Turn Employees into Brand Ambassadors with a Social Media Advocacy Program

Social Media Advocacy Program Video

Why not look inward to your own employees to help build your brand? In this video, Bob Tripathi interviews Social media consultant and Corporate Social Media Leader Casey Hall about how an employee advocacy program delivers exponential results by opening untapped social media markets. Also available as a podcast, click here to access!

Bob: Hi, This is Bob Tripathi with Digital Sparx Marketing. Today we are going to talk about a super fun topic–employee advocacy in social media and beyond. And since I’ve dabbled in that, and worked on a few projects, I thought I’ll invite someone who works on it day in day out. Welcome Casey. I know you’re going to talk about employee advocacy and social media. But would you mind introducing yourself to the audience?

Casey: Thank you very much, Bob. I’ve been very excited to be on the Bobcast today. My name is Casey Hall and I am a consultant for Corporate Social Media. I specialize in employee advocacy working with primarily larger global companies to help them empower their employees to help tell their brand’s story. So that is my business.

How to Empower Your Employees to Humanize Your Brand

Casey: I also know social media strategy, executive social activation and social selling. But I really feel like those things fit together really nicely in kind of a broader way of just empowering your people to humanize your brand.

That is my current role. I was in-house at a large global corporation for about 10 years before that. And briefly an attorney which I realized fairly quickly was not a career path and I was going to enjoy. I’m loving what I do now and glad to be here.

Bob: I think you just increased your lifespan by not practicing being an attorney. A good move– at least for the quality and the quality of life. And that was at Thomson Reuters?

Casey: Yes. Thomson Reuters.

Bob: So where do you see the whole social media and empowering your company team members your employees and making them the advocates? Can you give us one-o-one definition of what that means?

Casey: I think people talk about employee advocacy in a number of different ways and sometimes it’s confused with people measuring employee engagement which is slightly different. Well, it’s a completely different thing. When I talk about what employee advocacy means and the general sort of industry definition is giving your employees training and messaging that they can share on their own personal social media channels.

Train Your Employees to be Subject Matter Experts

Casey: So what this does is it gives them an opportunity to be subject matter experts to gain some visibility to build their professional networks. And that’s really important. I mean it does obviously help marketing communications to have this reach and this authority that is gained through having your employees who are ideally experts in their field sharing your messages. What I really like to focus on is how it’s benefiting the employees. Because I think if you focus on that professional development for employees it’s going to be a more successful program overall.

So giving those employees the training and the tools they need to help share your brand story and also to talk about the cool work that they’re doing. So I think that’s the general definition I follow. It’s closely associated with social selling sometimes or executive social media activation. I feel like those kinds of things are all on a little bit of a spectrum but employee advocacy is at the heart of it for me.

Bob: So I think the number one thing is most of the time for social media we look outwards.

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Change the Company Culture to Embrace Social Media Advocacy

Bob: We built this community to follow us and the right messaging but we work so hard doing that. But if we look inwards to team our people who basically should be our brand advocates. So you think the whole multiplication numbers you know like if you have 100 employees and the messages each person sends is a lot of noise. Do you think companies are leveraging that enough? Or do you think companies are just getting started when it comes to employee advocacy?

Casey: Yes there is a range. There are some companies who’ve been even before we were talking about employee advocacy as a specific thing. There were companies like IBM who were encouraging their employees to do blogs and things like that. I think that there are some companies that have just done this really well for most companies though in terms of having an official program that made it easy for employees.

It’s really been the last couple of years that they’ve gotten started and I think there’s been a lot of kind of false starts in companies too who heard about this idea in the last two years decided to give it a try or get a tool and start doing things but then they haven’t had the kind of growth that they’re expecting either, because they haven’t had a content strategy in place or training in place or just haven’t had the sort of internal culture that allows for this.

