What Is Employee Advocacy? What Is It For? Why Does It Matter?

January 26, 2017

What is employee advocacy?

When the industry starts to buzz about a new tool or tactic, marketers have to choose the right time to jump in. Is this the next new norm, or just the latest shiny object? Is it getting actual, provable results, or is there nothing underneath the hype?

Recently the term “employee advocacy” has attracted a lot of buzz. As with content marketing, it’s something that many businesses have done informally (or accidentally) for years—but there’s new interest in doing it strategically.

Should your company have a program in place? Or is this a hype train you don’t need to ride? Read on to learn everything you need to know about employee advocacy: What it means, what it’s for, why it matters, and how to use it to get results.

What Is Employee Advocacy?

Employee advocacy can mean any promotion of your company by the people who work for it. People advocate for their employers on social media all the time.  A Facebook post like, “Just had a great catered lunch at work. Thanks, [Employer!]” counts as employee advocacy. So does sharing the latest post from the company blog on your LinkedIn feed.

This informal, everyday sharing isn’t what has the marketing world excited, however. Employee advocacy as a marketing tactic is a strategic, sustainable program to encourage employees to share brand values and messages in an organic way.

To unpack that run-on sentence, an employee advocacy program should be:

  • Strategic: Implemented with goals in mind and metrics in place to measure progress toward those goals.
  • Sustainable: Designed to last, with support from management and a plan for keeping enthusiasm up.
  • Organic: Participation should be voluntary and out of genuine interest. You’re inspiring advocacy, not mandating it.

What Does an Employee Advocacy Program Look Like?

Based on the definition above, you might imagine employee advocacy consists of creating lists of brand messages and then asking employees to share them. But it’s a little more involved than that.

As always with social media, it’s never a good idea for your brand to talk exclusively about itself, or to focus on overtly promotional content. A successful employee advocacy program is about 25% brand messages and 75% curated content—valuable to your target audience but not directly related to your brand.

That means a program requires curators to find the right content as well as participating employees to share it. Throughout the process, it’s important to track the engagement of each piece of content and each employees’ number of shares and performance.

There are three stages of a successful program, each running simultaneously and perpetually:

  • Curation - Create a pipeline of high-quality content employees can share
  • Sharing - Encourage employees to share the content with personalized comments intended to foster discussion
  • Evaluation and Adjustment - Measure the number of likes, shares and comments each piece of content gets and adjust your curation for more impact.

What are the Benefits of Employee Advocacy?

As we said earlier, your program needs to be implemented with goals in mind. What kind of goals can employee advocacy help you achieve? What should your program be designed to do?

There are three major areas of your business that employee advocacy can impact:

1. Marketing. Our research shows that, on average, employees collectively have social networks ten times larger than a corporate brand does. That means your advocacy program can drastically extend your reach.

But it’s about more than increasing the number of eyeballs. Employee shares are seen as more authentic than corporate shares, and people are more likely to engage with the content. Employee shares have double the click-through-rate of corporate shares.

Given these facts, employee advocacy can reliably boost brand awareness, increase followers to your Company Page, and even generate leads for the sales department. Speaking of which…

2. Sales. Social media presence is a necessary component of modern sales. Even in the B2B space, buyers are using social media to help guide their purchasing decisions. They’re looking for trusted advisors who can help them solve problems.

Salespeople in an employee advocacy program are better equipped to become that trusted advisor. They’re more active on social media, therefore easier for buyers to engage with. They share valuable content, engage in conversation, and help solve problems. Their sharing leads to increased LinkedIn Profile views and an expanded professional network.

Employee advocacy for salespeople can help increase the number of sales-qualified leads, attract and develop new business, shorten sales cycles, and bring in new revenue streams. Salespeople who regularly share quality content are 45% more likely to exceed quota.

3. Recruiting. Granted, the marketing department is not Human Resources. But recruiting is partly a marketing function, because attracting top talent requires a sterling brand reputation. It’s marketing’s job to develop that reputation.

Socially engaged employees help boost the brand within their networks and beyond. They share what makes your company great with their peers, while demonstrating the high level of talent your company already possesses.

Companies with a successful employee advocacy program are 58% more likely to attract and 20% more likely to retain top talent. They can actually attribute specific hires to their advocacy program—in some cases, hundreds of them.

Does Employee Advocacy Work?

We talked about the potential benefits of employee advocacy, but before you jump in, it’s important to know if businesses are seeing actual results. Good feelings or promising beginnings aren’t enough here. We need concrete, quantifiable business results.

LinkedIn Elevate, our employee advocacy platform, makes it easy for employees to share content with their social networks. Here are a few quick results from some of our customers::

  • Visa Used Elevate to identify their social superstars - employees that were most likely to be successful. Employees in the program share content at 5x the rate of their peers, influencing 4x more Company Page followers and 3x more Company Page views.

  • Hershey focused on awareness of the corporate brand. Their program saw a 13x increase in social sharing, influencing 4x more Company Page followers and almost 2% engagement rate on their content.

  • Procore wanted to increase brand awareness and drive more sales. Employees shared 4x more than before, influencing 3x faster network growth and 2x more profile views. Procore’s Social Marketing Manager, Carey Larson, says, “We’ve increased engagement, driven traffic to the Procore website, and closed more sales deals.”

How Do I Get Started?

As you can see, employee advocacy is more than a trend or an empty buzzword. When strategically implemented, it has real, proven business benefits.

You can start building your employee advocacy program in four simple steps. They are:

1. Set Your Strategy. Think of the specific, measurable goals your program should accomplish. Then identify your “social stars,” employees who are likely to have early success with your program.

2. Explain the Benefits. Advocacy works best when it’s intrinsically motivated. So ditch the leaderboards and giveaways—instead, explain to your employees how their shares will directly contribute to the business’s success and to their personal brand.

3. Launch and Administer the Program. Let the whole company know what you’re doing and why. Get leadership involved as much as possible—employees should see that there’s buy-in throughout the org chart. Then keep enthusiasm up with notifications, reminders and regular feedback.

4. Measure Results. Continually check your process against the goals and KPIs you set in step 1. Report back to stakeholders—and make sure to share progress with your employees, too.

How Can I Make Employee Advocacy Sustainable?

The long-term success of your employee advocacy program is up to—you guessed it—your employees. You could mandate sharing as part of their job description, but that leads to uninspiring, corporate-sounding shares. To keep enthusiasm up, give employees content they want to share, and let them see how their sharing is affecting the business.

People want to share content that they find genuinely interesting. Let your employees have a voice in choosing content that resonates with them, as well as holding value for the audience. Make employees part of the curation process, and you will get more engagement down the line.

Make sure to recognize the impact each employee is having. You don’t have to focus on top performers—you can show each employee how their shares are doing, congratulate them on their successes, and encourage them to continue. Help employees see it not as a competition with their peers, but as part of their ongoing professional development.

Where Can I Get Help with My Employee Advocacy Program?

LinkedIn Elevate helps create strategic, sustainable programs with measurable results. Elevate makes it easy to curate great content, share it with your employees, and keep track of their impact on marketing, sales, and recruitment goals.

Employee advocacy may be getting a lot of buzz in the marketing world right now, but it lives up to the hype. If your company could use help boosting brand awareness, generating sales leads and attracting talent, it’s time to consider launching an employee advocacy program.

For more help getting started, download The Official Guide to Employee Advocacy.