There’s an emerging trend in the business world right now called “employee advocacy,” and big brands like Salesforce, Humana and IBM are leading the charge when it comes to successful implementation of such programs. Essentially, employee advocacy programs rally employees to actively promote their company’s messages as part of their job function. With these programs, employees – a company’s greatest asset – become a crucial arm of marketing and brand building.
Employee advocacy programs are increasingly attractive to business owners and executives, but successful implementation comes with a fair set of challenges. According to the 2016 JEM State of Employee Advocacy Survey of 134 companies, 40 percent expressed neutral or dissatisfied reactions to their programs. Challenges outlined include not garnering enough employee participation to make an impact, having difficulty measuring progress and success, lack of preparing the right content to share and not having the right tools and technology on hand.
The challenges above are not meant to discourage companies from implementing employee advocacy programs, but rather they propose an opportunity to discuss methods and tools that may better support the program to ensure overall success.
Goals, challenges and opportunities
Respondents to the JEM survey cited the goals of employee advocacy programs are to enhance the company’s thought leadership position in the market, expand brand reach and improve employee engagement.
To help achieve these goals, it’s natural for employees to turn to familiar social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook as the end all be all solution for communicating messages. After all, the tools are most likely already widely used by employees. But employees’ social media platforms aren’t easy to monitor, making it more difficult to track progress, review messaging and gauge participation.
The ideal platform for executing employee advocacy is one that’s collaborative, open and combines content, network and tools. This type of platform offers a simple, more targeted solution to achieving employee advocacy goals. Such platforms address most of the challenges outlined earlier and also encourage companies to take an outside-the-box approach to sharing their messages – one that uses learning and content marketing to achieve optimal results.
Here’s what a collaborative platform can provide employees to help maximize their brand-building efforts:
1 A unique approach to disseminating messages: In order for content to resonate with audiences outside of your business, employees have to share meaningful content. Developing impactful content from scratch on an ongoing basis is difficult, even for the most seasoned employee. Through an open learning platform, employees have access to thousands of expertly produced resources covering topics relevant to a wide array of industries. Pairing expertly produced content with your own company messages not only simplifies content creation, but it also balances promotion with learning. For example, an employee may be trying to build a relationship with a prospective client specializing in the legal industry. The employee could search the library, piece together published works relevant to an industry trend (maybe a video, and a chapter or two from popular legal books), add his or her own comments to the compilation of content and disseminate the bundle of content to the customer. By presenting messages in this way, the customer not only learns more about the trend, but he or she captures a glimpse of your company’s expertise.
2 An avenue to garner feedback from customers: By sharing expertly produced content with personal content interpretations, employees pave the way for open and honest feedback from customers. Collaborative platforms allow for this dialogue to take place in one, central location. And to address the issue of employee participation, the more employees use these types of platforms, the easier it is to pinpoint natural leaders within your organization. Those leaders can then help grow the advocacy program by encouraging others to join in.
3 An open invitation into a true, collaborative learning experience: Finally, once rapport is built, employees can establish an unlimited number of groups with customers to discuss new titles, topics and trends, as well as answer questions and share ideas that will give your customer a competitive edge. Not only will the customer have access to the latest works covering the topics most relevant to them, they’ll be able to engage more easily with your employees in a natural, non-sales-oriented way.
The traditional way to promote a brand is to have the marketing and sales team push out blog posts and promotional pieces that lack specific industry content. But as employees continue to take on the role of marketing as “brand advocates,” it makes sense to equip them with the proper tools that combine content, network and collaboration. With this structure, opportunities to promote the company brand and to better service customers at the same time, are limitless.
Mike Conner is Chief Evangelist of BlueBottleBiz, a collaborative learning platform for business professionals. [Editor’s disclosure:] LID Publishing, the publisher of Dialogue is related to Knowledge in Action the owner of the BlueBottleBiz platform.