The Digital Conversationalist


Employee advocacy – how do I get started?

I was invited as a guest on the employee advocacy #SEMRushChat on Twitter chat last week – my first Tweetchat, and yes I can’t believe it’s the first either – and it was such an interesting experience. This happens weekly and I was honoured to be on with Danielle Guzman, who is the global head of social media for Mercer. Definitely interesting to see how we approached it differently – Danielle as a brand leader, and me as a trainer in the subject.  

It was a fast and furious hour, with fantastic participation, and I have to say, the team behind #SEMRushchat are world-class. Perfect execution. Congrats to Diana Richardson and her amazing team.

As a content marketing evangelist, I believe content should never be wasted, and besides, I spent a lot of time thinking about my answers and putting it together, so decided to package it up as a blog – in Twitter length comments – to share with my community.

Q1. Describe “employee advocacy” and how it can relate to marketing (specifically digital marketing).

A1 – I’ve always struggled with the term employee advocacy, but it’s more in how it’s marketed, typically by vendors offering employee advocacy software solutions. It’s why I use the term social leadership instead.

In my work with large corporates, the no.1 feedback before we start is, employees do not appreciate being asked to be mouth pieces for the brands. They believe the way they are being asked to share lacks integrity.

I 100% agree with this. You must start by empowering employees to own their voice, on the topic/issue that matters most to them. Their focus does not have to be about the brand, it just needs to be something important to them.

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Companies that empower their people to own their voice, bask in the glow of powerful employee voices. It attracts customers, new employees (they love seeing businesses that allow employees to speak up), partners, influencers, etc.

Employee focus splits across 4 areas – 1. 30% topics relevant to customers (sales, executives), 2. 30% Job functions (marketing, sales, HR, etc – i.e. marketing transformation, sales leadership, HR transformation, etc..).

3. Then it’s 20% leadership/mentors/STEM – they want to inspire peers or the next generation and 4. Others – spirituality, foodies, passions. This is the most undervalued but very powerful. All attract, retain, and more.

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When it comes to the employees sharing biz content, encourage it only if it is aligned to their voice. Businesses must have meaningful content for them to share. Many still don’t. Empowered employees get they need to support the brand.

But to succeed it must be employees first, and not just senior leadership teams – too often still the only valued voices in business, which is nuts when you see that the average employee is more trusted than the CEO.

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Top five categories of trust on social media are: family, friends, social media connections, bloggers, and colleagues. You are at least one of these to everyone in your community.

So if you want to succeed, empower your employees as advocates for themselves first, brand 2nd, make sure your business content is worthy of your employees to share. Speak to your best advocates, ask them how you can do better.

The integrity of the employees must be central to how you approach employee advocacy. Too many companies reward the broadcasters, but people willing to share anything is not a winning strategy.

We are all in the business of earning and keeping trust, we are also in the business of being good enough to earn people’s time! The rampage on social media tells me this is not a message understood widely – esp by business.

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Q2. Outline how to launch an employee advocacy campaign. Where do we even start?

A2 – step 1 launch, train, coach, inspire. Step 2 support, motivate, amplify work, recognize stars. Step 3 drive leads, grow business – requires holistic approach, industry leadership, flat structure/siloes down, biz results/engaged employees.

You can reach step three within a year or 18 months, if you recruit a wide array of employees committed to owning their voice and participating with integrity and a service mindset.

So find your people who already have a strong presence on social media – on any channel, covering any topic they care about – and bring them into the fold. Don’t just value executive voices, value powerful voices.

Develop advocacy training that helps employees find their voice first. What is the topic they care most about and help them define a powerful message that will establish them in the area they want to be known for. Here’s some hot topics.

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Successful trainers are social leaders, empathetic and very widely read – they are on the pulse of what is going on and know how to help position employees in their area of expertise in a way that matters and will help them rise.

Don’t spoon feed too much. Employees must want to do this because it’s great for them AND the business. If everyone shares the same content, same hashtags, etc… it turns audiences off. This is something to be serious about.

We have to be committed to working on our own presence, because it’s good for us. I see too many companies pandering to employees, when the onus should be on doing an amazing job as a social leader because we benefit.

So let’s stop outsourcing voices. Too much noise and nonsense. Own your voice, own your future. Execs get outsourced all the time – well that’s just PR. We are in a time of deep meaning, be a real contributor to the conversation.

If they have no time, stop doing something else that is redundant and focus on this. The power of a social leadership culture has never truly been seen in full force. I look forward to the day when business gets it power.

But don’t forget to cover the basics. Plenty of great books and online learning courses to help. Get employees updating profiles – especially LinkedIn and wherever else is relevant to your business. This should be a basic requirement.

Also help employees understand the how of participating, that it’s not about abundance but world-class participation – i.e it’s not time consuming, and easiest start is to engage with their community. It’s social media, not broadcast.

Be patient. Some people take a long time to get going, and then BAM! Other’s are fast. You’ve got to create a culture within the business that everyone wants to be part of. It starts with genuine leadership participation.

Q3. Is social media the best channel for an employee advocacy campaign? What are the best, worst & alternative channels?

A3 – In 2020/21 social media has been the only channel for advocacy, but let me show you my branches of content opportunity – however don’t forget internal platforms too, important.

