To fear or to trust your employees, that is the question
I come from a crisis communications background, where there’s an inherent fear employees can cause, accelerate, or worsen crises. Meaning organizations trust external branding exclusively to marcomm experts, and view the rest of the employee populace as something to fear.
The problem is, most employees aren’t dumb drones who, if not kept at arms’ length, will tank the company willfully or accidentally. The situations in which everyone needs to be tightly on-message in a crisis are rare – and can and should be managed differently. But even – especially – in those situations, an active, involved, and informed employee base is critical.
Enter employee advocacy. As a discipline, it is increasingly going mainstream – employee advocacy programs have grown 191% since 2013 and IBM has won awards for their pioneering initiatives.
What Is Employee Advocacy?
There are a host of definitions, but the most succinct I’ve seen is from PostBeyond: employee advocacy programs “encourage employees to participate in the communications efforts of the company,” bridging culture, content, and sharing. To put it simply, it’s the discipline of communicating to and through employees, empowering, engaging, and activating them to be involved and informed.
Too often, employee advocacy is viewed through the narrow lens of marketing. And yes, as organic social reach becomes harder to come by, activating employees to share content can expand reach without having to pay for each click.
But that shortchanges the much broader value of a smart program, including for employees for themselves. In my view, this opens at least five core opportunities:
- Marketing: Exponentially greater reach. According to Cisco, employees have social networks that reach 10x a company’s followers. Data from HootSuite reveals employee-shared content generates 8x more engagement than brand content and is re-shared 25x more often. People trust other people (including employees) 90% of the time, but they only trust official brand content 33% of the time.
- Reputation Management: No accidental misrepresentation. Yes, you can equip employees to share positive content about the company. But, more importantly, you can keep employees informed during sensitive times, minimizing confusion over what can or cannot be said.
- HR/Recruiting: Referrals and retention. The same program can keep employees up to date on open positions and encourage referrals. After all, employee referrals account for just 7% of applicants but 40% of new hires. Beyond that, employees at socially engaged companies are also 20% more likely to stay at their job.
- Sales: Enable social selling. Salespeople need content to foster relationships with prospects and advance conversations, but often struggle with gaining access to the right content. An employee advocacy program can help – and take advantage of the 7x greater conversation rate among leads developed and nurtured through social marketing.
- Internal Communications: Be heard. Traditional internal communications programs focus on offering content via an intranet, newsletter, or email. But internal emails have just a 52% open rate. Instead, offering news and updates to employees through the same easy-to-use mechanism can dramatically increase engagement.
What’s In It For Employees?
Why should employees care? Why should they share a bunch of content pimping their employer?
A successful program must offer employees relevant, high-quality content that helps them build their personal brand and showcase their expertise. Yes, some pride in the great things your organization is accomplishing can be mixed in, but nobody likes – and nobody’s going to listen to – a corporate shill.
This can also keep employees informed – without having to rely on an outdated intranet or sorting through an overflowing inbox. Employees can see what’s going on quickly and easily on their phone, right there alongside other interesting content.
Finally, this can eliminate confusion about doing something wrong on social. There’s no shortage of examples of employees engaging in inappropriate social media activity, but far more people simply shy away. They are as afraid of doing something wrong as their employer is of them doing something wrong. I call that the fear gap.
Bridge The Fear Gap
If only there were a way to bridge that fear gap: the fear employers have of employees, and the fear employees have of running afoul.
Employee advocacy is that bridge. It can facilitate a trust that extends in both directions. It can minimize risk for employer and employee.
It is the ticket for trust to beat fear.