What is Employee Advocacy and How Do Marketers Win With It?

March 13, 2018

Happy and Engaged Employees in Office

It goes without saying that a company’s employees are its most valuable assets. A happy and productive workforce leads to growth, retention, and strong culture. But many organizations are not fully tapping into the true potential of their teams.

In a world driven by digital and social, employee advocacy is essential.

What Is Employee Advocacy

The employee advocacy definition is quite simple: it is the 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.

Types of Employee Advocacy

Spreading the word at events, or through general word-of-mouth, are examples of employee advocacy, but in today’s environment, it’s all about social media. When you activate your employees across various networks with a structured and goal-oriented plan for sharing content through a tool like LinkedIn Elevate, digital reach grows dramatically. And best of all, it’s measurable.

Beyond raising brand awareness, there are two desired core outcomes of an employee advocacy program, so the makeup of any initiative will usually be framed around achieving one, or (quite often) both.

Attracting New Business. Amplifying your brand through the networks of your employees can dramatically boost visibility, potentially capturing the attention of many new prospective customers. When this is the objective, employees are often encouraged to share content that will appeal to the types of people or organizations you seek to do business with.

Think about it this way: If you’re researching solutions for a business challenge, will you be swayed more by a company’s ad appearing on a site you’re browsing, or by an employee excitedly discussing some cool project she just wrapped up for a similar client? Better yet: What if you see the ad and then come across that post reinforcing its message?

Some of the content areas for an employee advocacy program focusing on business development might include:

  • Articles about your niche with useful insights for companies that operate within it
  • Case studies and customer testimonials to demonstrate your strengths
  • Thought leadership posts from executives and leaders
  • Instructional webinars or SlideShares that help solve problems

Attracting New Talent. Most organizations are making emphatic efforts to foster high workplace morale through employee perks, company outings, personal development initiatives, and more. But it’s difficult to promote these efforts from up-top without sounding self-congratulatory. Empowering your employees to share experiences and impressions from their own perspectives can communicate these benefits in a more authentic and relatable way.

Of course, a positive workplace culture and emphasis on bringing in top talent are appealing to prospective clients, so this objective usually feeds into the first.

  • An employee advocacy program oriented toward talent acquisition might include:
  • Company news and product/service information
  • Job postings and open positions
  • Recaps from company events or outings
  • “Day in the Life” content portraying office culture

What are the Benefits of Employee Advocacy?

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

Creating a Plan

Any structure needs a solid foundation before the building can really begin. We’ll talk shortly about ways you can ensure long-term viability, but it all begins with a well-conceived blueprint that gets everybody on the same page.

Each of these five steps will help lay the groundwork for effective and sustainable employee brand advocacy:

Step 1: Define Goals and Objectives

These shape your program and help bring it into focus. While the primary goals will likely fall under one of the two broad categories mentioned earlier (Attracting New Business or Attracting New Talent), there are a number of more specific objectives your program can aim to achieve. For instance:

  • Add X new Company Page followers on LinkedIn
  • Increase traffic to website by X%
  • Boost social content engagement by X%
  • Gain X attributable new hires per quarter
  • Generate X new sales leads

These types of concrete targets will make it easier for everyone involved to see the program’s purpose and upside from the very start. And because you can continually track them, you’ll be able to gauge how well the program is working.    

Step 2: Create Channels for Communication and Transparency

Successfully rolling out an employee advocacy program requires consistent open communication. You won’t get widespread participation unless everyone clearly understands why you’re doing it, how it’s going to affect their daily workflow, and what’s expected of them. Holding meetings or sending email updates on a regular cadence can be helpful toward this end. Make sure program leaders are receptive to questions or concerns.

Step 3: Gain Buy-In from Executives and Leaders

Your employee advocacy program is far more likely to be successful if your company’s leaders are visibly on board. Incorporate voices from the C-suite in your communications while building up to launch. Highlight executives who are already engaging in advocacy practices and cite them as examples worth following. A top-down approach will almost always yield best results.

