Employee Advocates: The Hottest Thing in Corporate Communication Today

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Advocacy is defined as actively supporting a cause, idea, person, political party, etc. Advocacy is also the hottest trend in customer engagement these days. Everyone wants an advocate. Why? Because advocates behave differently.

The word “active” is the integral part of the definition of advocacy. The action required to be an advocate is what makes it different from words like “supporter.” Advocates are special because they are active in promoting a company’s products, brand value or services.

In this age of social media marketing, we want our customers to actively engage with our companies and brands—not just make purchases. Why? Because engagement and advocacy on social media are worth more than just a single purchase. According to research from global consulting and research firm, Bain & Company, “Customers who engage with companies over social media spend 20 percent to 40 percent more money with those companies than other customers.

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What’s true with customers is often true with employees. Employees can be great advocates for your company. Who else knows your products, services or widgets better than the people making them?

But even engaged employees who are ready to go above and beyond for your organization and advocate online will need some guidelines for their behavior as advocates. (And some are just waiting for someone to say, “It’s OK to do that!”) For instance, at Sprint, our social media “Ninjas” go above and beyond their day jobs to help the company communicate and engage with customers across its social media channels. Sometimes these employees search Twitter for customer questions and provide help to customers. Some write up blogs and recommendations for our products and services (with a disclaimer about who they work for, of course!) 

But many employees help Sprint in ways that are more natural and organic. Most employees have friends and family who know they work for Sprint, so these employees have always been the source for information and help when it comes to Sprint phones. Now, these conversations have moved onto employees’ personal social networks and are much more public and visible to a wider audience. Although these conversations are not occuring on Sprint’s social networks, the organization still considers this type of social media activity a way of our employees going above and beyond for the brand. 

Following are some best practices for creating employee advocates online.

Have a social media policy

First, you need a social media policy, or a guide for how employees can use social media to communicate about your company. This is paramount. Make your policy about encouraging the right behaviors instead of focusing only on what you don’t want employees to do. Even if your social media policy is exactly the same thing as your “Employee Code of Conduct” or some other policy that outlines acceptable employee behavior, call it out in a separate “Social Media Policy” document.

Have a social network for your employees

What if you listened to your employees just as much as you listen to your customers? Your organization’s insights would be profound, and the effect on your business could be huge. To do this, consider launching an internal social network for your employees. When done right, this approach requires a community manager, close partnerships with the legal department, HR and IT, and executive support—at a minimum! Although you should not undertake this step lightly, the benefits are worth it. It’s also another key foundational step for an employee social advocacy program.

Get executive buy-in

I’ve found that the most effective approach to executive approval is to get to know your executive as much as possible. When you figure out what keeps your boss up at night, you’ll be able to craft the perfect pitch on why she should support your program. That also means, of course, that your social media training and advocacy program solves her problem in some way. Which leads me to the next best practice…

Have clear goals for your program that you can measure

Employee advocacy programs can accomplish a lot, but they can’t fix every problem at your company. Just because we can measure many things online these days doesn’t mean that we are measuring what matters. Be thoughtful in your approach to measurement and don’t overpromise on this one.

Train employees on social media advocacy

Next, you should train your employees on your social media policy and expand the curriculum to advocacy behaviors. PepsiCo, Sprint (where I work), Dell and Nike are just a few companies that have or are in the process of creating internal social media training programs for their employees. These training programs should cover the ground rules in your policy, but also share your goals for your formal social media outreach and clearly outline how your employees can take part.

Be sure to communicate with your employee advocates often, even after their training is complete

The best employee advocacy programs continue long after the initial training. Think about providing approved messages for your advocates to use in their social network. I know that might seem weird, but I’ve found these “suggested status updates” to be very helpful.

For example, my co-workers at Sprint are all very busy. They would ask over and over again for approved social media messages. When my team finally obliged, we wish we had done it sooner. We realized that some employees were very excited to advocate for us, but were either too busy to write their own updates about the company or too scared of saying the wrong thing. Support your employees with the tools they need to be successful advocates for you. And if you’re not sure, just ask. Whatever they need, be sure to support them after the training to get the results you want.

The bottom line: Happy employees, when properly trained and supported, are the best brand advocates a company can have.

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