Posted 06.03.2021 by Meghan Crawford

How to Start an Employee Advocacy Program for Your Brand

Want to level up your brand's social media presence? Start an employee advocacy program. Here's how...

Standing out on social media as a brand is getting more and more difficult — and more and more crucial, as consumers’ expectations of how brands present themselves online continue to evolve. You might find yourself searching for new and innovative ways to grow your brand’s reach and engagement while meeting those expectations for your brand to be more human and relatable.

Starting an employee advocacy program is a good first step toward ticking all of those boxes.

What Is an Employee Advocacy Program?

Great question.

Employee advocacy is when the employees of a company promote their organization on social media. It’s like having in-house brand ambassadors who raise awareness, boost the brand, and increase business leads.

The true power of starting an employee advocacy program is in the way it marries two of the most impactful forms of marketing: the reach of social media and the power of referrals.

Referrals are a pretty traditional marketing tactic, and for good reason. When executed well, a referral program can be a great way to boost both brand awareness and revenue. After all, which would you trust more: a billboard advertisement or the recommendation of a friend?

Employee advocacy is doing the same thing as a customer referral but from an internal perspective — it signals to prospective customers, partners, and employees that the people who work here are invested in the product/service and company and will vouch for it.

What to Consider Before You Start Your Employee Advocacy Program

Before you start an employee advocacy program, it’s important to put a plan in place that will align with your existing social media strategy. Consider your short and long term goals as well as how you’ll get buy-in from employees, stakeholders, and decision makers.

Like most things with social media, how you start your employee advocacy program is largely dependent on your brand’s current capabilities. If you’re just getting started, the first thing you’ll want to do is assess the current level of your program.

You might be thinking, “We don’t have an employee advocacy program yet, that’s why I’m reading this post!”

And while it’s true that you might not have launched a specific, strategic initiative to expand you brand’s reach by tapping into your employees’ networks yet… well, that doesn’t mean that you’re not engaging in employee advocacy.

Unless your employees aren’t on social media at all, you’re not starting from scratch.

That’s why it’s important to take stock and level set before moving forward. This is an ideal time to employ a social media maturity map to help assess and plan.

where do you stand?

Take our Social Media Maturity Quiz to help guide you as you start your Employee Advocacy Program. 🚀

There are Five Possible Levels for an Employee Advocacy Program.

Once you’ve determined which level your brand is at, you can use this guide as a roadmap to building towards the next level.

So, let’s see which of the following sounds most like your brand.

Level 0 of Employee Advocacy

The majority of your employees aren’t actively on social media. If they have accounts on relevant platforms, they post rarely, or not at all. Start by communicating the importance of being on social media to your employees.

The key to earning employee buy-in at this early stage is to make it both compelling and easy for your employees to participate.

Here’s how:

1) Make it compelling.

Frame your goals and expectations in a way that makes it clear how this will also benefit the employees, not just the company.

Employee advocacy doesn’t just elevate your brand’s presence; it also positions your employees as experts in their fields.

2) Make it easy.

You should develop a process for helping employees get started.

Bear in mind that for some of these employees, social media might be a very new medium. Providing patient guidance while they create their profiles and explore new platforms will help grease those wheels.

Level 1 of Employee Advocacy

At this level, most of your employees should be on social media and aligned with your brand.

There are a few things to start doing at this stage to make sure that happens:

1) Make sure everyone has an updated profile.

It should be apparent at a glance by their profiles that your employees work for the same brand — your brand. Set them up for success with an easy-to-follow guide on how to develop their profiles to fit brand standards.

We recommend that those standards include uniform team headshots (or specifications for headshot requirements if you don’t take them in-house) and appropriate language and tone for descriptions and bios. Take it one step further and provide them with a template to use when writing their bios.

And speaking of templates…

2) Develop templates for your employees to use.

Like most marketing tactics, this is all about reducing as many friction points as possible.

While employees might not yet be actively sharing brand content on their channels at this stage, now is the time to lay the groundwork for a smooth transition.

Developing templates for their profiles and bios is a good starting point. We also recommend coming up with a copy template or formula for sharing company content.

3) Train employees on how to talk about the company.

Since you’re just starting your employee advocacy program, it’s likely that you don’t have any guidelines in place for how employees should represent themselves as ambassadors of your brand.

Get out ahead of this before asking them to start sharing company content on their different profiles.

Do you have a distinct brand voice or message? Communicate this with your employees and train them on how to appropriately match that tone in their own posts. The templates will help with this, but it’s best to also have explicit rules and guidelines so that everyone is on the same page from the beginning.

Level 2 of Employee Advocacy

If you’re starting at this point, many of your employees are already actively re-sharing company posts from their personal profiles.

To ‘level up’ and generate further employee engagement, we suggest an incentive system.

Keep in mind that this is extra on top of your employees’ existing responsibilities and workload, so while intrinsic motivation is nice, it’s neither guaranteed nor fair to expect. In other words, a shout out in closed internal channels might feel good, but it’s not proportional to the extra work being done.

That extra effort and investment in the company should be rewarded with tangible ‘extras’ that your employees will actually be interested in, like gift cards, team lunches, and even bonuses.

Another way to motivate employee advocacy is by gamifying the process. Create a leaderboard and show key metrics so the team can keep track of who’s gaining the most impressions, engagement, or leads.

Friendly competition is a great way to drive participation.

Level 3 of Employee Advocacy

At this level, employees are starting to be proactive and are creating valuable content for the brand to share. It’s unlikely that this will just happen out of the blue, though — most employees will need a little nudge.

