Why brand advocacy begins with your co-workers

Joel Calafell

5 December 2018

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It’s no secret – many brands are in the middle of a credibility crisis. Brands are beginning to set themselves new objectives around brand positioning, often led by departments far removed from Marketing. Makes sense – but brands need to do more than work hard, they need to work smart.

Who controls credibility?

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – if a single person is managing your organisation’s narrative, the day will come when not a single person will believe in your brand or your message. In fact, there are now several studies that demonstrate that this extends not only to official channels, but also to people and spokespersons that exist under ‘excessive control’ of the brand. One example comes from a 2017 FleishmanHillard report which asked the question “who would you turn to if you wanted to know the authentic reality of a company?”. The answer, it would seem, has nothing to do with how that brand presents itself on social media.

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FleishmanHillard Global Intelligence: 2017.

In fact, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, employee recommendation generates between two and three times more trust than that of a CEO.

The same can be said for any other spokespeople that are blatantly acting on behalf of the PR department, or working to cover up a behind the scenes reality that is not always shiny and perfect. The fact is, we were wrong to think that the power has ever been with anyone but co-workers and employees. But now, our approach is beginning to change…

Your employee’s voice

Brands are killing themselves trying to promote a reality that is not actually authentic, meanwhile the only trustworthy voices left are those of their clients, customers and employees. We’ve always known the customer’s perspective was important – hence the introduction of customer journey mapping, user generated content, brand ambassadors, and brand advocates. Still – we don’t tend to focus on the voices of our employees. Why?

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There are many strategies for mobilising your employees and convincing them to share positive messages on behalf of your brand:

  • Employee Generated Content (EGC): take advantage of the content your employees are already actively sharing on social media from within the organisation
  • Co-worker Advocacy: instilling brand loyalty and values in your employees will help you create a group of internal brand guardians
  • Ambassadors and digital spokespersons: digital activation of certain key profiles in order to help shift perception of your organisation
  • Experts and champions: empowering employees through the promotion of highly knowledgeable and talented co-workers

A strong strategy based on employee advocacy may be the best method of reinforcing and working towards a series of strategic objectives that would otherwise be relegated to communications departments and branded content on social that users are no longer interested in seeing. Promotion of employee advocacy, your commitment to sustainability, your capacity for innovation, your internal processes and methodologies, and the consumer experience itself – these things help you to tell a story that’s more authentic and ‘comes from within’.

In the same way that online reviews have become one of the most important consumer touchpoints to consider in the tourism and retail sector, the corporate world, as a whole, needs to put more thought into the opinions of those outside the c-suite. In the end, we have to learn to understand and appreciate the way the people within our organisation think.

Now, dear reader, by now you may have figured out that there is still one fundamental problem with employee advocacy – and it’s the same problem we have with consumer advocacy. You can’t just sit around and wait for your employees to start talking positively about your brand, you have to make it happen.

You have to earn advocacy

Employee advocacy is considered earned media because it’s sincere, real and transparent. Experience has shown us that employee advocacy, done well, is a win-win for employee and brand alike. How do we do this effectively?:

  • Encourage employees to demonstrate the advantages of incorporating the organisation they work for into their personal branding
  • Help them to develop the digital skills necessary to succeed on social media
  • Recognise, empower, and motivate employees through digital media
  • Reinforce the feeling of pride and brand loyalty through specific activations
  • Invest in training and personal growth initiatives
  • Develop an internal ‘community’ building plan
  • Involve as many departments as possible – communications, corporate, marketing and, of course, HR

There are also some employee advocacy sins you’re better off avoiding:

  • Never expect all your co-workers to participate – most won’t be interested in acting as brand ambassadors, and that’s okay
  • Don’t spend too much time trying to control what your employees put out there
  • Don’t expect your employees to talk endlessly about how great your brand is – a good ambassador is willing and confident enough to talk about the good and the bad
  • Avoid corporate ‘storytelling’ – it’s never credible  
  • Never manipulate or force digital engagement
  • Never reward participation on social media – all it results in is bread for today, hunger tomorrow
  • Don’t ask employees to set up accounts specific to your organisation – people move on, and those accounts will be abandoned
  • Employee advocacy strategies are not about the short term – they’re about the advantages that come with the promotion of a healthy and honest employee voice – this is what will have the longest lasting impact over time

How can you motivate your organisation?

First step – determine your organisation’s level of digital maturity. This will allow you to better adapt your skills development / activation plan in response to the needs of your partners and employees.

Second step – develop a strategy for motivating the most employees possible. Make your co-workers aware of the exclusive benefits that come with employee advocacy – a positive outcome for your employees should be a key objective. Believe us when we say that there is no better incentive than the recommendation of another. Another good incentive – envy – you should aim to make those co-workers that chose not to participate in your employee advocacy programme envious on those who did.

Finally, you should ensure that you’ve broken down any barriers that are preventing employees from participating. Social media guidelines and protocols aside, digital paralysis is a pretty common obstacle facing modern brands. Communicating outside of your comfort zone is always seen as a risk – it’s not easy to put yourself out there once your audience grows beyond that of the weekly internal email update. Encouraging social ‘netiquette’ and working to boost social maturity is the only way to ensure your employees feel confident acting as ambassadors on your behalf online.

Training in innovation (and motivation)

Enablement begins with training, and there are many alternative training methods that are more attractive and more likely to increase your chances of success. At Good Rebels, we’ve already experimented with a few different methods:

  • Cross-skill development: brands should take advantage of training programmes that go beyond the personal brand, in order to develop expertise in complementary fields.
  • Collective training: involving your employees in collaborative training will help you to identify potential leaders and brand champions – who can, in turn, help to train and empower others. Decentralised training led by employees will always be more effective. Creating strong connections throughout the organisation with provide your employees with a more positive digital experience.
  • Multichannel and ‘always on’ training: brands should provide employees with tools and platforms which help enable ‘anytime’, at your own pace, development. Forums, mobile-first, community and e-learning channels, over isolated training days, ensure that employees don’t lose momentum. Just make sure you don’t forget to respect the right to disconnect.

Consumers will start to believe in your brand when spontaneous and regular brand positive messages are being shared by your employees, both online and offline. If you want your employees to start promoting your brand – give them a reason to do so.