6 Employee Advocacy Missteps to Avoid

November 3, 2016

LinkedIn Elevate

A successful employee advocacy program can help your organization reach new audiences, empower employees to become thought leaders, and help your brand speak with a more authentic voice. There are benefits for the business, your employees, and your audience.

As more businesses are realizing the potential for employee advocacy, it’s rapidly becoming the next big thing. And as with most new trends, some are rushing in without a strategic plan.

The goal is to create a sustainable program that will provide benefits for years to come. But some practices that might seem reasonable on the surface can hurt your program’s chance of success—and survival.

To make sure your employee advocacy program produces real benefits for everyone involved, avoid these six mistakes.

1. Making it Mandatory

Employee advocacy only works when employees participate. So it may sound sensible to make participation part of your employees’ daily duties. Make it an expectation, send strongly worded memos, and punish poor performers.

That kind of top-down initiative isn’t likely to be sustainable. Social media audiences can smell a mandated corporate message a mile away. Your employees’ sharing should be based on genuine enthusiasm for the program and real interest in the content being shared.

It’s better to keep it an opt-in program. Start by asking your most socially engaged employees (LinkedIn Elevate can help you find them). They’re the most likely to get on board and generate the initial success that can inspire the rest of your workforce.

2. Asking for Passwords to Employee Accounts

Here’s an easy way to make sure your employees participate, and that they don’t do anything to embarrass the brand: Get their passwords and post on their behalf! What could go wrong?

If you have an HR person nearby, you may have just heard an audible gasp. Asking—or worse, requiring—employees to divulge passwords is bad for morale, opens up your company to potential liability, and is actively illegal in six states. Yet it still comes up as a potential way for employers to reach their employees’ followers.

Suffice to say that kind of sharing is not only ill-advised, it’s not really an employee advocacy program at all. It’s important to provide guidelines for sharing, but then trust employees to share on their own recognizance.

3. Putting too Much Emphasis on Gamification

It’s good to provide incentives for your top-performing employees, and to foster an environment of healthy competition. People tend to enjoy seeing numbers get bigger and comparing their performance with their peers. And everyone likes an end-of-quarter party to celebrate success.

When you focus on external rewards, though, you might obscure the real internal reasons for employees to participate. Instead of working to boost the business, expand their social networks, and increase thought leadership, they may focus on winning the $5 coffee shop gift card. Which is a less compelling motivator in the long-term, regardless of one’s level of caffeine dependency.

Focus the competition on the actual goals of the campaign instead. Show employees how their sharing is building their visibility and professional reputation.

4. Locking Down the Language

This is another mistake brands can make out of the fear of losing control. Instead of trusting employees to share in their own variety of voices, some brands insist they copy-and-paste from the corporate account.

That’s a safe strategy, for sure, but it’s uninspiring. Employees aren’t likely to be enthusiastic about turning their private social feeds into outlets for corporate-speak. And audiences won’t be excited to read it, either.

Employee advocacy works because it’s employees speaking to their followers in the language that compelled people to follow them in the first place. Take away that unique voice, and you’re far less likely to find success.

It’s a better idea to provide training and guidelines, then step back and let employees reach their network in the way they do best.

5. Viewing Employees as a Marketing Tool

Employee advocacy serves a marketing purpose, certainly. So it’s tempting for marketers to think of it as just another tool for amplification. You might think in terms of leveraging employees’ networks to promote assets and provide brand lift, and seeking to maximize the effectiveness of their activity.

The only snag in that type of thinking is that employees are people, and people tend to be aware, and protective, of their social media reputation. In general, they will be less likely to put that reputation on the line to “promote assets” or provide “brand lift.” Those outside the marketing department may even wonder what language you’re speaking.

Instead, focus on the advantages of employee advocacy for the employee. You are more likely to meet your marketing objectives if you implement a program that empowers employees to share interesting content in a genuine way, rather than trying to turn them into marketers.

6. Only Sharing Your Own Content

Most marketers know that social media is not the place for a non-stop stream of promotional content. That’s true whether it’s coming from the brand’s social media account, or from your employees. To create a sustainable program, employees need to be sharing content that is interesting to them and likely to be valuable to their audience. That’s the way to get the engagement that encourages employees to keep sharing.

We recommend a 4-1-1 content rule. For every six pieces of content you share, four should be curated third-party posts, one should be related to your company, and one should be overtly promotional.  

The curation aspect of employee advocacy can be challenging, but it’s vital to the success of your program. The right platform can help. LinkedIn Elevate allows employees to select from a list of topics that interest them most, and the platform helps your curators find the right content by suggesting articles that are already performing well on LinkedIn.com

It takes strategy and dedication to build an employee advocacy program that will last. But the benefits are well worth the effort. Help your employees build their personal brands, enhance your corporate brand, and bring your messages to a broader audience. Keep it authentic, keep enthusiasm high, and avoid being overly-promotional to achieve incredible results.

LinkedIn Elevate is the smarter employee advocacy solution built to optimize your program every step of the way. Learn more about LinkedIn Elevate.