A Guide to Building and Maintaining your Employee Advocacy Program
Are you curious about employee advocacy but don’t really know how to really get started? Are you ready to launch your first employee advocacy program? Then you are in the right place: here we discuss the essential steps to take on the journey to establish and maintain a successful employee advocacy program.
Why you need an employee advocacy program
Nowadays, consumers make their business talk online. They trust people more than they trust brands. They are more open-minded and lenient on social media when engaging with people rather than companies. That is what the entire concept of employee advocacy hinges on: people trust people, which is why if companies wish to establish genuine connections and relationships with their consumers and potential customers, they have to rely on the credibility of their employees.
People who like and are passionate about your brand and talk about it on social media, for example, have the credibility and authenticity you might lack as the company providing the product or service you’re trying to sell.
Advocate voices will sound much more real and honest to your audience's ears and thus more easily win over your target audience's hearts (and wallets).
That’s why your employees are the perfect people for the job as the actual force driving your company forward. They know you, your brand, your culture, your offer, and the benefits your product or service brings – doesn’t it make sense, then, to formally engage them in an employee advocacy program where you can take advantage of their knowledge and expertise to drive business benefits and amplify your brand?
With their help, you can quickly spread your brand’s story and vision on social media. Your employees have a big incentive to be your advocates —most of the time, employee advocacy is already happening in companies, whether it’s being managed or not.
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How to launch your first advocacy program
Let’s start from the beginning. An employee advocacy program is an intentional, structured initiative that brings in other employees from your organization into the recruiting process. Advocates or ambassadors are current employees who can speak authentically about their functional roles and build connections with candidates applying for open roles. They can advocate and vouch for your business, company culture, and talent brand.
Find the right platform
The first step in launching an employee advocacy program in your company is finding the right tool. Finding the best platform out there to empower your employees to be the advocates you want them to be is essential, and there are many criteria to evaluate the different options out there and pick the one that caters to your need in the best way possible.
The perfect fit does exist. Even though what makes the ideal fit for you depends on what you want to achieve, there are some must-have features you should be looking out for:
- Ease of use. A tool that’s intricate and complicated to navigate through risks putting your users off from the start. Great software is intuitive, simple, and straightforward. There is no steep learning curve, a transparent interface to interact with, and no hidden functionalities employees ‘should not worry about for now.’
- Reporting system. A lean and efficient reporting system will help you maximize the potential of your advocacy program and give you an idea of how well it is performing.
For example, you should be able to measure the activity and identify your most active advocates, best-performing campaigns, the content your community is eager to consume, and the most effective messages, measure the outcomes, and measure the ROI – namely, estimate how much you saved on your monthly and yearly ad spend.
- Personalization of the ambassadors' experience. Employee advocacy is a great social selling tool, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all. If you want it to deliver the results you are looking for, you should think about how you can make it unique for each ambassador — in other words, personalize their experience.
Every campaign, initiative, and share within your program should be customized to resonate with as many individual ambassadors as possible. This is why it is a good idea to diversify the content you put out. You want to dress your message in different jackets every time to maximize authenticity and diversity.
- Stellar customer support. An advocacy software solution is not a one-time purchase. It’s a service that is provided to you constantly, continuously. Customer assistance is critical for this business. No matter how many issues you’re encountering in setting things up, how many tips you need for onboarding more employees, or how often you need help with customization, there should always be a team ready to jump on it.
Identify the most active employees
When selecting your advocates to join your employee advocacy program, be sure to ask yourself: “Is this person genuinely excited to connect with candidates?” and “Do they clearly understand the time commitments for this program?” And be sure to articulate clear expectations for the program when you’re recruiting advocates within your company.
One way to go about this could be to send out a general survey to your entire employee base to gauge their attitude and get an idea of what their thoughts are when it comes to becoming a social advocate and taking part in an employee advocacy program. In this phase, it is important to make sure you are giving everyone the opportunity to join the initiative but also select the right people.
Ideally, you want people who are willing to commit to being an ambassador: this means being ready to regularly be active on your employee advocacy platform of choice but also being willing to engage on social media. An important question to ask in this survey is what their level of social media experience is: someone who isn’t very skilled with social media platforms will need training, and you should think about setting up a social media policy for employees before launching the program to give uniform guidelines.
On top of that, don’t forget to explain in detail what the program entails and what it means for them to become ambassadors of the company. To build enthusiasm for the program, it’s always best to highlight the benefits teammates get from participating. Mentorship and leadership opportunities are excellent areas to highlight.
When you want to build an advocate community, it's important to first start with a small-ish group of employees and then gradually increase the number of your seats. The reason is that you can easily keep an eye on how everyone is doing, gauge their response, easily collect feedback from them, and prepare the community to be the best possible for when the rest of your workforce will be invited to join in.
Set up goals and KPIs
Setting goals and KPIs for a newly built employee advocacy program is a crucial step, which is why our suggestion is to start small with easily attainable goals (onboarding a certain number of ambassadors, for example) and then expand into something bigger as your ambassadors become more and more accustomed to the community and begin to deliver the first actionable results. Think of it as two phases that follow each other: a short-term buzz and a long-term achievement.
The former is the initial onboarding, characterized by a lot of excitement and curiosity for the new tool – which, by consequence, requires smaller, more carefully-planned goals that can easily boost the morale – and the latter is defined by a long-term commitment from your advocates. This entails the creation of a sustainable network of employee ambassadors that will take more effort to build but will guarantee the success of your employee advocacy program.
As for the KPIs, these depend on the goals you set for yourself and your employee advocacy program: it is about more than reach, after all. Suppose your main goal is talent acquisition: your relevant KPIs will then be, for example, the number of applications from referred candidates, the retention rate of new hires, and the number of referrals.
