MBPT Spotlight: Marketers Who Want To Build A Strong Social Business Need Their Employees As Advocates

Building a strong social business takes time, dedication and the right investments, but one of the most frequently overlooked assets is a marketer’s own workforce.

As a new whitepaper by social media analytics and management company Sprinklr points out, an employee’s customer interactions in today’s social media environment are more important than ever. Employees have the power to influence a marketer’s customers—for better or for worse. And Sprinklr’s whitepaper suggests that in order to make employee interaction with customers work for the better, marketers need to spend time building employee advocacy.

“Employee advocacy offers myriad opportunities for brands,” the report says, “increasing internal collaboration, humanizing a faceless corporation and, most importantly, closing the consumer-brand trust gap.”

The report points out that people don’t simply trust companies, and data shows that less than 25% of consumers believe what companies claim in their ads. However, people do trust much more the individuals who work for those companies.

The report cites the Edelman 2014 Trust Barometer, which found that 52% of respondents said they would trust company information from a regular employee, a rise of 20% from 2009. If a company has a technical expert on staff, 67% of respondents would have faith in information provided by that person. But only 43% of respondents would view as credible statements from a company CEO.

“When it comes to consumer trust, your employees hold the most power,” the report advises marketers. “They’re the solution to your trust deficit, but only if you empower them to become brand advocates.”

The whitepaper says companies need to remember that their employees are part of the nearly 2 billion individuals on social networking sites today. It points out that the average global person has three social media accounts. Among them: 50% of all Facebook users have more than 200 friends; the average Twitter account has 208 followers; and more than 40% of LinkedIn users have more than 300 connections. In total, each employee could hypothetically have about 700 individual social friends. For a company that has 100 social users, that’s 70,000 possible customer touchpoints—assuming those company employees are on board as company brand advocates.

“In the new media landscape, everyone in your company is essentially an unofficial spokesperson,” says Alex Schott, manager of social and digital media for Entergy, a Fortune 500 utility company based in New Orleans.

The whitepaper lists 10 steps to creating employee advocates.

1. Benchmark Existing Participation

This involves generating a list of potential advocates by checking out their blog posts, LinkedIn profiles, tweets or Facebook participation.

“For brands with thousands of employees, the application of technology is recommended,” the report suggests. “Brand analytics, combined with listening and monitoring dashboards, for example, can automatically identify employees who create or participate in company-related social media conversations.”

2. Access Your Culture and Industry

“Every brand can benefit from employee advocacy but the path there will depend a lot on your company culture and industry,” the report says. “Take stock in the regulatory framework in which you operate, as well as the technical and digital literacy of your organization. Develop an understanding of your organization’s proclivities to share content. Do employees tend to share job openings? Where are they most active? What are employee satisfaction scores like in key parts of your business?”

3. Seek Out a Champion

The report says a “champion” is critical in getting the organizational mindshare and resources necessary to launch a successful advocacy program. “You probably won’t need your champion from the start as you prepare and plan, but a time will come where you will need to overcome an objection from legal or move the project into formal channels of your organization. During this time your champion will be invaluable,” the report says.

The report also advises not to solely look to the marketing department for the champion. “Just as social media impacts multiple business units, employee advocacy can play a role in departments as diverse as customer service, human resources or product development.”

4. Set Your Goals

Real benchmarks and associated data are necessary to craft and optimize a successful advocacy program, the report says. “Goals may vary, from employee engagement metrics, to revenue generation or brand outcomes. Most importantly, set realistic numeric goals that you can measure frequently.”

5. Establish Program Mechanics

Once goals are set, execution can begin. “The path to a successful advocacy program varies widely based on your business goals,” the report says. “For marketers looking to achieve increased authentic reach for marketing messages, we recommend answering the Four Ws for your employees: What messages should I share? Why should I share? When should I share it? Where should share it?”

6. Paint the Full Picture

The report advises to “bring in your executive champion and whether it is in person, via email or video, have them position your employee advocacy initiative in the context of larger corporate efforts, goals and objectives. Help your employees understand that their contribution is both vital and recognized from the highest levels of your organization.”

7. Provide Training

Employees should be training on the obvious and non-obvious aspects of the advocacy program. “Technology on-boarding is only part of the story. You will also need to provide guidance around business and industry policies as well as the preferred voice and tone that employees ought to take online.”

8. Manage the Advocacy Community

Ongoing coaching is absolutely essential to success, the report says. “Employees need feedback and practice with what to say and how to say it. The most successful advocacy efforts realize that skills form through practice. As a result, effective employee participation stems from experimentation, comfort and the ability to learn from past efforts. Independent, empowered advocacy is short-lived without a window to practice, hear feedback and iterate on ideas.”

9. Analyze the Data

Structured metrics and goals should make measurement easy through the program, the report says, and regular analysis of the data will help optimize tactics to achieve business goals.

10. Give It Meaning

The whitepaper says whatever reporting solution is chosen, the recommendation is to create a specific dashboard for employees that tracks effectiveness over time with clear visualization. “Connecting a social curation display to your existing social media management system will come in handy. This solution enables easy sharing of success across your organization and helps program participants clearly understand how their contribution is impacting your business.”

The whitepaper concludes by saying: “Your employees are active on social media, discussing their life, love and work on a daily basis. You certainly can’t prevent them from doing so. But you can implement the right social media guidelines, training and technology in order to ensure that the social influence of your employees is used for the betterment of your organization. Employee advocacy isn’t just an opportunity for brands, it’s a necessity in the social age.”