The following article was written by Jock Purtle. Jock has been an entrepreneur since he started his first business at 19. Since then he has gone on to run several successful companies and is currently CEO of Digital Exits, business brokerage. Throughout his career, he has become an expert on topics such as business value, marketing, employee relations and SEO. Now, he enjoys writing about his experiences to serve as a resource for other business owners.
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Modern marketing comes in many shapes and sizes depending on a litany of different factors. Brands can still reach their audiences through traditional mediums, such as print publications and direct mail, but now they can also access their target market within a wide range of digital touchpoints. Platforms like a company blog, social media, search engines, etc have all expanded the reach of the modern brand. However, even as marketing gets more digital, there is no greater tool than the power of word of mouth.
An endorsement from a trusted friend, family member or online resource still has the most influence on people’s decisions, so finding ways to turn people into ambassadors can be an effective way of helping to expand your reach and bring in new customers.
Ideally, to get to this point, you would delight your customers so much that they can’t help it but spread the news about your brand. But in a competitive marketplace, this is tough to do, even for the best of the best. As a result, marketers are looking for other ways to get people to help them promote their brand with word-of-mouth marketing. The use of influencers is all the rage these days. But there’s another method that often gets overlooked but that can be very valuable in helping you reach your target audience in meaningful ways: employee advocacy.
What is Employee Advocacy?
Employee advocacy is essentially a marketing strategy where you turn your loyal employees into brand ambassadors. It’s where you get your employees to voluntarily promote your company’s products or services outside of their normal job functions.
However, using employee advocacy to grow your business is much easier said than done.
Here are four things to consider to help you use employee advocacy to actually grow your brand.
Start By Identifying Where You Are
The first thing to do is to set a benchmark. If your employees are currently hesitant to promote your brand, you need to find out why. Is it a lack of incentives? Is it because they don’t feel as though they’d be recognized for doing it? Or do they simply not believe in your company? (Something that would be a major red flag.)
To do this, you’ll want to start by doing an employee survey. Not only will this help you identify how to make your employee advocacy program more effective, but it will also give you some insight into employee engagement and satisfaction.
However, employee surveys can be costly and time-consuming. Consider bringing in some outside help to get them done. An external consultant or a professional employer organization, for example, can come in and conduct the survey and then present you with the key findings so that you know where to focus your energy.
But if you’re struggling to turn employees into ambassadors, it’s likely because of one of the following reasons:
Company Culture and Employee Engagement
Engaged employees are happier and more productive. But they’re also more likely to serve as ambassadors. Think about it: when employees feel a strong connection to their place of work, and when they feel strongly about the products or services their employer offers, then they’re more likely to recommend others to become customers.
Improving engagement to the point where people are willing to become ambassadors, though, is no small task. Engagement is affected by a whole host of factors, ranging from compensation to company culture. So the first step in any employee advocacy program needs to be an internal audit. Find out what’s holding people back from really diving into the company, and then do everything you can to address this.
For example, if people don’t feel as though there are enough professional development opportunities, then consider working to expand your training programs to meet your employees’ needs. Or if employees believe the environment is too stuffy, consider implementing policies that make the office a more relaxed, easy-going workplace.
Reshaping culture and improving engagement is a slow process, but it’s not impossible to do. And if you want your employee advocacy efforts to pan out, it’s important you address these two key areas at the same time.
Make it Easy for People to Participate
Social media has greatly expanded the potential of employee advocacy programs. Employees already have a social circle, and these platforms have helped expand the reach of these communities. Several major brands, including AT&T, HP and IBM, have made use of this phenomena to grow their brands and reach new audiences.
However, for this to be successful, you as an employer need to do your part. It’s not enough to just tell people to post about the company on their social media accounts. There needs to be a purpose behind what they say, and you also need to be sure their content is on-message. And a good way to do this is to make the content for them.
When launching their employee advocacy program, all three of the brands mentioned above also created platforms where their employees could access previously-curated content that was designed for a specific reason. This not only made it super easy for employees to participate, but it also gave each company some degree of control over the content that made it out to employees’ inner circle, increasing participation rates while also improving performance of the program.
Last but not least, for employee advocacy to work, you need to give people a reason to participate. Obviously improving employee engagement and satisfaction is the first step—unhappy employees are not going to go the extra mile—but this isn’t enough, even though we wished it would be.
As a result, you need to address your employees’ “what’s in it for me?” concerns. But when doing this, it’s important to strike a balance. If you give too much, then you’ll not only run the risk of people participating just for the reward, but it could also erode the authenticity of your campaign. If employees are doing things just for the incentive, then this will show through to their audiences, and their followers will be less likely to respond to these employee endorsements.
Consider offering small things, such as the opportunity to work from home one day, or small gift cards to local shops and restaurants. And link these rewards to performance, e.g. only give it out when an employee succeeds in converting someone in their circle to a customer.
Be Careful With Cash
Steer clear of offering cash rewards, as this can sometimes get out of hand and encourage people to participate for the wrong reasons, and giving out rewards can leave you spending more than you’re gaining with your program.
Overall, the goal is to build up employee engagement enough so that even just the smallest reward will push people over the edge and encourage them to participate in your advocacy programs.
Turn Employees into Ambassadors
For an employee advocacy program to contribute to company growth, you need buy-in from as many people as possible. Start by determining where you are, and then work to get people involved by focusing on employee engagement and company culture, as well as by facilitating and rewarding participation. Getting to this point will not happen overnight, but a well-planned, consistent approach can turn employees into ambassadors, helping you reach new audiences and grow your business.
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