The Past, Present and Future of Employee Advocacy with Karyn Cooks, Roope Heinilä and Sarah Goodall

Employeeadvocacyablab.jpg June 16, 2016 / Jose Manuel Arrias Zuleta

Engaging employees and motivating them to become brand ambassadors is one of today’s key business motivations.

 

Increasingly many organizations have come to realize the potential of social media and employees, and are allocating resources, time and efforts towards establishing a top-quality Employee Advocacy program. Employees’ networks can be up to 15 times bigger than the whole company’s follower base. People-to-people communications has also proven to be more engaging than branding from the company.

But has Employee Advocacy always been this important?

In order to answer this question, 3 experts in the field: Karyn Cooks, Modern Marketing Expert and Influencer, Roope Heinilä, CEO and Co-founder of Smarp and Sarah Goodall, Founder of Tribal Impact and Social Business Expert sat down (virtually) to discuss the matter.   

 

The Origins

The importance of companies using their own employees for marketing efforts did not appear out of thin air. Back in the day, when employees were interested in promoting their company, opportunities were more limited, though. What you were allowed to publish was not as straightforward, and recognition systems for these extra efforts were few. Luckily, times have a-changed, and the importance of Employee Advocacy has been realized by the C-level, too.

However, the rise of social media gave birth to a common obstacle faced by companies, one that had to be pummeled before even thinking of moving forward: Fear. When the words “employees” and “social media” were used on the same sentence, the immediate reaction was to stop it. Educating organizations in the matter has, however, removed much of the fear and paved the way for opportunities lying ahead.

 

Employee Advocacy Now: Going Beyond Sharing

Employee Advocacy, by its basic definition, means employees promoting the company’s brand, opportunities and culture. These days, Employee Advocacy must go beyond sharing, as the number of shares does not equal the impact that one person has for the organization. The focus needs to be more on helping your employees become influencers in their own networks, since reaching people means nothing, if you cannot engage with them.

As the market has matured, Employee Advocacy has grown into something that has to do with the whole company culture. Without a (good) culture among the organization and employees possessing an understanding of their company, an Employee Advocacy program will fail, and there is no tool to prevent that.

Take the United Kingdom as an example; they have a culture of working remotely. Some small and big companies in London do not have enough desks to provide to their employees, says Sarah Goodall, which is why they will encourage you to work from home for the day. For some markets, this has been a good opportunity to start embracing digital technologies for communicating, engaging and retaining the workforce from all across the country or even globally.

 

Employees First, Brand Second

When going across companies, cities and even countries, we deal with different cultures, legislation and organizational behaviours, which makes it hard to define single approach for Employee Advocacy globally. However, it is possible to come up with certain alignments to summarize what companies are often looking for when implementing this kind of program.

The 3 obvious approaches in Employee Advocacy across different continents are: sales, recruiting and branding. However, these benefits revolve largely around the company, not the individual, and that is not how you attract top talent, nor engage employees.

It is understandable that when you talk to a CFO or marketing manager to try to convince them, it is hard not to use these arguments. However, the focus should be switched from brand first, employees second, to employees first, brand second, Roope Heinilä reminds.

 

Where are We Headed?

Although marketing is currently the dominating department in implementing these programs, and management is still very much needed in the process, all three experts note the rising importance of HR in its success.

Altimeter statistics reveal that Europe lags behind the United States, when it comes to Employee Advocacy statistics, although results may vary within European markets. Employee engagement in Europe is also below the average, compared to North America and even globally.

Roope believes that thanks to the culture or working remote and more flexible working hours, employees will increasingly mix personal life with work, providing clarity to who they are as people and as professionals. This will contribute drastically to motivations for creating a personal brand.  

The privacy of data is also becoming a top priority in the market, as employees often share company-related information and synchronize their personal accounts with a tool managed by the company. On the other hand, when the company takes over the content that is being distributed to their employees to share, people feel more confident in doing it, because everything has been approved by their employer. They can thus be confident in spreading the word and conversing with others within the company’s guidelines and policies.

No matter which country or market you are located in, Employee Advocacy works as a way to bring out the human side of your business. Social media should no longer be seen as a threat for the company, but instead as an opportunity to innovate ways of being promoted as the best employer you can be, through the strongest advocates you can have: your employees.

The Definitive Guide to Employee Advocacy