Employee advocacy programs can deliver great benefits, but can be hard to implement. Steve Goldhaber, who started Aon’s first employee advocacy program, shares his tips
Employee advocacy programs have been all the rage the past two to three years. They’re capable of delivering powerful results. But they can be hard to implement, especially in large, complex organizations.
I’ve seen firsthand the power of these programs to generate leads and increase awareness and consideration. But, if they are not implemented properly, they’re not going to deliver enough results.
For context, I’ve helped companies with their employee advocacy programs for the past four to five years. I started Aon’s first employee advocacy program, which didn’t actually use any software, it was just a weekly email. It worked great, but we quickly outgrew it. That’s when we made an investment in an actual advocacy software platform. We ended up using LinkedIn’s software called Elevate.
Since an employee advocacy program can be challenging to implement for any B2B company, here are my tips for making sure your implementation is a success.
1. Launch the program in phases
The most important part of your program is to roll out it out in phases. Yes, the software is capable of handling a massive influx of people. But I don’t recommend this.
Most organizations require time and a lot of hand-holding. Usually, the social media lead for the digital team is in charge of rolling out and advocacy program. For them, everything is very straightforward, and they may be inclined to move fast. But for most B2B organizations, social media is still new and mysterious. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone will want to jump in and start using the platform.
The good part is learning these platforms is always easier than people think. After having worked with several people to onboard them, they usually say “this is way easier than I thought. I wish I had done this sooner”.
2. Identify people in your company who are already savvy with social media
When you start talking about your program, you’ll quickly learn that not all social media skills are created equal. The challenging part is most people will not admit they don’t use or understand social media. They stay silent. If someone has that deer-in-headlights look, or isn’t asking questions, chances are they aren’t familiar with social media. There’s a certain stigma, especially among older folks, that if they speak up and say they don’t have technical skills, they’ll be seen as inferior. Make sure you’re aware of this phenomenon. And always be there as a coach who can educate and simplify.
If you use LinkedIn’s employee advocacy program Elevate, there is a great feature which will help you identify the top social media leaders in your company. LinkedIn has something called a social selling index. This is a score assigned to everyone based on a number of factors. LinkedIn has the ability to share this score with you for all your employees, which makes it really easy to identify top candidates for your program.
I also recommend finding one or two senior executives in your company who are savvy with social media. If you can get them on board and actively use the employee advocacy software, the chances of others following them increases the success of your program.
3. Spend most of your time recruiting socially-savvy employees
Let’s start with a healthy dose of expectation. To have success with any employee advocacy program, you’re never going to get 100% of people on board. You’re probably not even going to get 50% or 60%. A realistic goal is somewhere between 20-30% of employees participating.
You’ll quickly learn that most companies have employees who fall into three groups. About a third of the people are pretty well-versed in social media and are already sharing content. Start with this group. These are your social media rockstars and influential people. If you can get them on board, they’ll influence the middle third.
Who are the middle third? These are the people on the proverbial fence. They have the skills to do a good job using employee advocacy software, but they’re waiting based on what other people are doing. If you can convert half of this group then that’s a win.
Now you’re probably asking what about the bottom third? How do you win them over? You don’t. Don’t worry about this group during the first year of your program. Give them all of the information and access to training, but the bottom third is not going to make or break the program. Additionally, even if they do sign up, their networks aren’t big, so you’re going to see big returns.
4. Make sure you have a combination of sales and brand awareness goals
Determining success for an employee advocacy program tends to fall into two different categories. Some use it purely to drive brand awareness and engagement. Others are laser focused on driving leads and plugging those into their new business machine.
Regardless of why you’re getting into employee advocacy, both measurement options are pretty straightforward. If you fall in the brand awareness/engagement group, you can easily track a number of impressions likes shares and comments. This is usually rolled up into an overall number. So when you do your reporting you can say that we generated X millions of impressions this month.
Beyond having the reach and engagement numbers, I advise people put together a media equivalency model. This may sound complicated, but it’s not. To build a media equivalency model you just need to know the going market CPM (cost per 1,000) to reach your customer. You can get this by logging in to the LinkedIn advertising tool to understand what that number is. For example, if your last posted generate 75,000 impressions and the market rate to target your followers is $8CPM, that’s a media equivalency of $600.
A word of caution about media equivalency. Your company culture will agree with or dismiss the premise of a media equivalency model. Companies who don’t advertise tend to reject it.
The less controversial measurement approach is lead generation. To do this, make sure your content is correctly tagged for attribution. Once you know that your lead originated from your employee advocacy program, you can track it through your normal sales automation system. Eventually, you’ll be able to get to a report that says “Five new customers were sourced through the employee advocacy program… and these clients generated x amount of revenue.”
Keep in mind these metrics don’t mean that without the employee advocacy program you wouldn’t have made a sale. After all, these clients were probably already in the marketplace, and social media helped nudge them along. Don’t always look at this as a definitive number, but more as influenced prospects.
5. Share your success stories along the way
It’s hard for people to wrap their head around the idea of employee advocacy. To help them understand, you’ll want to document your success stories along the way. To do this, you’ll want to focus on new business since that’s something everyone understands.
How do you find these stories? People in the program will usually proactively bring examples to your attention since people are excited that it worked. The basic story you’re looking for is that someone shared a piece of content online, and then a potential customer saw the content and was compelled to reach out to the company.
It’s really important to look for these stories and share them with executives. A lot of B2B companies have deals valued at $1M plus. If you can say your employee advocacy program generated the lead, the program literally just paid for itself.
6. Create content that people will actually want to share
This one is a no-brainer, but some companies neglect to invest in great content. You’ve got to understand the key premise of an employee advocacy program is that your employees decide if they want to share the content with their personal network. If they don’t think the content you provided them with is high quality, they’re not as likely to share it.
7. Make sure you balance branded content with third-party content
The best employee advocacy programs have a well-balanced approach of branded and third-party content. You also need to be thinking about your employees personal brand. Make sure to include third-party content in your curated selection for employees to share.
This type of content is easily sourced from well-known publications like
The Wall Street Journal
. The reason why it’s important to share unbranded content is no employee wants to look like they are the PR department.
If you ignore this rule, employees are less likely to share branded content over time. Generally speaking, I would place about 60% to 70% of the content as branded by the company. And the remaining amount should be from third parties.
8. Provide an easy to digest monthly snapshot to everyone in the program and your leadership team
Telling the success story of your program is important when you’re in the early stages. I recommend doing a monthly snapshot that goes to key executives and everyone in the program. You want to simplify this report and share the basics such as total impressions, total engagement (i.e. likes/shares) media equivalency and leads generated.
Depending on the platform you’re using, you might be able to share additional insights. For example, LinkedIn’s Elevate program provides information on the companies who engaged with your content. They can also provide a list of industry titles that engaged. Seeing these company names and titles makes it very easy for senior management to understand the impact of the program.
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