If you want to rent an apartment in a building, don't meet the landlord - talk to the tenants first. So goes the wisdom in knowing circles. The reason is simple: While the landlord/lady will paint a rosy picture, the tenants will share the real one. The inside view always comes from the insider, which holds at the corporate and workplace level.

In other words, if your following interview is lined up with company X, make sure you read the employee reviews before sending the suit to the dry cleaners. If you are on a panel thinking of nominating company Y as an 'Outstanding Workplace of the Year', hold the thought until you have had a conversation with their support staff – security guards, drivers, blue collars out how sensitive and inclusive their HR policies are.

If you are a client who has shortlisted a company for your next project, find out about their work ethics and professionalism by having an aside with their 'extended universe' (dealers, channel partners, and gig freelancers) where the real organizational character usually reveals itself first. The industry calls this 'insider opinion' employee advocacy.

Data makes a strong case.

  • More people (53%) trust an employee than (47%) a CEO. Even domain experts working for the company pull more trust (65%) than the owner.
  • A Cisco study noted that social content posted by employees rakes in 8X more engagement than content shared by their bosses and employers.
  • According to a Linkedin executive who had scanned over 50,000 posts on the site, employees tend to have 10X more followers than the company itself.
  • In a not dissimilar vein, SproutSocial finds in their studies that people are 16X more likely to check out a social post that has been shared by a friend (who works for brand A) than social content from brand A itself.
  • LinkedIn also found that even though only about 2% of employees re-share their organization's social content, they garner as much as 20% of the company's total engagement.
  • Talent-seeking jobs place a premium on current employees' opinions, with professional and social networks now their trusted, go-to tools for job search.

What is employee advocacy?

Employee advocacy is all about turning your employees into your company's 24X7 promotion engine. It's about them driving awareness for the brand through every channel possible - online (emails, social media, messaging) and offline (trade fairs, workshops, and word of mouth).

Employee advocacy involves employees tracking and intervening in social conversations around the brand with honest reviews, relevant recommendations, and helpful tips on products and services.

It's about employees developing a sense of ownership and accountability for the brand and becoming fans, evangelists, and mascots rolled into one. A Fast Company article headline says it all,

Vocal Employees are a Company's Best PR

While the term employee advocacy has several implications for leaders, brand custodians, and founders, the core connotation is unambiguous and stark.  If you want to make an impression with the outside world, look within, start with your people - understand what an employee advocacy program is and what it can do to your organization.

Role of employee advocacy program in your organization

Here is what an employee advocacy program can do to nearly every function of your organization:

1. Recruitment

Employees who are ambassadors of your brand help you become a 'Great Place to Work' with validation that comes 'straight from the horse's mouth' and is therefore regarded much more credible than expert's opinion or theoretical research.

As per Linkedin's B2B University, companies with a robust employee advocacy program are 58% more likely to attract (and 20% more likely to retain).

2. Culture

Employees who sparkle for the outer world will naturally spread sunshine inwards, thereby helping create a culture of belonging and pride.

3. Marketing

  • Build credibility into your outreach programs and acquisition funnels by incorporating testimonials, views, and stories of employees and workers at every possible touchpoint – video, white papers & ebooks, campaigns, employee advocacy through social media, and others.

Linkedin’s B2B University states that social content shared by employees – and therefore considered more authentic – has nearly double the click-through rate (CTR) of shares at the corporate level.

4. Sales

Increase the quality of your sales pipeline. According to a Deloitte finding, 72% of sales folks leveraging social media consistently outperform counterparts who don’t.

5. Customers

Enjoy ‘better quality customers. As per a Deloitte study, customers referred by an employee (who has doubled up as an ambassador) tend to carry almost a 40% retention rate.

6. Costs

Tapping into the power of employee advocacy through social media can also reduce the cost of customer acquisition (CAC), as this graphic clarifies.

7. Human capital

Interestingly, advocacy benefits employees too. Almost 86% of employees who took part in a formal advocacy program in their organization admitted that it affected their career paths positively.‍

Getting your employee advocacy program on the road

An employee advocacy program must be strategic, voluntary, and autonomous. In other words, it must have a tangible vision with measurable targets, it must not be forced upon your employees, and it must carry enough conviction and steam to run a long course.

Findings of a study showed that “An identity of entrepreneurial thinking manifested in customer orientation and pragmatism helps loyalty, an identity of caring that manifests in cohesion and comfort helps satisfaction, and an identity of success by unruliness that manifests in risk-taking and freedom helps identification. If all these are present, advocacy is the highest.”

