If there is truth in clichés, the well-worn phrase "we're all in marketing now" has something to teach companies. What your employees say about your company—in person and on social media—holds weight.

That's why brands are going big on employee advocacy programs.

In a 2016 survey, Altimeter found that 90% of surveyed companies are engaging employees in brand advocacy or plan to do so soon. That makes sense: Employee advocacy on social outperforms digital advertising, according to the report, "Social Media Advocacy: Tapping Into the Power of an Engaged Workforce."

At the same time, though, other studies tell us employee engagement is low: Only one out of every three people report trusting their employer.

When the fundamental basis of trust is missing, the tenet that "we're all in marketing now" becomes a far less optimistic statement.

What do your employees truly think about your brand? Do they trust your leadership team? And when they talk about the company publicly, does that support or undercut your marketing goals?

The authors of a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, "Connect, Then Lead," Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger, cut to the heart of the problem. "Without a foundation of trust," they wrote, "people in the organization may comply outwardly with a leader's wishes, but they're much less likely to conform privately — to adopt the values, culture, and mission of the organization in a sincere, lasting way."

How can employees who feel this way advocate for their companies? They can't.

To strengthen their campaigns, marketers need to get a handle on employee engagement, and the best way to find out how employees feel about the company is simply to ask.

Specific, regular, quick-answer questions can start conversations, reinforce connections, increase engagement, and inform marketing programs, whether you're talking about employee advocacy efforts or any other type of campaign. When you ask questions in a transparent, non-anonymous manner—and when company leaders show they listen and act on employee responses—companies can close the trust gap at work and improve their marketing results.

The questions you ask can focus on a lot of areas: the work, the culture, the team, the business, and how it's marketed. Getting a baseline understanding of employees' views can and should inform how you market the company.

Here are the results of four questions our customers have asked their employees.

1. Do you think our marketing accurately represents our products and services?

Of the 77 companies that have asked this question of their 490 employees through Know Your Company (my firm), 65% of respondents have said "yes" and 35% have said "no."

Of course, the conversations sparked by this single question can raise many more, which Marketing and other departments, such as Customer Service and Product Development, should explore.

After all, if one-third of employees don't believe the way you market the company matches what you deliver, that's a data point that needs diving into—by more than just Marketing.

2. Do you think our company's reputation clearly represents who we really are?

We've had 104 companies ask this question of 696 employees. Of the respondents, 74% said "yes" and 26% said "no."

How employees elaborate after selecting "yes" or "no" can tell you a lot more, however:

  • Do they think the company's reputation is positive or negative?
  • Is there a specific misconception about the company that multiple employees point out?
  • How do they feel about that misconception?
  • Can this conversation help kick-start an employee advocacy program?

3. Do you think our customers think as highly of us as we do?

Some 88 companies we work with have asked this question, and 667 of their employees have answered: 76% said "yes," and 24% said "no."

If 24% of your team gave you this feedback, what would you want to ask them to follow up? How would this feedback alter the way you view your marketing messages? Your buyer personas? Your campaign strategy?

4. Do you think we're misunderstood as a company?

We've had 61 Know Your Company customers ask this question of 443 employees, 40% of whom said "yes."

If 40% of your team thinks your company is misunderstood, that is a problem Marketing can address—even if the solution goes back to the idea that everyone is in marketing.

* * *

Altimeter found that more than three-quarters of the employees who engage in advocacy programs are managers or above. Millennial workers, the most likely to embrace social media, are, unfortunately, the least engaged.

As marketers explore ways to increase employee participation in campaigns and improve results, they should start by finding out how engaged their teams really are—and then go on to consider what they can do to build stronger connections.

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How to Use Employee Feedback to Build Better Marketing Campaigns

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image of Claire Lew

Claire Lew is the CEO of Know Your Company, a software tool that helps companies with 25-75 employees get to know their employees better and overcome growing pains.

LinkedIn: Claire Lew

Twitter: @cjlew23