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Developing a strategy for your employee advocacy program

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Tips and best practices for planning a successful employee advocacy program that will drive results at your organization.
employee advocacy program

Its good to have a plan

In an era of declining public trust (think viral conspiracy theories, “alternate” facts, etc.), it’s important that your company is seen in a positive light and trusted to be who they say they are. With that in mind, who better to be goodwill ambassadors for your brand or service than your own workforce? If a trusted friend can vouch for where they work, the company is more likely to be trusted by the general public. 

So how do you go about implementing a successful employee advocacy plan? The first step is always to make a plan, and our Employee Advocacy Ebook is a good place to start.

A key part of any advocacy plan is getting your employees on board, informed, and excited about providing positive, public information that promotes your strategic priorities. In other articles, we discuss using compelling content and employee recognition as methods to help encourage the workforce to disseminate content about the organization on their personal social media networks. We also explore how creative ideas are incredibly important to helping design a productive Employee Advocacy Program that helps spread the word about your brand and also gives your employees the chance to demonstrate their subject-matter expertise.

Now, let’s talk about organizational structure and employee participation. Admittedly, this may not sound as exciting as creating fresh content that everybody wants to read, rewarding employees for sharing with neat giveaways, or designing fun contests. Yes, you can create all the cool stories you want. However, you better have a structured plan to make sure that content is getting shared, too. Do your employees have the tools they need to be successful?

Here are some suggestions about how to develop that kind of strategy that will yield results.

Communication is key

Excellent employee communication is the foundation of Employee Advocacy. Look at it this way: Nobody enjoys getting left in the dark. Everyone wants to feel like they’re in the know. Keeping your employees informed of the latest company news makes them feel engaged and valued within the organization. Two-way communication between employees and their company keeps workers informed and makes them feel included, boosting positive perceptions of the organization. 

Focusing on delivering relevant information is the best way to drive advocacy. If employees understand the organizational mission and appreciate how their efforts are contributing to that goal, they are far more likely to share the content you create and provide their own content. That’s because they feel like they’re part of the team.

That’s why as experts in Employee Communication and Engagement (ECE), we recommend customers use our platform as a way to deliver relevant information to their workers AND encourage employees to share company-approved content through social media channels. They go hand-in-hand.

At Firstup, we drink our own champagne. Our internal ECE platform that we call Nextup is the main channel of company news. It’s also a treasure trove of curated content that employees can share with their friends, family, and network to highlight the great things happening at Firstup.

Role of metrics in adoption and participation

Employee Advocacy is a number and data game.

By all means, get your creative juices cranked up and produce riveting blog posts and funny videos that your members will enjoy. Yet, it’s also crucial to set targets and metrics so you can track the progress of your program. Doing that first requires research on your part. You need to understand what content is resonating and with whom. What channels are effective? What time are people looking at content?

These are the kind of benchmarks that will help you chart a path to program success. Data should serve as your roadmap. Use it to establish realistic and achievable goals, such as the number of members enrolled, active users, the amount of content they share, and so on. By tracking that data, you can be flexible in fine-tuning your program to make sure you’re making progress toward your goals.

One piece of advice, though: It’s important to understand what the data is telling you.

For instance, we’ve seen an immediate 25-percent increase in sharing when an Employee Advocacy-based community was rolled out to the entire company instead of being limited to a smaller handful of members in a test program. On one hand, that’s great! But also understand, that launching a program to the whole organization inherently means you have more people enrolled. That can be a huge undertaking that results in more questions, demands, and community management. Meanwhile, companies that utilize a pilot program will have lower participants. But they also will be able to establish company trends that will likely scale upon a later corporate rollout. So, the immediate impact might be less. But it also might lead to greater, long-term adoption.

My point simply is this: Whatever your strategy, establish understandable metrics tied to goals that are important to your business. Use these benchmarks to help you track adoption and formulate best practices for establishing external engagement through sharing. Are you creating content employees want to share? Are you delivering it to them when they’re more likely to share? What platforms do they like to use to share content? All of this is great information for you to improve your Employee Advocacy efforts.

“With baby boomers exiting the workforce, and a huge audience of millennials and young talent entering the workforce, we just knew that it was time to think about a different way of communicating. Our intranet was outdated and not mobile optimized, and we saw that the Firstup platform would give us the unified communications we were looking for.”

— Lindsey Sofia, Corporate Communications, Lincoln Financial

Training sessions

The entire idea of Employee Advocacy is not entirely new, however, it’s a mistake to assume your employees are experts. A platform like Firstup that can easily link to their personal social media channels might be quite intimidating for some people. We have an answer for helping to overcome this fear.

We provide “guardrails” for workers so they can safely share company-approved content. For instance, information that a company wants to share is clearly marked. Communicators can even provide some suggested text that employees could add to their share. Meanwhile, our platform also prevents employees from sharing content that is designed to be only for internal eyes. Communicators have the ability to block content that they deem to be sensitive information that shouldn’t be shared externally. Companies always remain in control of the message.

So, we recommend creating training sessions that focus on making employees feel more confident and comfortable about being active on social media. It’s also a perfect opportunity to explain that this is an opportunity for people to build their personal brands. After all, Employee Advocacy should be about the people first, not the company.

It’s a good idea to pre-register your employees to the platform and walk them through the onboarding process. But the greatest success comes with a structured program. It’s more than teaching people about how to use the platform. It should be about online best practices along with tips and tricks. It will also demystify social media for those people who don’t have a lot of experience with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on.

One of the best examples we’ve seen comes from business analytics software company SAS, which for 21 consecutive years has been listed in Fortune magazine’s Best Companies to Work For list. The company created an award-winning program called “The 140” – named after the old Twitter character count limit. In just a few years, more than 600 people have gone through the program where they learn about things like taking great photos with mobile devices, how to use hashtags and creating their LinkedIn profiles. As they feel more comfortable with social media, they become more likely to share SAS content.

Segment your members

Understanding your members is not a new tactic. People have been trying to gather data points on user behavior for years. But it’s especially useful in Employee Advocacy. By segmenting your employees based on department, role, location, or even online activity, you can help develop content that will resonate more effectively with each segment while not overloading every employee with constant messages that may or may not be relevant to them.

For instance, one successful tactic we’ve seen is when companies cultivate their online “power” users. These are the people who love social media and who are already active in sharing content and taking part in online discussions. These are your digital “Johnny Appleseed” employees who can plant the seeds of broader success for your Employee Advocacy program. Getting them involved can be your catalyst.

In our article Internal communication and employee advocacy: Better together, we discussed the 1/9/90 rule, something Michael Brito, the author of “Participation Marketing: Unleashing Employees to Participate and Become Brand Storytellers,” believes in. This means that one percent of your employees will be the storytellers – the ones who will lead conversations. Nine percent will actively share that content within their networks. The other 90 percent of employees are likely only to passively follow the conversation and share content occasionally, or maybe not all. They’ll just watch the conversation. And that’s perfectly OK

Not everyone wants to be involved in an Employee Advocacy program. The goal, of course, is to mobilize and empower those “hand-raisers” who do want to share your brand story. Read our guide to why employees are your best ambassadors for in-depth tips and tricks for doing just that!

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Firstup is redefining the digital employee experience to put people first and lift companies up. We make communication solutions that build authentic engagement and create two-way conversation between employees and companies. Our powerful orchestration engine connects every worker, everywhere, on any device with personalized information that helps them do their best work. That’s why 40% of the Fortune 100 companies have chosen us to power their frontline, simplify their digital workplace and unlock the potential of their workforces.

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