A lot of companies prohibited employees from talking about their company and not just because of FINRA or hip or other regulation. Just as a communication issue they didn’t want any employees sharing things. So I think going from a paradigm where you’re expressly telling employees that they can not share things on social media to one where you’re telling them that they can be the brand ambassadors, is a big move. So I think that you know that’s where we are right now.

A lot of companies are understanding the value and know that they can really increase their reach and authority if they have their employees doing this. But there’s still a cultural shift that needs to take place within a lot of company.

How to Get Employee Buy-In for a Social Media Program

Bob: I agree. I remember in the early days of social media late 2007, 2008 even the message on social needed to go through the corporate communications. And you know I think as a human race as a race we have progressed and social as part of everyday life so that’s why the evolution that you’re talking about makes complete sense.

I think the biggest challenge is you come up with the program and then people have unrealistic expectations. And that’s why they say, oh the pilot didn’t work. The reason is they might have unrealistic expectations but I think the biggest impediment I’ve seen is getting the employee buy-in. Everyone is loaded with work. Doesn’t matter– small company, big company, you’re short on resources. So I guess the question is how do you go about getting the employee buy-in into the program so then everyone does what they should be doing and is talking about the company?

Casey: That’s why I think it is really important to focus on how this is going to be beneficial to employers. And there’s a couple of ways that this is done. I think a lot of companies use some sort of gamification or leader boards to encourage employees. If you share a thing or you the most prolific share you get your Starbucks gift card or you get you know a Bose speaker or whatever it might be.

I have to say that I personally do not like gamification. It’s one of those things that I feel like if people are doing it just for the gift card thing you’re not going to have a great and authentic result. That being said I’ve looked at the data and I know that it’s effective in bringing up the numbers so I do help companies do that, but what I think is better if you can position this in a way that it really will benefit employees. Not just convincing them that it will benefit them but really truly benefiting them. And the biggest way that is going to be beneficial is helping in their professional development.

How to Change Behavior through Social Media Training

Casey: So one of the things I often start off start with is not asking employees to join an employee advocacy program, but rather say putting out a voluntary workshop that they can attend to optimize their LinkedIn profile. I think a lot of people know that they probably should update their LinkedIn profile that it’s a good thing for them to do but they just don’t know quite what to do. Don’t have the time. So I usually recommend offering these linkedIn profile optimization workshops which are purely to benefit the employee’s professional development.

Sometimes companies are worried that if they get their employees improving their linkedIn profiles they might be on the way out and that’s part of my response to that is the only thing keeping their employees there is that they haven’t updated the LinkedIn profile. You know that’s a whole much bigger problem than I can tolerate.

But by having employees who are well represented online it’s going to build your brand and I think that is the way the brands are often seen now. I mean every time that people go to a sales call or if they’re going to do some networking you look at the people who are going to meet with on LinkedIn and if you’re working with particular with a digital company or a technology company or any kind that wants to be innovative. If you’re meeting with a V.P. who doesn’t have a well filled out LinkedIn profile or not Manager Look I know right.

About how important it is to share industry knowledge and share your So I think you know it can be a brand issue for a company. So I put that first and say OK we’re going to offer this LinkedIn profile workshop and as part of that you go through the basics of how to optimize your profile, you adding that picture, you know using your media tiles and other things that you can do to make that LinkedIn profile look really strong.

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And then I also talk about the fact that for people who maybe haven’t used LinkedIn in a while but it’s more than just an online resume (and it has been for quite a while). It’s also this place where people share articles and discussion happens and you know a great thing to do is start sharing content about the work that you’re doing about where your company is doing what’s going on in the industry. And almost every time that I’m doing one of these workshops if I start talking firm when we first started doing this two years ago I want to get a 1,000 people. That was where I  started. We ended up with many more than that but you know when I insights, someone raises their hand and ask the question ‘I just don’t know where to get that kind of content and I don’t have time to go find it.’

