With the current use of social media and the erosion of some outdated marketing techniques, an increasing number of organisations, as well as marketing and communication professionals, are waking up to the potential of employees acting as digital brand ambassadors and all the benefits this can bring, including generating business, raising awareness for their brand and attracting talents. And the COVID-19 pandemic has absolutely pushed this trend further.
This blog article deep dives into the whys and hows of launching an advocacy programme and outlines some of the lessons we’ve learned so far since the start of our own programme five years ago. Now hold on to your seat (or business cards) and let us guide you through the employee advocacy journey.
What is employee advocacy, at least from our perspective
“Employee advocacy” describes any action employees take to advocate for their company, advancing their personal brand and promoting its values and expertise. Here, we’ll mostly focus on “Digital Employee Advocacy”, meaning when employees spread their company’s content and messages using their own social media accounts.
And to give you some idea of the growth in this area, according to this article, by next year, 90 percent of B2B social media marketing strategies will include scaled employee advocacy programmes.
For PwC Luxembourg, our programme, started in 2017, serves our brand visibility by showcasing our people’s competencies as well as any content we produce locally — our most devoted readers may remember our previous article on the subject. At that time, our initiative was only one year old and we still had a lot to learn.
Fast forward to today, our programme is still up and running. We learned a lot in the last two years about what people expect from joining the programme, what kind of content we should curate and what coaching is required to keep people engaged in the short and long run.
Trust as a driving force of employee advocacy
Here’s a task for you: take a moment to scroll through your social media feeds — Instagram, TikTok or Linkedin, you name it. Is there something that catches your eye? We’ll bet it’s full of people, famous or not, isn’t it?
Now, a question for you: when you look at all these posts, would you be more willing to click on one from a friend or a colleague or from a corporate account that you probably don’t know very well or don’t have a connection with? We bet the answer is the former. The reason behind this is because people trust people.
For an organisation, employees represent essential trusted resources. Word-of-mouth plays a key role. It’s considered more credible and it can reach more diverse audiences. In return, by empowering employees to act as brand ambassadors in a well-structured advocacy programme, they gain the authority to influence others and be seen as thought leaders within their network.
In a business-to-business (B2B) market, there used to be a common belief that companies per se were the target of corporate messages. But a company is only an entity. The real targets are the people that are part of the company. They are the ones who have aspirations and face challenges, and are looking for solutions to overcome them.
As stated above, trust is an essential part of the current digital communications world, and who’s better placed to provide clients or prospects with relevant business solutions than fellow individuals facing the same? Therefore, from a social-selling perspective, this dynamic would improve lead generation and eventually help in better targeting clients and prospects and attracting new businesses.
Talent acquisition, an underestimated aspect of an advocacy programme is a good, concrete example. In the “Great Resignation” context we’re living in, relying on employees to promote specific job offers and promote their workplace and its values can help to better target profiles in high demand and increase the visibility of a company.
Putting yourself in a candidate’s shoes, you would probably feel more inclined to apply for a job if a former colleague or classmate shared it on social media as opposed to it coming from a company’s corporate account, wouldn’t you?
What are the benefits of an advocacy programme for employees?
We trust that by now we’ve convinced you that implementing a digital employee advocacy programme is great for organisations, but what about employees? What’s in it for them?
By acting as brand ambassadors, employees are able to enhance their personal brand, keep up with industry trends, and also expand their networks. Ultimately, it can help them to become recognised professionals within their industry.
However, for any personal brand to grow, it needs to be visible to an audience. That requires being active and using the same content marketing techniques organisations do. Hence, being onboarded in an advocacy programme allows employees to benefit from curated content, based on their area of expertise.
The lessons learned, five years after implementing our advocacy programme
Have a key person to oversee the programme
One of the most common mistakes when running an advocacy programme is that it’s often not considered a programme, but as an additional task that’s often forsaken until the end of the day when energy and inspiration are at their lowest.
We’ve learned that once someone on your team is fully committed to running the programme the results can be tremendous and the programme will definitely run smoothly in years to come. By fully committing, we mean developing a well-thought content strategy, dedicating time to curating content, coaching and onboarding people and monitoring the performance of employee’s publications.
Encourage your employees to customise their messages
Some organisations running a digital advocacy programme often rely on user-friendly software that helps them to better distribute their content with predefined social media messages. While it’s a good practice that keeps ambassadors engaged and eases their life, you should also encourage them to add their personal touch, based on their background, knowledge and experiences.
This will make their posts more authentic and credible and their networks will likely engage more. The reason why is because people prefer to read personal stories and opinions as opposed to standardised corporate messages. And, as a consequence, your ambassadors’ personal brand will improve, they’ll build trust with their connections and be seen as true thought leaders within both theirs and your network.
Be aware of your market and create an inclusive, motivated community
When implementing a digital advocacy strategy, assessing the size of your market or the country you operate in is essential. Indeed, having currently 3000 employees at PwC Luxembourg, we concluded it’s not feasible to onboard all of our employees into our programme for two main reasons.
On the one hand, Luxembourg is a small country, where, like in a small village, everyone tends to know each other. So having all our employees sharing similar content would be overwhelming in terms of PwC news and inevitably have a negative impact on our brand.
On the other hand, people have different levels of interest in becoming a brand advocate. This is a key aspect to keep in mind, as you want to onboard people who are really motivated to take part in your programme and be active.
We currently have over 170 ambassadors in our programme and we put an emphasis on welcoming people from different lines of services, grades, backgrounds, experiences, interests and seniority. Doing this enables us to create a real community within our programme and to benefit from a diverse network of connections — something that may be more difficult to achieve through corporate channels.
Remember the importance of diversifying the content
Besides encouraging your employees to share the thought leadership content your organisation produces, you should also encourage them to be strategically diverse. This means they should go beyond content related to their core field and post about other matters that reflect who they are as individuals, as citizens and as professionals.
This will benefit them in many ways. It will echo their personality, and show to their social media connections that they have various interests and they are aware of and open to other points of views. This smart combination of corporate and reliable third-party content, will strengthen their trustworthiness and increase their posts’ engagement.
That being said, be mindful of employees sharing content about which they’re not particularly knowledgeable or really interested in. You should explain that doing so is actually detrimental to their personal brand as it will hardly have an impact and resonate with their network.
Don’t be afraid of sharing human-related topics
It goes without saying that sharing business-related topics makes total sense in your advocacy programme, but what about people-related topics?
Over the past years, we’ve learned the importance of giving employees the possibility to share articles about leadership, management, emotional intelligence or organisational culture in the workplace. People are increasingly interested in reading and sharing content about such topics with their networks, especially during hard times.
Take the COVID-19 pandemic example. As people were struggling to adapt to new ways of working, to collaborate with their teams remotely and to manage the blurred lines between their professional and private lives, sharing relevant pieces of content proved to be a smart strategy.
Analysing our performance, we notice that this kind of content often gets high engagement. This is a key insight that shows people on social media, including LinkedIn — the so-called “professional network”— are looking for content that touches on a personal and deep level.
To sum up, business topics tell what your people are doing, what their expertise is and how they can better help your clients; but human-related content tells people about who they really are as a person and especially as a leader.