The proven power of influencers in digital marketing has also led to the emergence of employee social advocacy: the voluntary promotion of a company by its own employees on social media platforms.

Employee social advocacy is an alternative to influencer marketing that involves looking inside the organization, instead of outside of it, to identify influential voices that will drive engagement and build trust in a truly authentic way.

And it works. In fact, it is rapidly spreading to all types of organizations and industries. Initially, top adopters were primarily private and public companies in professional services, advertising, marketing, and technology. But, during 2017, there was a notable increase in adoption across educational institutions, nonprofits, NGOs, and governmental organizations.

To boost their visibility and expand their reach, even highly regulated industries and organizations are now making use of the considerable social media footprint their employees.

Considering that 77% of employees report using social media regardless of whether their employer has a policy regulating social media use, and that 50% of employees already post content in social media about their employers without being asked to do so, the potential to turn your workforce into an army of social media influencers is massive.

In addition, it is estimated that the sum of all social media followers of employees of a company can be 10 times greater than that of the company alone.

Moreover, 79% of firms have reported more online visibility once implementing a formal employee advocacy program, according to a report by Hinge Marketing and Social Media Today. Brand messages shared by employees went 561% further than the same message shared on a brand-owned channel.

Social media users trust an employee more than they do a corporate social media profile or even the profile of a company CEO. People tend to have distrustful attitudes toward advertisements or anything that may seem like a marketing gimmick. Hearing company news from an employee makes it more credible. Employees know the company from within and are perceived as more trustworthy by their network of contacts, including family and friends. Empowering them as social media brand ambassadors also provides a human face to what consumers may see as a distant, impersonal corporation or business entity.

But the benefits of employee social advocacy programs are also internal. A program contributes to a more engaged and committed workforce, something that organizations continue to identify as a top challenge. Only 32% of US workers are engaged in their jobs, according to a study by Gallup, and that rate drops to 29% for Millennials. Employee advocacy can fight that disengagement epidemic by considering employees an essential component of the company's growth and development.

Acting as a voice for the company they work for is, generally, an honor and a responsibility for employees. Those who actively do it tend to become more involved with the internal culture and are driven to cultivate a positive work environment.

In fact, participants in employee advocacy programs who were asked about how they felt after sharing work-related content reported their top feeling as follows: "I feel more connected [to] and enthusiastic about the company I work for." They are also 27% more likely to feel optimistic about their companies' future and 20% more likely to stay at their companies.

There are are also benefits for employees: They can use their advocacy for the companies they work for as an opportunity to build their personal brand. Every time they share company news and announcements, studies, or whitepapers, they are establishing themselves as an authority in their field. The most successful employee advocacy programs elevate employees as thought leaders in a way that benefits both the employees and the business.

Encourage employees to write in their own style to reflect their unique voice and point of view every time they share company content. Also, provide them with compelling and meaningful content that will help to establish them as experts in your industry.

Before you approach employees with a social media request, have a clear strategy and process in place. The following 10 steps lay out the formula to launch your employee advocacy program and get the team on board.

1. Develop a social media strategy and plan

  • Identify your business objectives for the program, and determine what tactics you will employ to reach your target audience in their preferred social media space.
  • Create a road map with a month-by-month breakdown of content pieces and key messages to be communicated.
  • Determine what success will look like, and choose the KPIs to monitor.

2. Invite your staff to join your new employee social advocacy program voluntarily

  • The only way to make sure that your program attracts only the best candidates from your team is to make this an optional endeavor.
  • Those employees who want to take part will do so with great interest and passion, and that will be reflected in the way they share branded or other content showcasing your company.

3. Create an employee advocacy team to manage companywide efforts, and appoint a program coordinator

  • To make sure you are selecting the right employees for your team, identify those employees who show a particular aptitude and interest for social media. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Are there employees who are particularly active in the social media platform where your target audience engages online?
  • Are there employees who are already sharing company content on an ongoing basis?
  • When selecting a program coordinator, you want someone who is accountable for results as well as particularly savvy about social media, so that activating the program and getting other employees excited about participating doesn't become overly difficult.

4. Launch a pilot program with a small group of employees before extending it to the entire organization

  • Start off with a six-month pilot program consisting of at most10-15 employees before you roll out the program to your entire organization.
  • Make sure you have ample time to test your strategy and processes and perfect any areas of trouble before you scale the program and get other employees on board.

5. Create social media guidelines, and educate employees on best practices

  • Employee social advocacy efforts must never be a guessing game. Employees should be 100% clear as to what is allowed and not allowed in any particular situation. Remember that implementing such a program is like giving each one of your employees a megaphone to relay your messages.
  • Make sure that guidelines are in place, and determine whether content and messaging need to be pre-approved by the program's coordinator before being published.
  • Arm your employees with tips and strategies that will strengthen what they are already doing.

6. Curate and develop a variety of fresh and relevant content for employees to share with their followers

  • For your employee social advocacy program to run smoothly, you need clear processes and guidelines as well as a calendar that assures there will be ongoing content available for distribution.
  • Once you kick off the program, make sure you don't have any quiet months. Take a look at content that you've already created and decide whether it's worth recycling and giving it a second push, but this time through your employees' personal social media channels.
  • Align your communication strategy for the program with your bigger companywide efforts—to generate true impact and boost the reach of the most crucial stories.

7. Educate employees about the brand and its mission

  • It is important for employees to understand why what they are doing matters so they feel inspired to join the program and act as true, organic brand advocates. They should understand the big picture and how their support is going to help accomplish the company's mission.
  • You want them to be both aligned to the vision and values of the organization and also moved in a way that amplifies their pride of belonging and their desire to share it with their network.

8. Invest in employees' personal brands

  • Employees should feel empowered and shouldunderstand that the program is mutually beneficial. Provide coaching sessions to teach them how to use social media to establish themselves as thought leaders in their field. Having employees who are actively engaged and ahead of the curve in your industry will help you spread your brand messages even further.
  • You want the program to include ongoing touchpoints with your team to offer training and access to experts who can help them use social media in a strategic way and foster an open and natural dialogue with their followers.

9. Reward employees with incentives for their support

  • Motivate your employees to participate by providing a catalog of incentives or rewards that are available to them for sharing content—maybe an extra day off, a restaurant gift certificate, or tickets to the movies.
  • For example, you might award points for each social media post. Employees can then exchange accumulated points for prizes.

10. Invest in a platform to monitor your program's performance

  • The easiest and most effective way to implement an employee social advocacy program is to invest in an employee advocacy tool that both streamlines your processes and measures the ROI of your efforts by tracking specific KPIs.
  • You need to have the ability to swiftly pivot if your current strategy is not yielding the results you expected, and to do so in a way that is not disruptive and which keeps your entire team informed at all times.

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How to Launch Your First Employee Advocacy Program, and Why You Should

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image of Ismael El-Qudsi

Ismael El-Qudsi is CEO and co-founder of influencer marketplace and employee advocacy tool SocialReacher. His digital marketing experience includes roles as head of SEO and social media at Havas and project manager for Microsoft Bing in his native Spain.

Twitter: @elqudsi

LinkedIn: Ismael El-Qudsi