And that’s where I introduce the employee advocacy program and explain that actually you know we set up a curated content stream specifically for people like you or in sales in Singapore or whatever it might be. And we have this great content stream for you. You can go through and choose the things that you want to share and we’ll make it as easy for you as possible and won’t take much time in that way they’re seeing it as something that the company is giving them is almost like a benefit rather than another thing that their boss is asking them to do on a Thursday morning when they’d rather be you know doing some of their core jobs.

Bob: I love it. So basically we’re just doing is you’re doing the art of subtle selling is don’t you tell them. So I think the first number one thing is employee buy-in and do anything like selling them a lunch-and-learn brown bag session, anything around as basic as how to optimize your LinkedIn profile and then just pitch in. This is what we have to if you are up for it.

Create a Content Strategy for Social Media

Casey: Yes certainly. And I think one of the things that I’ve seen be more successful and one of the mistakes that I made was trying to grow too quickly with the employee advocacy program. So, I had a goal I went to get in the was able to grow really quickly in the beginning what I’d failed at was to have that really kind of high- quality onboarding experience and the really specific content strategy. And so what I learned was that if you start with a small group who is motivated and is getting a high level of support and make sure that that small group is really really successful then it’s much easier to grow.

You start doing kind of roadshows or presentations on hey this group of people is you know doing awesome. They’re getting all this engagement they’ve gotten you way more people looking at their LinkedIn profile. We’ve driven all kinds of traffic back to our demand generation site whatever it might be. And then other people, whether they’re in sales or marketing, start to see that, hey there’s this group that’s getting this kind of special treatment and they’re getting this special kind of support for sharing things on LinkedIn and on Twitter or wherever else it might be. I want to do that like how do I get into this program? So almost making it kind of an exclusive thing that you know everybody who’s in this is really good. And so maybe if you are also doing really, well we’ll let you into the program.

That is a nice way to build it particularly with social selling but also with employee advocacy to have that aspirational thing that people can get into. The same way that internal marketing.

Bob: Absolutely. So basically then you get the initial early adopters and then make them the influences of the program and then let it spread just like any influencer program, instead of looking outwards. This is good.

So now, once you’ve got this early group on I think the thing is what kind of content do you want them to share? How does that come about? Which is step 2.

Casey: My preference is to have the content be quite specific for the different groups so I think sometimes companies will put together one stream of content that has all this high-level brand stories which should be a part of it. But I think that there is there’s something to be said for having really specific content.

So if you have subject matter experts like here in Minneapolis we have 3M so they have many engineers. And if you can give them you know really specific content that is maybe not of interest to you know the rest of the world in a great way but is really valuable to engineers, or you know I was an attorney. So if there is specifically like securities law things or insurance law we’re not looking to find content that is going to necessarily appeal to the entire world but you want to find content that’s going to resonate really strongly with that group of employees.

And then also with their networks. So you know as a former attorney my network is full of other attorneys. So I can talk about things but I probably wouldn’t generally otherwise that are really industry-specific and connect with those groups. So I think that you can really go into the weeds and do really specific with some of that content. People also like the brand or the employer brand content. So talking about how we did this great work with Habitat for Humanity or those sorts of things that content and ends up being fairly popular as well.

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Bob: Like causes, which I think ultimately indirectly have an impact on how you attract the new talent to write.

Position Decision Makers as Thought Leadership Experts for Social Media

Casey: The only other thing that I was going to recommend specifically for a content strategy for employee advocacy is finding executives and leaders within your company who are willing to produce some content. Whether that’s their own LinkedIn articles or on the company blog or on Forbes.com or CFO or whatever those places might be because what I’ve found is that people really like to share content that is from the mouth of their leaders.

So, if you can share an article on Linkedin that’s not just a marketing article but it’s actually something specific that was written by one of the leaders of your company talking about the industry or how they feel about professional development or whatever it might be, inserting more and more of that executive kind of thought leadership in. It’s one of the things that I found particularly successful.


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