Similarly, if your goal is social selling, you will focus your attention on the number of clicks you get, the number of MQLs and SQLs, and the website traffic.
Launch your employee advocacy program
Once you’ve established your program goals and your advocate group, and you've prepared a small library of challenge ideas for them to participate in, you are ready to launch your community.
Try to think of fun ways to promote this within your company, spread the word about the initiative, make it easy for your employees to want to be your brand ambassadors, and organize your onboarding.
You will find your ambassadors are much more willing and eager to interact with your content when you take the time to customize it. So, try to include a variety of content so that everyone can find something that resonates with them, switch up the requests you make, and try to really turn them into your collaborators.
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How to make your employee advocacy program a success
It goes without saying that without your employees’ support, your advocacy initiative would not go very far. Even with hard-won leadership buy-in, you can’t do much if your employees aren’t willing to pitch in and become your brand ambassadors.
The number one factor that cannot be missing here is trust. A community is not only meant to provide value to you; your advocates will also need things from you. Make it clear to them that they have advantages, show them how they can truly benefit from it, and make sure to listen to their needs and feedback.
Onboarding employees: what’s in it for them
Of course, we all know that the ultimate goal of your advocacy initiative is to amplify and grow your brand on social media, but that doesn’t really speak volumes about what your employees get out of being your ambassadors.
What will they get out of it?
- Complete integration with the company. Values, messaging, and work culture. Employees who become company ambassadors will share in all of these, and their efforts will become pivotal both internally and externally.
- Network expansion. As employees share company- and industry-related content, they attract connections and profiles from that industry. New professional relationships are born out of shared interests, and that’s how connections happen.
- Performance boost. Salespeople can tap into social selling to find prospects online. And research shows that by doing so, they get to close, on average, five extra deals.
- A stronger personal brand. The more an employee takes part in industry-relevant conversations, the more that employee profiles him- or herself as a thought leader, thus enriching and strengthening one’s personal brand.
Focus on engagement
Of course, employee advocacy is not all about dropping one request after another to your employees. Companies that constantly push out content and ask employees to share it risk taking social selling and general social sharing too far for their ambassadors. This can often make employees feel like they are only a means to an end — a tool for social media exposure rather than a trusted spokesperson for the company.
That’s why advocacy can mean and be so much more than that. You can look at advocacy as a gateway to ease people into initiatives that, with time, have the power to make employees feel more involved in company life, more appreciated, and ultimately engaged.
One way to have people try their hand at advocacy is by selling it internally as a series of tasks entailed in their roles within the company. Often, employees might already be sharing company-related content online, so asking them to formally log into a platform that organizes and distributes content to share and interact with will not come as a shock to them.
By nurturing the relationship with the ambassadors, their involvement in the company’s employee advocacy program can gradually grow into engagement as people begin to feel that their output and input are appreciated.
With time, you can count on your efforts to yield solid foundations to experiment with more interaction. How? By asking for input rather than output and ultimately empowering them and giving them the tools to contribute to the growth and goals of the organization, which might then spark engagement.
The elements you focus on to grow advocacy in your company — trust, values alignment, recognition, and an emotional connection — are the same elements you focus on when building up and nurturing highly engaged employees.
Gamification and rewards
An instrumental part of engaging employees is recognition. One of the most popular forms of recognition is rewards: we always say that rewards shouldn’t be the driving force behind your employee advocacy program, but they can be an effective source of motivation for bored advocates, for example.
What’s more important, however, is motivating your employees intrinsically, and you can do this by recognizing their efforts. Recognition is a basic human need; by recognizing your employees for the effort they put in to be your ambassador, they will be much more likely and encouraged to go the extra mile for you.
Keeping your advocates motivated
To incentivize advocates even more, Ambassify lets you add a gamification layer with a point system, leaderboards, rewards, and goals.
By introducing a leaderboard, you can make interactions more fun and competitive. The more points you earn, the higher you’ll be in the ranking. Custom leaderboards allow you to rank specific groups of advocates – for example, only people from the Marketing team. It’s an easy and fun way to spark friendly and healthy competition among your peers.
Instead of individual rewards, our goals feature allows you to create competition on a collective basis. This way, you can stimulate social involvement and engagement in your member base. You can set up a time frame, a number of points to attain, a description, etc. But you can add one or multiple objectives to each goal, so you can also set up specific team goals within the community.
Adding rewards to your community
Adding rewards means taking your gamification system one step forward. Rewards are a cool incentive for your ambassadors and a nice way for you to spread branded merch, for example, or give your employees a few extras they’ll appreciate.
Here are some ideas for your reward section:
- Monetary rewards. They are often seen as weaker motivators. Our preference goes for the option to sponsor a charity of choice. Similar yet more personalized incentives are vouchers, discounts, gift cards, etc.
- Giving access. Open all doors for your ambassadors and provide them with access to exclusive activities or content — dinner with the CEO, access to a VIP event, early bird access to a conference, etc.
- Be original and personal. This is the number one rule to apply to everything about your community.
- Stay close to your company culture. Rewards and gamification are also a way to do that, so take advantage of the possibilities at hand: Make sure your employees understand how they can earn the rewards.
- Mix monetary and non-monetary rewards. This way, you'll find out which rewards work best for your audience.
This may sound like something that doesn’t fit in with your company culture, which is fine. Gamification is not essential for your program, and Ambassify allows you to turn the features on or off based on your personal preferences. The important thing is that your community mirrors the company culture and values you ascribe to and encourages your employees to do the same.