Step 4: Assemble a Team of Content Curators

A tool like LinkedIn Elevate can automatically create a pipeline of relevant shareable content, but it’s best to supplement the algorithmic recommendations with human input. Your company’s employees have diverse interests and personalities, which are often reflective of your customer base. They are best positioned to determine what sort of content their colleagues will want to share, and what will resonate best in their networks.

Pinpoint some of the most socially savvy individuals in your workforce, and invite them to help take the lead by directing content curation. Train them on how to identify the right balance of promotional and informational pieces. Incentivize them for finding content that performs well.

Step 5: Launch Your Employee Advocacy Program

Once you’ve outlined your objectives, created channels of communication, gained buy-in from up top, and assembled your content curators, it’s time to kick off your employee brand advocacy program. In terms of timing, it makes sense to launch around the time of a major industry event, or an annual company outing. This will ensure there is no shortage of pertinent content to share, and will help the initiative hit the ground running with momentum.

From that point forward, it’s all about facilitating sustainability.

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.

Find more tips for sustainable employee advocacy here.

What is LinkedIn Elevate?

Even with a thoughtful strategy and dedicated team, employee advocacy can be very difficult to manage and measure without an apparatus in place to coordinate your collective efforts. This is especially true in large and complex organizations.

LinkedIn Elevate is a custom-built employee advocacy platform for social media. With a user-friendly interface designed for simplicity and efficiency, Elevate streamlines the process of curating and sharing content across social networks so that it’s easy, fast, and effective.

How Does It Work?

If your company chooses to adopt LinkedIn Elevate as its employee advocacy solution, here’s an overview of what implementation will look like.

Step 1: Identify Social Stars and Load Content Pipeline

We mentioned earlier that assembling a team of content curators is a key step in getting your program off the ground. LinkedIn Elevate takes the investigative work out of this component by breaking down data and delivering a list of your company’s most active social employees. These will be top candidates for helping shape the program and evangelizing within the company ranks.

These individuals will prune and supplement a feed that’s already populated with suggestions tailored to your audience. This content can include longform posts from other employees, articles that are trending within your business niche, and topics personally selected by any Elevate user.

Whenever employees log into Elevate, they’ll be able to access this feed, then schedule and share the content pieces that appeal to them most with a couple of clicks.

Step 2: Integrate Existing Platforms

If you’re already using a platform like Google Analytics, Salesforce, or Marketo, you can easily integrate it with Elevate for deep and comprehensive reporting in the format you’re accustomed to. This enables you to assess content performance from a variety of different angles.

Step 3: Work with Customer Success Consultant

Every company that signs up for LinkedIn Elevate receives dedicated support from a customer success consultant. This rep will review your data and help you plan out your strategy, serving as an ongoing partner focused on ensuring a smooth kickoff and continual program returns. The customer success consultant helps you understand all aspects of performance reporting on the platform.

Step 4: Analyze and Communicate Results

An employee advocacy program will only succeed if the benefits are clearly visible to all participants. Elevate’s analytics make it easy for everyone to see the impact of shared content, right down to who’s seeing it and interacting with it. Not only will real-time data illuminate the program’s effect on site traffic, sales leads, Company Page followers, and influenced hires, but employees will also be able to visualize how activities are growing their personal brands via reputation metrics such as profile views and connection requests.

Step 5: Ongoing Optimization

By continually monitoring results through Elevate’s reporting, you’ll be able easily discern what’s working and what’s not. With these insights in hand, you can make informed decisions to keep things trending upward. What types of content are resonating with your target audience? Which ones don’t seem to be driving much interest? Not only will this knowledge direct your ongoing employee advocacy curation, but improved understanding of your audience’s preferences and content consumption habits also benefits your sales and marketing strategies.

Employee Advocacy Success Stories With LinkedIn Elevate

LinkedIn Elevate has a wide array of customers from around the globe, covering many different languages and business categories. Here are a few companies that have achieved stellar results with the platform, and how they did it.

