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Imagine you just invested a lot of time and resources in your next content masterpiece. You did third-party research, interviewed industry experts, carefully crafted the copy with your target persona in mind, and pulled out all the stops to design a visually compelling piece.

You then released it into the wild through all your Web and social channels and sat back, waiting for it to become the next viral sensation.

But then the unthinkable happened: No one shared it (gasp!).

What happened?

Even the greatest content sometimes needs an early boost to gain traction in social media. Paid promotion and influencer marketing can certainly help, but those can be costly. Fortunately, virtually every organization has a captive audience that's willing—and even happy—to share content with their networks for free...

Look to your left, look to your right, look at Bob in accounting: I'm talking about your fellow employees (bet you didn't know Bob has 3,000 Twitter followers).

Increasingly, marketers are turning to employee advocacy to solve their content-promotion woes.

With organic reach now more elusive than ever, structured employee advocacy programs help brands connect with audiences in an authentic way by using their own employees.

No budget? No problem. You can build an employee advocacy program for free or at a very low cost—especially compared with paid social promotion or influencer product placement.

Here are five ways you'll give your marketing content a boost by turning your employees into social advocates.

1. Building Trust and Confidence

People can be wary of content from a brand they don't know, but they will trust content recommendations from the people in their social networks. In fact, social media users are 16 times more likely to read brand posts shared by their friends than from a brand itself.

By encouraging employees to promote your content, you're tapping into the trust they've already established with their networks. Moreover, employee advocacy humanizes your brand, putting a familiar face to your company and making people more receptive to you and your message.

And speaking of trust: enlisting your employees in your social promotion plans requires trusting your employees. Rather than prohibiting use of social media at work, encourage it (within reason, of course). Have a documented employee social media policy and train your employees on it. If you're still wary, consider an employee advocacy technology that allows you to pick and choose what employees can share. (At Zendesk, we use Bambu by Sprout Social, which we fill with a combination of our branded content and relevant third-party pieces for employees to share, if they so choose.)

2. Amplifying and Unifying Your Message

According to research by the MSL Group, employees are connected to 10 times more people on social media than their brand is, and those employees can help boost reach by as much as 561%.

That sounds more attractive than ever, considering the decline of organic reach on social media in recent years. A study by SocialFlow found that organic reach on Facebook dropped by an astounding 42% per post between January and May of 2016. So why not use your own employee base to make up some of that shortfall?

By using a social advocacy platform or internal channels such as email or Slack, you can also unify the message. Unless your internal policy forbids it, some employees will share your content anyway, and all those posts will likely be different (and some may be off-message). If you have an official program that encourages employees to share and even provides pre-written social posts for them, you can ensure that a consistent message is hitting the socialsphere around the same time.

Imagine the impact when a prospective customer sees your content shared or re-shared by several people they're connected to; it's certainly better (and less creepy) than those retargeting ads that follow you everywhere.

3. Increasing Trackable Metrics

Demonstrating the ROI of content is a struggle for most B2B marketers. With organic social media traffic, it can be hard to tell exactly where all those clicks are coming from and what motivated people to share your content in the first place.

With an employee advocacy program, you can attribute those employee shares and learn how influential your employees' networks are and what types of content resonate with their audiences.

We keep a close eye on which content is resonating the most with our employees by tracking how often it's shared. With these insights, we're able to curate content that will likely appeal to our employees and generate the most shares. Some of our more popular posts are shared upwards of 50 times by our employees, generating tens of thousands of impressions.

We also track traffic back to our website from those shares, using UTM codes to identify visitors who arrived by clicking one of our employee's shared posts. Slowly but surely, we've seen employee social shares creep higher and higher in our list of incoming traffic sources to our content. Once in a while, when a blog post resonates particularly well with our employees, we'll even see clicks from our employees' social shares crack the top 10 in the list of traffic drivers for that post.

4. Encouraging Social Sales

According to research by social selling expert Jim Keenan, a whopping 72% of sales reps who use social media as part of their sales approach outsell their peers. Sales reps who use social selling tactics also seal the deal more often, with 54% of reps saying that social media helped them close a deal.

Much to our initial surprise, some of our most enthusiastic employee advocates are from Sales. By giving them consistent, high-quality content to share on social media, we're helping to make their challenging jobs a little easier while also positioning them as trusted, knowledgeable resources to their audience of customers and prospects.

5. Increasing Revenue

At the end of the day, your content must improve the bottom line: Even if you get an A+ in quality or even reach, but an F in business impact, your days are numbered. Fortunately, employee advocacy has proven to pack a powerful punch in the revenue department.

In a recent study by the Aberdeen Group, companies with an employee advocacy program recorded, on average, a 26% jump in revenue year over year.

To get there, though, employee advocacy must be a done correctly. According to the same study, there are two key attributes to success: the provision of engaging content and the ability for employees to freely choose which content to share.

I would add a third: giving your team the flexibility to choose which channels to share on. Our employees vary widely in their social media preferences: Some are prolific Twitter users, others are solely on LinkedIn or Facebook. The platform we use allows employees to pick their preferred channel (or channels) for each piece of content they share.

* * *

Employees are an invaluable asset for brand content promotion. Any company still weighing the merits of employee advocacy should consider taking the leap. Start small, if need be. In addition to all the benefits discussed in this article, structured employee advocacy programs are a great way to foster a more engaged and enthusiastic culture in your organization.

When even Bob in accounting is sharing your latest video with his 3,000 Twitter followers, you know your advocacy program is a success.

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Five Ways Your Own Employees Can Boost Your Marketing Content

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image of Monica Norton

Monica Norton is Zendesk's senior director of content marketing. She leads the merry band of wizards who produce content for Zendesk and Relate.

LinkedIn: Monica Noordam Norton

Twitter: @monicalnorton