generate synergies in project management but also have a positive impact on achieving the objectives of both.
On one hand, advocacy programs could easily lose momentum if they rely solely on the efforts of the marketing and communications department. To truly succeed, they need to be integrated into the core of the corporate agenda, which is significantly easier when senior management leads by example. Moreover, executives can leverage their digital presence as a powerful amplifier for ambassadors, extending their reach by engaging with their posts through likes and comments.
A unified advocacy asset also allows for reinforcing the same message from different perspectives and segmenting it based on the audiences of the various ambassadors. For example, when communicating a sales promotion, employees can focus on the more tactical elements (benefits, their own experience as users, etc), while executives can address the strategic aspects (e.g., the company’s customer-centric approach).
However, despite these synergies, the truth is that the implications in terms of internal communication and external perception are quite distinct, requiring two separate workflows that, while not entirely independent, address the specific characteristics of each type of ambassador.
The main difference between an employee advocacy and an executive advocacy programme is scalability. The former are designed to grow, multiplying the number of users involved through incentive models, and thus increasing the ROI by optimising the cost per impression. These types of programmes usually follow a one-to-many approach, prioritising volume and versatility over personalisation.
On the other hand, executive advocacy programs do not aim to attract an increasing number of executives. Instead, they focus on selecting a small number of spokespersons with the authority (backed by their expertise and professional background) and the potential (based on their charisma and network) to establish themselves as industry leaders, expanding their influence and digital community.
This approach requires a much more tailored, one-to-one service, that takes into account the particular tone, professional background and personal interests of each executive to build an authentic and differential story on social media. Thus, the focus is not on scalability (exponentially increasing the number of ambassadors with the same resources).
Beyond the fact that an executive may require internal support to assist with publishing and negotiating editorial calendar approvals, we must not forget that their words can have a more direct impact on brand perception. Therefore, the reputational risk of working with these types of profiles is higher.
In employee advocacy projects, employees are typically given the freedom to publish whatever content they like, as long as they follow certain guidelines. However, in executive advocacy programs, publications usually go through multiple internal validation processes with different teams, including communication, institutional relations, technical experts, etc.
Authenticity is key.
However, the complexity in message validation that characterizes executive advocacy projects is not incompatible with what should be the main priority: creating authentic and relevant content.
In this sense, there are several factors to take into account when launching an executive advocacy strategy:
- Don’t isolate executives from the process. While this may seem obvious, in large organisations, it is common for hierarchy to hinder communication with the C-Suite, and we may not have their input when selecting the topics to be addressed on their profiles. However, it is important to understand that it is their vision as leaders which adds value, and our role is to help them effectively communicate it. This doesn’t imply we should have direct contact with them, but we must establish agile mechanisms to understand their concerns and their strategic vision.
- Think beyond the corporate agenda and milestones. This is one of the points where we may face resistance from the C-Suite, as they are generally reluctant to expose themselves and fear being overly personal. However, for their content to be relevant and credible, it is crucial that they do not become an extension of the corporate press office. This does not mean they have to share aspects of their personal lives if they are uncomfortable doing so, but it is advisable for them to comment on industry and current topics and share reflections without necessarily linking them to the company. This will foster the growth of their digital community and improve the reception of corporate posts, which will be perceived as more genuine.
- In terms of formats, less is more. When humanising executive profiles, especially in the initial stage, format innovation should not be the main focus: the more natural, the better. It is recommended to avoid highly corporate images (such as typical official photos) and corporate content like carousels, highly produced videos, etc. And the LinkedIn algorithm proves us right: a selfie generates 3 times more reach than other types of images.
Society is not only demanding more visible leaders: it is demanding approachable leaders, with whom it can relate because they have a clear purpose and a vision that goes beyond their company. Finding a balance between corporate messages and their own opinion as professionals will be the key to relevance.
The time to boost your C-Suite’s personal brand is now!
Although more and more companies are choosing to capitalise on the voice of their employees, and executives are increasingly diving into social media, especially LinkedIn, we are still far from reaching a saturation point, and the opportunity for differentiation is clear.
According to Statista, the global number of LinkedIn users is forecast to increase by 82.6 million users between 2023 and 2027 (+11.07%). With an increasingly younger audience, reaching and captivating this crucial demographic on LinkedIn is essential for shaping your company’s long-term image and establishing an employer brand that resonates with the new generations.
The key lies in seizing the opportunity before it becomes a commodity: early adopters will have a more comfortable timeframe to carve out their territory on the platform and establish their digital identity, offering a clear competitive advantage that enables them to stand out from those who are forced to adopt this strategy in a couple of years.
At Good Rebels, we have extensive experience leveraging the voices of our clients’ employees and executives to enhance their reputation and strengthen their employer branding, and we know the challenges these programmes entail, including internal politics and securing buy-in from the C-Suite. However, you can rest assured that we will be here to support you throughout the entire journey.