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7 Steps to Starting a Kick-Ass Employee Advocacy Programme

Let’s start this week’s newsletter with one of my favourite slightly overused-yet-not-quite-overplayed cliches.

“People buy from people.”

Despite the name, business-to-business selling usually involves humans coming together at one point or another to decide whether a purchase is going to be the right fit. After all, a lot of money is likely to change hands and you want to look someone in the eye as they say “this will be worth it.”

That’s why employee advocacy is such a powerful tool, not only for winning deals, but also amplifying brand messages, building trust, attracting talent, and so much more.

It’s particularly attractive for companies without a huge amount of budget to spend on paid social ads. We’re all aware of the difficulties that most social platforms throw our way in an effort to make us pay-to-play in order to grow our audience on social.

By encouraging your employees to share your content across their own personal channels, you can grow your organic reach massively. On average, they will be connected to 10x more people than your brand — people, coincidentally, who will trust them and their recommendations more than yours.

But there’s a hair in the soup…

Of course, there is a common concern that I’ve heard come up time and again when trying to win approval for running a formalised campaign. It’s a tune that goes a little like this — “if we help our employees raise their profile, we’re effectively asking our competitors to poach them!”

Look, I can’t argue with the logic that the more visible a person is – and assuming they’re good at their job, of course — the more likely it is they will receive interest from other companies.

But isn’t that a good thing? Doesn’t that prove you’ve invested in the right talent? There are a thousand reasons why someone may choose to seek out a new job; placing restrictions on their ability to build their personal brand is simply another one.

IMO it’s infinitely more beneficial to a company and its culture to not just allow an employee to work towards raising their profile, but to encourage and proactively support it with the aim of bringing benefit to the company.

So, with that out of the way, how do you get started once you have the buy-in?

Here’s my 7-step suggestion.

#1. Objectives

No new initiative should start without having a clear sense of what it is you want to get out of it. You wouldn’t jump on a plane that you didn’t know where it was going – the same goes with building an employee social media advocacy programme.

Is it building brand awareness? Generating leads? Engaging your employee community? All of the above and throw in some talent acquisition while we’re at it?

You can do all of this. And more. But you need to be clear upfront on what it is you want to achieve if you’re going to convince the board to sign-off on next years’ budget.

Whatever you decide, make sure your goals are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Airy fairy objectives like “be the most well-respected brand in our sector” are like a bucket full of holes – they don’t hold water.

Here’s a good example of a SMART employee advocacy objective.

“Increase the number of leads generated via social media platforms by 10% this quarter by sending a daily internal newsletter to our staff with content suggestions they can post across their profiles.”

#2. Content Plan

You know you want your employees to shout from the rooftops about all the great things that your company is doing — but where should they start?

They need a steady stream of pre-approved content. Things like company news, employee stories, educational content, user-generated content, testimonials and media mentions. Basically, anything you as a marketing team wants the world to know about the organisation.

I talk about how to package up this content when sending it to your employee community below. Here’s a preview — it’s more than just sending a URL link.

Remember that it’s not always about starting a conversation; it’s equally important to be a part of the conversation. While you will want to share content for your colleagues to post themselves, it’s also handy to provide guidance on company lines around current trends. This will give your colleagues something to say when they see other industry influencers talking about hot industry topics.

#3. Guidelines

One of the ways you can persuade any naysayers worried about the risk of empowering an employee base to start posting on social media is to create a watertight guidelines document. In essence, these are your rules of engagement – the dos and don’ts for your colleagues to follow.

There are a few things this should include as standard.

  • Benefits. You want to come in strong on the ‘why’ an individual should spend their time advocating your brand – both for the company, but more importantly, for them as an individual. Stick this right at the start as your hook.
  • Logistics. This is the information they need around what they should or can share AND how they can get hold of it. If you’re using an employee advocacy platform, explain how it works. If your colleague has uncertainties on whether something is kosher, describe the way in which they can escalate. This is the meat and bones of your guidelines document.
  • Legalities. Some industries will have strict rules around the promotion of a product or service by individuals seen to be operating in a professional capacity. Insurance is an example, where policies typically have to be recommended and purchased through a broker. Be crystal clear where the boundaries are.

Regarding length, remember that you’re not trying to rewrite War and Peace here. Keep it as short as possible. The longer it is, the less likely someone will read it. Try and aim for 5 pages at the absolute maximum.

It’s often best to hold a workshop when sharing this for the first time (and to repeat that workshop regularly for new starters or anyone that needs a refresher.) It’ll open the door for people to ask questions if they have them, plus give you the opportunity to identify any social superstars you may want to nurture.

#4. Support

One of the biggest barriers to setting up an employee advocacy programme is uncertainty. Your colleagues are unsure about ‘what’ to share or whether posting something will land them in hot water.

This uncertainty leads to paralysis which leads to inaction. If an employee is unable to make a decision – or quickly get the information that will allow them to make one – they will do nothing. You must constantly reinforce your presence as one that is there to help.

If someone is unsure on whether they can use the words “s*** hot” when explaining your most recent feature release, they must know exactly how and to whom that question should be escalated to.

One of the ways you can minimise the number of questions you receive is by running frequent social media training sessions. I could write an entire post on this, but for the sake of brevity, I recommend checking out this great 2-week plan from Sapir Segal over at Oktopost.

#5. Platform

I use the term ‘platform’ to describe the mechanism in which you provide content ideas to your employees for them to share.

This could be taken literally to mean a piece of software, of which there are plenty out there to choose from. G2 has a whole category dedicated to advocacy in fact. But it could be just as simple as a Google Sheet or Slack Group that’s updated regularly — which is where I’d probably start while still validating the idea.

Whatever you choose to use, here are some suggestion of what to include as a starter for ten:

  • Story. A description of the message or update you want your colleagues to share. For example, a new product launch or the fact you’ve just won a new client.
  • Copy. Suggested text they can simply copy and paste into their social media account. Make sure to provide unique suggestions for each platform.
  • Image. Content paired with an image attracts 94% more views than without, so include a resized one for each platform when needed.
  • Restrictions. Happy to share the story but not the whole story? Be clear on if there are details that should not make their way into the public domain.
  • Contact. Take every opportunity to emphasise that any questions or concerns should be escalated before something is set out into the wild.

#6. Incentives

It’s important to say that you cannot – and should not – force your employees to advocate for your company publically.

Some people choose to keep their personal and professional lives separate and that is to be respected. In other cases, there will be legal ramifications in an individual promoting a particular product or service in a professional capacity — see my insurance example above.

Employee advocacy must always be of an individual’s free will and supported at an organisational level

What a company can do is offer incentives to encourage someone to take part in a programme. Prizes like gift cards or company swag work a treat. You could even make it into a game by including a specific hashtag for them to use and a leaderboard that features the individuals with the most impressions.

Have fun with it.

#7. Pilot Group

You have the buy-in. You know your objectives. You’ve written the guidelines.

Now it’s time to get started.

Every Social Media Manager I’ve ever spoken to that’s set-up and ran an employee advocacy programme has given me the same advice — start small and grow slowly.

This is particularly important when you have a sceptical group of naysayers within the organisation. One poorly timed tweet or overshare of private company information can undo all of your efforts in a moment.

Start with a pilot group. Ideally, no more than ten people already well on their way to building a personal brand. You can identify these people by sending around a quick questionnaire on social media aptitude.

This is a manageable number to stay in contact with regularly to understand whether the guidelines work in practice, if your platform for distributing content is efficient and whether you’re seeing early signs of success.

Once you’re comfortable, grow the group by another ten. Rinse and repeat.