There are myriad ways to do this, like:

  • Showcasing employee work, projects, and achievement through the company blog.
  • Sharing case studies that highlight your team’s work on the website.
  • Encouraging employees to submit responses to “roundup” posts.
  • Asking for your employees perspective on relevant industry news.
  • Providing relevant, approved topics for employees to write about (LinkedIn articles is a good place for this kind of content).

It’s important that you let your employees decide for themselves how much they’re comfortable contributing. You don’t have to throw them into the deep end right away by asking them to write a full exposé — they can work up to that.

Shopify does a really good job of this with their employee advocacy program. They source content from their employees at every level, from low commitment employee features on the company page to employee-written blog posts that showcase expertise to resharing high-level executive content.

This type of content is perfect for employees who want to boost their own personal brand and authority while gaining perks from being an employee advocate.

Bonus: it usually means content for the brand to share, too, which is great for your content calendar.

Level 4 of Employee Advocacy

This is where things really start to take off.

Not only are your employees high level advocates and ambassadors for your company on social, they’re crushing it so hard that they have their own personal brands with active and engaged followings.

If your employees are already thought leaders and influencers in the space, make the most of it by cross promoting and amplifying each other’s content.

Of course you want your rock star employees to be sharing company wins and elevating your content, but the opposite is also true. Repost their best content on your company account and have other employees hype them up, too.

Some of the best examples of this actually come from media. Take for instance the business newsletter MorningBrew. Their team members post viral Twitter threads that build their own brands but they’re also constantly plugging their employer’s content, too.

Executive Social Media as Part of Your Employee Advocacy Program

At this stage, you’ll also want to seriously consider how executive social media activation can work for your brand and augment your employee advocacy program. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Which executives are best positioned to be influencers in your industry?
  2. Are they already actively posting or will you need to post on social media for them?

A great example of executive advocacy is Sheryl Sandburg, COO of Facebook. She’s specifically known for her thought leadership on the topic of women in business and has a personal brand outside of Facebook with a substantial following. The result is a mutually beneficial relationship where each brand elevates the other.

Another example is Rand Fishkin, co-founder and former CEO at Moz, who used his personal brand as a way to boost thought leadership for himself and the company as whole. Having a human face to associate with the brand eventually translated into branding cred, revenue, and long-term business growth.

That all sounds great, of course, but getting executive buy-in might be difficult for a few reasons. Here are the most common concerns and how to address them:

  1. They lack experience on social media and don’t feel comfortable with it. Provide training specifically for the execs. As the faces of the company, it’s super important that they feel comfortable representing the brand online and the high level nature of their positions means that the standard employee training probably won’t be as relevant to their needs.
  2. They don’t feel like they have any ideas to share online or they simply don’t have time to come up with those ideas. Yes, they’re busy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have something valuable to add to the conversation. Make it easier for them by sharing specific opportunities so they don’t have to spend time seeking them out.
  3. They’re not convinced of the ROI of an employee advocacy program. Show them the real-time value. It also helps to share what the competition is doing and how their programs are driving engagement and growth (or not driving it — that’s an opportunity to step in and fill that vacuum).

How to Roll Out an Employee Advocacy Program?

So, now that we’ve identified a basic roadmap on how to start your employee advocacy program, let’s work on how to roll it out.

First, your should ask a few important questions:

1) Who is Running the Show?

Identify which internal department(s) will start the employee advocacy program and run it moving forward. Perhaps it could be your marketing, PR, or communications team? Or perhaps recruiting and sales will drive the process? Or even the HR department?

2) Why are Employees Involved?

It’s important to articulate the plan to employees and show them how their efforts will be rewarded.

Explain the importance of starting an employee advocacy program. We went into this in more detail earlier, but here are the key points to keep in mind:

  • Developing brand awareness
  • Reaching a wider audience
  • Helping grow your team
  • Boosting sales, revenue, and company growth
  • Building your employees’ professional clout online

You also want to provide them as much detail as possible for how this new process will work. Start by:

  • Quantifying the rewards
  • Gamifying the system
  • Identifying the step-by-step process

3) How Will Onboarding Work?

Whether you’re a team of 10 or 10,000, you’re not trying to roll out a program that needs to be adopted by every single member of your team. Instead, develop a plan that selects pilot employees and teams that will have the biggest impact:

  • Select coaches with lots of social media experience and knowledge in place who can provide support to other employees in the program.
  • Select ‘Cheerleaders’ and ‘Champions’. These are small groups of employees who are already motivated and can make the process look fun and exciting to other employees.
  • Distribute materials that lay out the process for your employees so that the how and why of everything is clear.

Are You Ready to Start Your Employee Advocacy Program?

You should now be able to level set your own program and have a good idea of what the roadmap looks like to get you where you want to go. With that said, there are a few final things of note.

While we definitely recommend looking at what the best brands are doing to inspire and inform your own employee advocacy campaigns, don’t get too caught up in the comparison game. You don’t want to compare your Level 1 program to some brand’s Level 3 or 4.

Instead, acknowledge what success looks like at your level. What are the opportunities you’ve identified? What are the short-term goals you’ve set? Focus on these pieces and how they can keep your program accountable toward your long-term goals and overall vision.

Building an employee advocacy program that drives growth for your brand takes time.

At the end of the day, this is about strategically and authentically turning the spotlight on your brand’s best asset — the people behind it.

We know that it can sometimes be intimidating to start an employee advocacy program. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Book a meeting to chat with us about how we can help your team build and execute an employee advocacy program that is efficient, effective, and even fun for your team.

And in the meantime, here are a few of our other posts packed with great social media marketing info that we think will be helpful for you:

Meghan Crawford

Meet Meghan Crawford, travel writer, em dash enthusiast, and Content Marketing Manager at Sculpt.

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