Whether you run a month-old startup with minimal funds or a big corporate marketing team, a strong social presence is something you know you need to invest in.

Unfortunately, with everyone on social, publishing millions of pieces of content per minute, making your mark can be tough.

You need freshly baked content to cut through the noise, yes. But if the noise level out there is at 100, you’d also need to be at least at 90.

Employee advocacy does just that for you.

The idea is to simply turn your employees into brand advocates on social and leverage their social connections to crank up your social reach exponentially.

Running an employee advocacy program isn’t a textbook strategy. There’s no set method that will work for everyone, and you’ll have to build your program to fit your own business from scratch.

So what’s the most effective way to do that?

Let’s first break down the definition of social employee advocacy and then study the essential elements of most successful advocacy programs.

The definition: Employee advocacy is effectively employees promoting their own companies and acting as its influencers.

Many companies encourage this as part of employees’ jobs, but the ideal situation is where your employees want to promote your brand. Getting there isn’t easy, but with a well-designed advocacy program, here’s how you can.

1. Set specific advocacy goals and KPIs

What do you want to accomplish with employee advocacy? The answer to this question could be as vague as more social buzz for your company, more shares, more channels to share your content and more visibility.

But I’d urge you to take it one further and get much more specific.

  • Calculate how much time your employees should ideally invest on employee advocacy
  • Decide how many shares you want encourage per day (minimum and maximum)
  • Carefully pick the content you want shared (content curation and employee advocacy tools like DrumUp are great for this)
  • Monitor your employees’ activity on social (listening tools like Mention are great for this)

Measure your goals with numbers. Like any goal, that instantly makes them more specific and easier to achieve.

Say for instance, if you wanted your website traffic to increase by 10X, you’d proportionally have to add your website links on posts going out with compelling calls-to-action (CTAs) for your employees to share them more often.

Other more specific goals could be: Increasing registrations for a particular event by 40%, amplifying post engagement on Twitter by 60% and so on.

To make the math easier, you could use insights gleaned by Google Analytics to study traffic sources, and make decisions accordingly.

Also remember to design and monitor key performance indicators like numbers of shares by each employee (employee performance), numbers of shares per post (post performance), and amounts of traffic and engagement generated as a result of employee advocacy.

2. Provide solid context

“Organic” has been trending for quite sometime now.

In everything from organic food to organic search results, we know that organic is better because it is less adulterated, more genuine and healthier.

The same stands with social employee advocacy.

The content your employees share as part of the advocacy program needs to be genuine. That means tapping into how they really feel about things. And that’s best done with a strong why.

Why should your employee promote their own company?

There are three possible reasons:

  • Incentives – the obvious one
  • Enforcement – the unpleasant one
  • Excitement – the interesting one

Creating excitement requires some investment from your end, as the program’s leader. Although, it makes for the strongest why of the three. Nothing beats genuine enthusiasm.

Now, what tends to get employees excited? Things like:

  • Great work culture – that makes employees proud to share company stuff (tools like Brand Amper are great for recording great work experiences)
  • Gamification – leaderboards, challenges, fun activities
  • Incentives –  gift cards, gifts, or intangible equivalents (praise, trophies, recognition)

Incentives feature on both lists because they are particularly potent as motivators. Ideally, you should experiment with these ideas and see what works best for your organization.

3. Implement guidelines

Most business heads fear involving employees in branding and marketing like this simply because of the possibility of something going awry. While it is true that risk increases with numbers, the risk element can be eliminated with establishment of some baselines.

It’s not that hard to make sure your participants don’t veer off course of what the advocacy program is meant for. Here’s how to set some rules and help people understand them:

  • Show them how it’s done: Give your employees a sense of the brand tone and voice. Expose them to samples of what you want them to do online.
  • Give them dos and don’ts lists: Rope your marketing team into creating a small list of “Rockin’ Ideas” and “Not Cool”  activities to guide your team while sharing
  • Conduct employee advocacy seminars: A training session can do no harm. Most importantly, make your employees your brand confidants. Tell them why your company needs this. Share with them your ideas and make them understand how something that they can do will positively impact their brand.

You could also have fun posters with “USE ME! – words” and the “I TASTE LIKE BROCCOLI- words” hanging around your office space to remind your team which words to use and which to avoid.

4. Humanize employee advocacy

Although you need guidelines, they shouldn’t dictate everything about your employees’ shares. You’ll be missing the best of an employee advocacy program’s advantages – the personal connection.

It’s crucial that advocacy guidelines don’t get so strict that it might as well be automation. You still want your employees to have freedom to use their own words, tell their own stories, etc.

Why? It’s simple.

Have you noticed how your silly personal posts on Facebook get more likes than the brand copy you spend hours writing?

Most people are wired to shut out brand-generated content as their minds subconsciously label them as “promotional.” Aim at setting guidelines that give your team freedom to show their personalities and be human, because those characteristics are important to advocacy.

These ideas will help you think about guidelines and activities that enable your team instead of restricting it:

  1. Curate content your employees can share
  2. Encourage them to announce news and share content with their own personal input
  3. Remind them to check the dos and don’ts before customizing messages

5. Use a reliable tool

Managing content curation, writing social copy, managing, and coordinating the entire employee advocacy program is no small task. That’s why you’ll probably want a really great advocacy tool to make things as easy as possible.

Keeping it simple is important, because employee advocacy isn’t your main strategy – you want something you can easily make time for on top of the marketing team’s other duties.

Features you’ll want to look for include:

  • Content curation
  • Creating a common company stream
  • A leaderboard or some kind of gamification
  • Engagement metrics to measure different posts and team members

Finally, remember to not treat your employees like hoardings. They’re not your army of tweeters to share great things about the company whenever you say so.

Make them feel like part of the team. Let them contribute. The more authentic your program is, the more effective it will be.

Do you run an advocacy program with your team? Tell us all about how it’s working for you in the comments!

Guest Blogger @Mention

Disha Dinesh is content strategist at DrumUp, a social media management and content marketing platform like Hootsuite, but with varied features. When she’s not writing or wrinkling her eyebrows in thought, she’s foot-tapping to the latest in progressive music.

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