Visa Creates Social Professionals

The global payments technology company saw in its employee base an innate desire to advocate for the brand and absorb information through social media.

“We realized that we have amazing employees who are not only proud to be at Visa, but who also love learning about various industries,” said Lucas Mast, VP of Corporate Social Media. “We wanted a way to easily provide them with interesting content to help them be social professionals, and in turn help the company by sharing this content with their networks.”

Adopting LinkedIn Elevate led to a 5x increase in employee sharing, plus higher click-through rates and substantial increases in Company Page engagement metrics.

In a huge organization that often deals with sensitive information, Mast says that the key was providing employees a frictionless conduit to content they could feel fully comfortable sharing.

“With employees as busy as they are, if you can deliver approved company content in a way that’s interesting and engaging, you’re giving people an easy opportunity to share it in safe way.”

Hershey Starts Small, Thinks Big

When The Hershey Company sought to boost visibility for its corporate brand, it turned to its employees to spread the word. While people throughout the organization were sporadically sharing company news and other pertinent content on social media, Hershey wanted a more structured platform to encourage advocacy.

Integrating LinkedIn Elevate led to a 13x increase in social sharing among Hershey employees, as well as a fourfold increase in Company Page followers.

Corporate reputation and social media manager Sarah Dull says she found it helpful to start with a select sample of 100 socially active employees, parsed out by LinkedIn data. Once these employee advocacy champions started getting in the groove, others noticed and started joining in.

“You don’t need to have every single person involved. Once a few people are excited about the program, others won’t be afraid of it,” she says.

To promote sustained engagement, Hershey sends out biweekly email updates to keep employees looped in on what’s working, and also includes a one-page doc on the value of personal branding as part of its new hire orientation materials.

Procore Underscores the Benefit

Construction is viewed as the realm of hardhats and hands-on labor, but the technology side is important as well. This is the niche that cloud-based software provider Procore operates in, and the company wanted to raise awareness around its innovations. To do so, it turned to its employees.

Social media marketing manager Carey Larson says he didn’t really need to pitch people on the merits of employee advocacy; they only needed to see the results, which is easily done through Elevate.

“We add tracking codes to our content so we can see the full impact of advocacy – from the initial touchpoint all the way through the sales cycle,” he explains, adding that his team attributed several closed deals to employee advocacy. “When salespeople see that this platform is actually making money for their colleagues, they hop right on board.”

Sharing content four times as often as before, Procore employees saw a 3x increase in LinkedIn network growth while using Elevate and doubled profile views.

Why Employee Advocacy is Important

Whether you choose to try LinkedIn Elevate or not, we highly recommend implementing a formal employee advocacy program if your organization doesn’t have one already. Beyond the benefits referenced earlier, here are three reasons employee advocacy shouldn’t be left out of a modern corporate strategy.

Employee Advocacy is a Critical Signal Boost

As organic reach becomes harder to achieve in competitive social media environments, amplifying content through employee networks is one of the best ways to consistently drive impressions and engagement for the content you create and share. We only expect this dynamic to become more pronounced going forward.

Advocacy Drives Employee Engagement

When workers are driven to read and share content relating to your brand, they become more knowledgeable about all elements of the operation, and more invested. The transparency and recognition of effective advocacy can improve job satisfaction, while contributing to the bottom line in new ways is rewarding.

Cultivating Social Professionals

Not everyone is adept at social media. But in the current climate, possessing these skills is important. An employee advocacy program can be a great way to familiarize less social-savvy individuals with the workings of various networks and increase their comfort levels. This is advantageous for the personal career growth of employees, and for the company. To borrow a term from Visa’s case study above, everyone in today’s business world should endeavor to be a “social professional.”

Learn More About Employee Advocacy

Want to dig deeper into the intricacies of employee brand advocacy, and see more examples of this tactic in action?

Download The Network Effect of Employee Advocacy to learn why it’s never been a better time to enlighten and empower your brand’s most important advocates.