In a world rife with scams and exaggerated claims, trust is the new currency of business. Established brands such as Coca Cola, McDonald's, Colgate, and Palmolive have been trusted for years and will continue to earn the TRUST of customers as long as they maintain high product standards and ethical business practices.
But how about lesser known organisations who have excellent products and place a high priority on business ethics but don’t have the advertising budget to match these industry giants? Even if they did, how believable would the advertising message be in a world where customers are increasingly wary of advertising claims?
Over the years I have found that if there’s one form of advertising that hasn’t changed, it’s Word-of-Mouth advertising. It is widely accepted that people believe others they like and TRUST. That is why even today, apart from reading online reviews on products and services, a recommendation from a friend, relative or peer is what provides the reassurance for a prospect to part with their credit card details.
Here’s what else I find important. Your brand advocates aren’t seen as uniformed staff or suit and tie wearing executives. However when these very same individuals tell the world about the car they bought or share their delight on social media about the amazing features of a new-model mobile phone they bought, their followers demonstrate their trust by reading every word or watching a video in its entirety. They’re trusted because of the personal relation established - whether they are a friend, neighbour, casual acquaintance, supplier or customer.
I’m sure you will agree that your employees are your biggest assets and beneath the mask of formality they put on at work, they are ordinary people. These are your advocates and have the social media connections to share the value proposition of your brand with their personal network, expanding the reach of your brand far beyond what is otherwise possible.
This is why social Employee Advocacy is so powerful.
To simplify what social Employee Advocacy means to business so it’s easy to understand, as always, I’ve used an acronym which will help you appreciate the power of Employee Advocacy through social media.
What used to take a large chunk out of the marketing budget for limited exposure through press ads and other traditional forms of advertising, can now be done with the click of a button. Blogs, LinkedIn posts, Facebook pages and Tweets about product launches and reviews attract serious viewership and extend the reach significantly more than traditional media could at a fraction of the cost.
Many of my clients who were adverse to social media, now see the potential and have become rabid fans. Not only have they been able to generate leads and enquiries but it has helped them significantly reduce their promotional budget just through this one small change in approach.
Your average employee has over 250 followers on social media and spends over 7 hours a week on Facebook. If your company has a restrictive policy on using social media I would suggest a rethink, as you are missing out on the opportunity to drive the growth of your business. Of course I don’t recommend that you turn a blind eye to employees who waste time on social media. Instead train them to master social brand sharing to generate exposure for your products or services.
Providing the right social media training and encouraging your employees to promote your brand through their social media channels will give your brand the visibility it needs to reach critical mass. Sustained activity will entrench your brand in the minds of your prospects, who will be favourably inclined towards your brand when it’s time for them to buy a product in your category.
Just like using any other marketing channel to make the best use of this opportunity, I strongly recommend that you document clear Employee Advocacy guidelines on how content is shared by your employees on their social networks.
For instance employees can be encouraged to tweet or share an original post to minimize risk. The downside is that this is less engaging as it’s likely to have a formal tone of voice. On the other hand, employees sharing content with their own comments provides greater meaning to their network and has a greater chance of being shared and liked. The larger your organisation the greater will be the need to formulate detailed employee advocacy guidelines.
The phenomenal rise of social media has created its own challenges. With so many channels to choose from, which ones are right for your business? What works for one organisation may not necessarily work for another. I would recommend keeping to the most recognized social media channels – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as a start. Your product, service and target audience play an important role in choosing your communication channels.
As a general rule I would suggest using LinkedIn if you focus on the Business-to-Business (B2B) market and Facebook if you market consumer products.
While there are many positives to Employee Advocacy, there’s always the possibility an adverse remark or comment could spread like wildfire and trigger a backlash for your organisation. This is why I am a firm advocate of actively monitoring employee advocacy.
Look for unusual activity such as a sudden spurt in the number of shares. As they say bad news sells and it’s best to nip any potential damage to the brand before it escalates.
Active monitoring of Employee Advocacy will also help identify employees who are your best advocates. I would suggest introducing Initiatives such as ‘Social Media Advocate of the Month’ can be introduced to reward the best performer. Providing incentives such as gift vouchers or awards can go a long way to generating enthusiasm for your employees.
Ultimately the success of your social advocacy initiatives will depend upon the willingness of your employees to participate. Remember, their idea of hanging out on social media is not to tell their friends about what’s going on in the organisation they work for. So how do you get your employees to actively participate when many of them are already stretching themselves to meet deadlines?
While it’s up to you to determine what would best suit your organisation depending on the culture, holding contests where the most active employees who tick the box on prearranged criteria for sharing social media posts get rewarded is a great way to kick-off your social employee advocacy program. Rewards can range from movie tickets and restaurant vouchers to a paid holiday on the employees birthday or any other ideas you can think of.
Designing a social media advocacy policy can be daunting for most organisations. As a social media trainer and consultant, I was fortunate to understand the complexity, cost and resources involved in implementing such an initiative.
Large organisations with IT resources are able to invest in developing software programs to design their own employee advocacy programs.
It’s a well known fact that people generally see through the pretty picture painted by CEOs of a company and put a lot more faith in reading online reviews, Facebook posts and Tweets. The collective social media network of your employees is huge and leveraging it to your advantage through an Employee Advocacy program can help you grow your business faster than ever.
Fortunately for organisations there are software solutions emerging to streamline the task. As one of Australia’s leading providers of social media consulting services, we have carefully analysed the different software available and excited to partner with Smarp, as their licensed distributor for the Asia Pacific region. A mature leader in this area, SmarpShare is simple to use, practical and an affordable integrated solution that makes implementing an Employee Advocacy program a breeze. Feel free to contact us for further information.