Employee advocacy best practices

Employee advocacy seeks social selling skills amongst employees, with high-growth businesses realizing why employee advocacy is important in human services. Companies have started creating employee advocacy programs because they directly increase employee engagement.

Employee advocacy best practices help build networks and connections that help attract customers and employees. The brand awareness and social reach of the organization content shared by employees are more significant than the message conveyed by the brand's owned social media channels. With the continuous decline of brands' social reach across social media, employee advocacy best practices are a simple solution for effective brand communication. Even Singapore's social media statistics show that social media is an excellent platform for this.

Employee advocacy tools make it easy for employees to share your branded content, increasing your brand's social reach. This is effective for creating brand awareness and increasing employee engagement.

Looking to kick-start or fine-tune your Employee Advocacy Project? Here is the base roadmap that covers the essential milestone boxes you need to tick:

1. It all starts with the culture

Culture is an emotion code. Your workplace is wired around. Rites of legacy, habits of the founder(s), and ongoing innovations by talent leaders contribute to creating your company’s culture.

A strong culture weaves in the sense of belonging to and affection with the organization–something that can turn employees into lucky fans.
Areas to focus on while creating an ‘advocacy culture’ are :

  • Start with why

Nothing binds employees closer to the organization (and converts them into loyal advocates) than when they share a common target, or their goals overlap on critical points along the journey.

A corollary of Simon Sinek'sSinek's now-famous theory around this concept is that companies that start with a strong sense of purpose will more easily attract similar-thinking talent since the allure of a ''common adventure'' can be irresistible.

Organic teamwork develops engineers' better value and impacts for society and the company's markets naturally - via the power of synergized momentum.

  • Transparency

Honesty and trust are crucial to intimacy between worker and company. Employees who are kept in the dark about developments and happenings inside the boardroom, or feel that they aren’t being told the whole story, will always feel like an ‘outsider’, which is not the best recipe to create supporters who advocate your vision spontaneously.

Make workers feel they matter by nurturing communication and supplying data at every step and turn of the workflow.

  • Team building

Tribes are happier than individuals. Employees who feel like part of a team nurse have a greater attachment with the company. Whether big announcements or small banter, ensure the free flow of interactions across rank and file to build cohesion and chemistry, essential to making a vocal brand evangelist.

  • Empowerment

Figure out the pulse of your employees via surveys and feedback and create an ‘enabling organizational matrix’ that not only records them but implements them as well. This allows you to maximize potential, fulfill wish lists and help teams be more productive (thereby lifting their self-esteem) via flexible role design, intuitive (as opposed to intrusive) coaching and mentoring, or continuous learning and growth opportunities.

Employees who feel empowered and find their worth steadily growing tend to be grateful for the opportunity, and, not surprisingly, they make for lifelong cheerleaders for the organization.

  • Rewards and recognition

A culture that fails to spot and celebrate its employees’ potential and performance or doesn’t stimulate and sharpen it regularly will either lose its competitive edge or lose its best minds—usually both. Create target-to-role fitments that recognize and leverage your employees’ talents.

Stoke competitive spirit and nudge behavior to help them punch above their weight and achieve goals they never thought possible, and recognize success publicly by rewarding appropriately and instantly.

2. Set the strategy

Your employee advocacy program needs to have specific crosshairs and goals. What do you want the exercise to achieve?

Gain share of voice (which means garnering a bigger slice of online conversations and mentions), enhance organic reach, build hype for an oncoming product launch, lower marketing costs, create sustainable lead pipelines, attract the best talent, or something else?

A clear employee advocacy strategy will help you customize the right frameworks and processes and ensure your employee ambassadorship program delivers the best results.

Keep channels of communication with your employee-advocates open so that they stay updated on changes, behavioral expectations, and goals at all times while sharing their views and feedback with you.

3. Identify your advocacy heroes

While everyone in your organization is officially eligible (and ideally, expected) to be its bonafide champion, not everyone will be equipped or ready for it from Day One.

Every organization has 'natural born socialites,' that is, individuals who are more familiar with and savvy about digital dynamics and social media behavior. You will optimize your employee advocacy program's efficiency - and boost its outcome – much if you can successfully spot these employees.

