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I recently attended a Social Media Breakfast (#SMBMAD) presentation by two members of American Family Insurance’s innovative social media department on the topic of employee advocacy. They were very clear that organic social media reach for companies is dead, and that employees can play a role in counteracting this.

 This post includes both information from that presentation and incorporates supplemental information from additional research.

What is employee social media advocacy?
Employee advocacy, in social media terms, refers to amplifying your organization’s marketing messages by leveraging the social media influence of your employees. This is done by making it easy for your employees to share company messages with their personal social networks.

An on-point employee advocacy program has three key components:
• It delivers relevant messages to your target audience, providing value to them.
• It supports your brand and enhances your culture as an organization.
• It generates share-worthy content, so your employees are inspired to share it with their family and friends.

Why do it?
No one likes to see their social feeds filled with sponsored content, no matter how relevant the algorithm predicts it should be. Let’s face it. Organizations are tolerated on social media just because they help keep networks free for others. As it is, social media channels are making participation more and more difficult for organizations unless they pay to play.

One quote from the American Family’s presentation, attributed to Augie Ray, CX research director at Gartner, was, “Your brand is disappearing from consumers’ news feeds, but friends will always see content from the people they know, care and trust.”

In other words, employees can help provide your branding messages with:

Reach
Employees have the potential to greatly expand a brand’s reach on social media. And the math is simple. Consider how many fans your organization’s Facebook page has. Now consider your employees and add together how many friends they each have, individually. I bet the result is quite a bit higher than your brand alone. In the presentation, it was stated the average is 10x higher, and 90% of employees’ social contacts will be new to your brand!

Trustworthiness and authenticity
People are trusted more than companies, and personal accounts are not filtered by social networks the same way that corporate messages increasingly are.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Here’s how to start:

Designate a leader
This person coordinates the different components of the program, provides information and training, clarifies guidelines, answers questions and collects feedback from participants, as well as external data.

Set up a system for measuring results
You can only manage what you measure, so start out by deciding what your reasons are for establishing an advocacy program and set measurable goals. Examples might include organic reach, a shift in target demographics, web traffic or sales.

Establish a social media policy
Be sure everyone understands the guidelines, and that they are reminded of them periodically.

Create a social media warehouse
This should include a wide variety of articles, video clips, infographs, photos and other images for employees to choose from. You don't want everyone sharing the same exact thing at the same time, or your efforts will seem canned and disingenuous.

Consider employees’ social media motivations
Consider that many employees want to find fulfillment in their work and want their contributions to make a difference in the world. Your employees will want to share that which makes them proud. Think sustainable environmental practices at the workplace, volunteering in the community or teams working on the organization’s latest project. Similarly, when an organization’s social content recognizes team members, colleagues will naturally want to share.

Feel free to recycle content
Recycling and repurposing content that’s already been created and even previously used can be really powerful, especially if it was well-received in prior iterations. Plus heck, it’s already available, and what could be easier than that?

Start small
Begin by training (and periodically retraining) a core group of employees who are already socially active and who appreciate and relate to the culture of the organization. And keep participation strictly voluntary.

Create a social work environment
It should not only be OK for employees to share on social media, but it should be encouraged, and even fun, to do so. Consider gamification, creating a leaderboard and mini-competitions. American Family encourages the use of #OneAmFam to help cultivate their engaging social culture.

Comply with full disclosure
Employees should indicate in content they share that they are employees of your organization. This may sound like a surefire way to kill all the fun, but American Family keeps it both transparent and light by using #iWork4AmFam. As a matter of fact, the tool they use to facilitate and automate their advocacy program automatically tacks this on to all employee posts.

Try out tools of the trade
There are a number of online tools that help facilitate the organization, scheduling and posting of content. Some are free or very inexpensive. Some companies, like American Family, use comprehensive customized tools.

Appreciate employee efforts
Show advocates that their participation matters, that what they’re doing is having an impact and is appreciated.

There are additional perks for your organization, too:
Aside from the obvious, increased social media exposure, employee advocacy programs can demonstrate your trust in employees. Advocacy programs improve internal communications between team members and management. Employees can derive deeper meaning and purpose in their work through exposure to great content and actively owning and sharing it. All of this helps employees develop a sense of ownership in the organization

On top of all that, employee advocacy programs can boost the bottom line. According to the National Business Research Institute, a 12% increase in brand advocacy generates a 2x increase in revenue growth. It has also been found that socially engaged companies are 57% more likely to get more sales leads. All this using a tool you already have — Employees!

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