Photography by Hillary Ehlen
Over the past decade, social media’s emergence as a business opportunity has given many companies a chance to determine how it fits with sales, marketing and communications efforts. Early on, some jumped on board with Facebook, a handful were excited to tweet and others were among the first to share photos on Instagram.
Today, most businesses are present on at least one social media channel, with the most social-savvy companies able to measure and place value on their efforts. But looking outside of metrics, social media’s real power is how it has become a space where people engage with other people to create and build relationships. As companies realized the benefits of these personal connections, some began evolving traditional social media strategies into employee-focused and employee-driven efforts known as social employee advocacy programs. RDO Equipment Co. was one of them.
A couple years gao, RDO launched an employee social advocacy program on Twitter, encouraging team members to have unique voices and connect with others on social as representatives of the business and brand. According to Kirsten Jensen, the founder of Fargo-based social-media strategy startup Next Action Digital and an expert in employee social advocacy, programs like RDO’s are growing.
Jensen began working with social teams in 2010, when virtually no one was talking about the concept. By 2015, she observed that not only were more businesses talking about and implementing employee social advocacy programs, more tools and resources had also become available.
TIP: Identify a person or team to lead an employee social advocacy program. The person/team should be responsible for everything from initial employee training to ongoing program monitoring.
Her observations are supported by research obtained and shared by MarketingProfs, which shows that interest in employee advocacy increased nearly 200 percent from 2013 to 2015, and today, 90 percent of brands report they are pursuing some type of employee advocacy program.
Businesses such as RDO are seeing benefits from employee social advocacy programs in three key areas:
- Bottom line
One of the top goals companies have with employee social advocacy programs is to showcase their unique culture.
“These programs are proof that, as a business, you are who you say you are,” Jensen explains.
While every business can claim it has a great culture, employees who show it are the proof. Additionally, employees can say things on social media that have more power than if the message were coming from the business. For example, a company can tweet about how it’s a great place to work, but when employees are the ones saying it, there’s more credibility behind the words.
TIP: Establish a team hashtag and help employees identify “culture moments” that would make great social posts – a thank you to a coworker, a photo of the team’s volunteer efforts or a link to an article they contributed input to.
Showcasing culture is great for employee recruiting and retention, establishing the company in the community, and presenting itself as a company with which others would want to do business.
Not only do employee social advocacy programs showcase culture to the outside world, they’re a great tool for building culture internally. When employees are trusted to connect with others and share socially, it creates an empowered environment. Conversely, employees have an opportunity to read and learn from others on social media. Employees who are better educated about their industry, job role, and what’s happening in their communities can offer a big boost to company culture.
Closely related to culture, employee engagement improves with social advocacy programs. And this engagement isn’t just on social media, where employees engage with peers, businesses and the community. Research from numerous companies shows that when employees are empowered to be ambassadors, they feel trusted and feel like a part of the company’s success and are therefore more engaged in their jobs and with the company.
Engagement is a two-way street, with employee social advocacy programs also offering an opportunity for external audiences to engage with brands. In 2016, organic reach on Facebook fell more than 50 percent, but social-savvy companies are finding ways to combat this trend. MarketingProfs research shows that content shared by employees receives eight times more engagement than the same content shared by brands, and LinkedIn found that employee-sharing helps generate two times more click-throughs on content.
TIP: Coach employees to connect with people, businesses and companies important to their work so they can begin following, engaging and building a relevant audience.
Employee advocacy programs also build on a newer engagement trend: micro-influencers. Traditionally, many social-media marketing strategies were based around support of big influencers. For example, people with tens of thousands or even 1 million followers on a channel like Instagram or Twitter.
The micro-influencer is the same as a big influencer in terms of how they engage and share content that promotes a brand, but it’s done on a smaller scale — think someone with 100 followers.
Jensen wholeheartedly agrees with the impact of micro-influencers.
“People who don’t have a huge following but care about your brand can take the message further than a quick product placement from big influencers,” she says.
One of the biggest advantages with micro-influencers — and especially relevant in a company’s employee-advocacy setting — is that they’re specialized and credible in their area of expertise. Therefore, they have very relevant, engaged audiences.
While culture and engagement are crucial for successful companies, the bottom line obviously matters, too. The good news about employee social advocacy programs is that they can directly benefit the business and its sales, marketing and PR efforts.
Nearly everyone has heard the saying, “People don’t do business with businesses. People do business with people.” Tying people, faces and names to the business adds a person-to-person connection versus person-to-business. And it’s what Jensen believes is one of the biggest benefits of employee advocacy.
“These programs are one of the best ways to humanize a brand,” she says.
Jensen also believes that social media is one area where B2B and B2C no longer see a divide like they do in advertising and marketing.
“It’s no longer business or consumer. It’s all person-to-person,” she says.
While true in the social sense, B2B businesses still have distinct buyers, markets and characteristics that make them operate different than B2C companies. Employee social advocacy offers advantages here, too.
For example, compared to B2C, the buying cycle in B2B businesses is much longer, markets are smaller and more focused, and customers do more research and have more challenges when making purchases. Relationship-building, engagement and demonstrating expertise achieved through employee advocacy can be game-changers in nurturing potential customers from interest to final purchase.
To establish a connection to the company and brand, have employees create consistent social handles that tie in the company name and include the company’s handle in their profile.
Employees who are socially connected gain advantages of having a greater pulse on the brand and awareness of what’s going on in the industry. Low commodity prices in agriculture? In-tune employees know that cold-calling farmers to try and sell brand new, expensive machines isn’t the right sales strategy right now and can instead offer a better approach for this audience.
Finally, events and trade shows offer another avenue to connect social employees with potential customers. Many events have social accounts that employees can follow and start to connect with others who are linked to the event — even before it begins. Most events have a special hashtag, too, allowing employees to join others in the conversation by tweeting photos or great quotes from presenters. They can even share relevant content from your organization on the topic.
The benefits of employee social advocacy programs can be seen both internally and externally. By sharing quality content, engaging, and representing the company with unique voices, employee advocates can be a great complement to a company’s social media strategy.
The benefits of a social employee advocacy program are threefold, says Next Action Digital Founder Kirsten Jensen: They improve culture, increase engagement and boost your company’s bottom line.
For social media tips, follow Next Action Digital Founder Kirsten Jensen on Twitter @NextKirsten