Let them lead the show internally and ensure sustainable momentum over the long term by:

  • Becoming early adopters.
  • Spreading awareness and clarity on protocols, guidelines, processes, and benefits with peers - via intranets, word-of-mouth, and similar bridges.
  • Collect doubts, queries, and suggestions from employees and solve their hurdles from time to time so that the program can run smoothly.
  • Encourage employees to become more vocal and active advocates.
  • Setting the communication tone and flags on the company's online properties and social spaces makes it easy for others to understand and follow best practices, participate regularly, and power the movement forward.

4. Prepare a content pipeline

Make a blueprint of the kind of content you want your employees to share about your company.

  • Build a healthy blend of proprietary and curated material.
  • Ensure content formats are easy to share.
  • Keep the content on-brand (play up the organization’s unique achievements, contributions to the community, CSR initiatives, and team activities). Keep things exciting and aspirational so that employees will feel good sharing them.
  • Keep tracking KPIs that were agreed upon at the beginning of the program, such as organic shares, leads, or ‘share of voice’ (and make sure your employees are aware of them, too) so that you can keep refining the content iteratively.

5. Turn on the experience rewarding

No good deed should go unrewarded, certainly not when it comes to your employee advocacy program where motivation, as always key.

Recognizing employees has always been the simplest way to improve morale and performance and keep them pumped about their job (Source: HBR).

Charing up your champions with incentives (matched to the performance and mapped to wish lists) can play a big role in making your employee advocacy program a success. Gamify progress to stoke a healthy spirit of competition and maintain a leaderboard to track daily wins and weekly winners.

Rewards don’t always have to be of the material kind: You can link an active employee advocate (whose enthusiasm clearly shows and garners positive reaction online) to career growth in subtle and meaningful ways as well.

Remember that you have to come through on your promise (if you don’t, the premise and pillars of the activity, transparency, and trust will crumble), so keep your word by rewarding your glorious ambassadors without delay. An incentive delayed, after all, is an incentive denied.

6. Don’t forget to run eNPS surveys

eNPS surveys or the employee net promoter score surveys are nothing but the method of measuring how willing your employees are to recommend their workplace to friends and acquaintances. The biggest advantage of eNPS surveys is that it’s the fastest way to measure how engaged and loyal your employees are towards your organization.

Empuls as an eNPS survey provider, helps organizations of all sizes explore how their employees feel about their products and services. The software enables you to uncover hidden drivers of employee engagement and accurately determine the eNPS by simply asking employees how likely they are to advocate your brand to their friends and family. The software lets you customize questions, survey frequencies, and participant lists.

Cool success stories of employee advocacy

1. Let content lead: Zendesk

A player in the B2B space, Zendesk empowers its sales team to establish themselves as thought leaders in the industry (which, as a side effect, boosts the employees’ resumes and corporate clout) by letting them share articles produced by the company’s content team.

This not only turns employees deeply grateful (amping up loyalty and reducing churn cost exponentially) but is a reminder that high-quality content, when supported by the right technology, such as Bambu in the case of Zendesk, has few substitutes when it comes to lifting authority rank in the sector one is in, be it the company’s or its advocates.

2. Start from day one: Zappos

Zappos is quite an industry poster boy when it comes to employee engagement. Stories of its high-energy workplace make their way into the top publications and trends on social media regularly. CEO Tony Hsieh’s book ‘Delivering Happiness’ is the definitive guide for creating a people-first culture. The learning here – particularly for owners of small/medium-sized businesses and founders of start-ups – is that employee advocacy initiatives are best started small. In other words, from Day One.

3. Cheer from home: Trello

TRELLO - a mobile app that lets teams plan, collaborate, and manage projects from anywhere - is known for the fun posts its employees share on social media. This not only showcases company pride but lets potential employees know that Trello is a great place to work. Most of Trello’s employees work remotely, underscoring that one doesn’t need traditional models and frameworks to run a successful employee advocacy program. Certainly not in the #NextNormal. All that’s required is the will.

4. Recognize the fan within: Starbucks

Starbucks - the popular coffee company - takes its employee ambassador initiative to the next level with a different website built for the program. Employees can share their pics, videos, and information for the world to see. And while having the right tech platform helps, Starbucks’ real masterstroke lies in calling their employee-advocates ‘PARTNERS’. When you are valued so powerfully and publicly, you will be a natural superfan and need little push to promote your employer’s image.

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Manoj Agarwal

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Manoj Agarwal is the Co-Founder and CPO at Xoxoday. He is an MBA from IIM Kozhikode comes with 14 years of experience in building companies, technology, product, marketing, & business excellence.