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Employees should be on the social media channels they enjoy – a natural affinity! They should be where customers are too. Beyond that, we have speaking, media, etc. Empower them to start where they are most comfortable.

I don’t have a best/worst generally & my best/worst may not be yours. If you participate with deep purpose and intention, where you’re comfortable and where your audience is, then that’s where you should be.

Only priority, be on LinkedIn if you work for a business, especially B2B, but for career opportunities, it’s critical. Depends on which industry, but most topics match LinkedIn, if you are mindful about the platform and how to succeed.

Q4. What should you do if an employee advocacy campaign backfires? What are some ways to prevent that?

A4 – I don’t resonate with the terminology employee advocacy campaign. It’s not a campaign, it’s a change in how you run your business. It’s long term, powerful and it transforms your business from the inside out.

However, employees do get it wrong. I always encourage employees to participate in alignment with the company values. So if you’re anti-anything in society and that’s out of alignment with the biz you work with, well….

Social media rules and guidelines are pretty much useless and rarely read. Company values are better known. It should be made very clear than any anti-social behaviour is unacceptable and you can be terminated.

That might seem harsh, but that is the world we live in! I wish more companies acted on this stuff and kept an eye on employees. Might help root out the appalling trolls we have to contend with every day.

Most important is trust your people. You hired them, you trust them with customers, employees, partners, etc… give them this same trust online. Why not? If they blow it, let them go. Too many businesses do not trust their people.

Note: this question had some really interesting responses. This idea of being able to control employee voices is something that I don’t believe in. Trust your people, train them well, empower them, help them understand successful social leadership is about serving your audience with a service mindset, that integrity and authenticity are critical, and watch it evolve into powerful voices that lifts the employees and the business. Until you really embrace it as a core part of company culture, you will struggle to see how this can transform your business.

Q5. What brands are absolutely winning it with the employee advocacy? Who can we learn from?

No question the social media companies are doing good, they could do better, but LinkedIn employees are a stand out, as are Twitter, Facebook and more. Technology companies too – Microsoft, Salesforce, SAP, IBM…

The consulting companies both release excellent content and many employees are representing themselves beautifully – Accenture, etc… and I love McKinsey – great content.

I see companies like Oracle, obviously with an employee advocacy solution, but it’s always a cut & paste job. Amazon too. I have many connections in both and see exactly the same content coming out at the same time in a wall of content.

This behaviour is not uncommon and it’s why employee advocacy gets a bad name. It’s also gamified, so rewards are given. Why reward people for sharing content, when it is actually harmful for the brand? It’s not integrity based.

We need to stand back and understand this. Here’s a sample of what our audiences (and ourselves) are overwhelmed with every day.

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That’s the reality, adding noise to this does not win friends. Individuals, participating meaningfully, sharing valuable business content, serving their audience, etc, break through. They deliver value not more information overload.

I would love to see a massive change in understanding this. Don’t focus on noise, focus on value. Empower employees to deliver value that is meaningful to them/their audience. Embrace activists – your brand benefits employing people who care.

Overall we haven’t seen the full possibility of employee advocacy in its truest sense. Biz continue to value only senior voices, don’t trust wider employees, don’t understand who has power in a digital world, or the importance of trust.

Number one learning – a social leadership program must start with the leadership team and be owned by the executives. Start there and make sure employees know they have permission to own their voice on social media.

Q6. List the top 3 benefits to brands, companies and/or businesses for starting and nurturing an employee advocacy campaign as part of their marketing strategy.

Let’s start with employees. Listing the top 5 I’ve measured from my students. 1. Clients learning about my biz from the content I am sharing = 54%, 2. Growing belief in the effectiveness of strategic social selling = 52%,

I am learning more as I create content and actively seek world-class content to share with my networks = 49%, 4. Bigger networks globally, opening doors to opportunities for my biz and myself = 48%,

5. Believe my company is on the right track as a business of the future = 38%. Biggest take-away – employees more engaged in the business, confident in their future, and willing to support the business.

BTW hardest thing to measure is returns. Esp $$. Many social media companies own their data, CRM not effectively linked to outcomes, and dark social in the mix too! Only way to understand is by asking employees directly.

Here’s $$ for 2-year case study with IBM APAC. The results are minimum numbers & from asking employees directly – those who actively participated – & the question was about any returns directly linked to their social participation.

I say minimum, because of course, not everyone answered the survey and I had to work hard to get responses. So here it is pipeline 1st year US$57+ million, pipeline 2nd year US$140 million = 145% growth.

And the all-important wins 1st year US$24 million, wins 2nd year US$40 million = 66% growth – link to case study from 1st year. Didn’t publish 2nd year due to staff changes.

From training employees in large MNCs, working with 1,000s of employees that are let loose, it completely transforms the business from the inside out. It moves a business into the future. It flattens. It empowers.

We have a long way to go before these ideas are embraced. I have never understood what is holding leaders back, because the transformation is so powerful! When you empower employees, your business transforms in every way.

Thanks for inviting me to participate in the #SemRushChat and I hope anyone looking at employee advocacy for their business, finds value in this content. Reach out anytime if you have questions or want to challenge anything I’ve said.



Coming soon – Uncommon Courage

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