Employee Advocacy = Engaged Employees

A great work environment with happy employees is the start for creating sincere and enduring employee advocates. When people experience a wonderful culture in action and believe in the reputation of their company, they become your most effective spokespeople.

Why Does it Matter?

There is a lot of research out there that supports the direct correlation between employee satisfaction and its impact on customer satisfaction.  When employees are engaged advocates, they will go the extra mile for the customer, seeking out alternate and better ways to deliver service that amazes and delights. These employees don’t mind spending extra time with a customer to ensure their complete satisfaction, has been met, and are more likely to set achievable expectations for customer service delivery and timing.

Additionally, employee advocacy humanizes your brand. It puts a face to the brick and mortar of your business and allows people outside the company to better identify with your people-driven mission. It’s like word-of-mouth advertising… a very powerful weapon in the war for customer satisfaction and their dollars.

What’s in it for Employees?

Empowerment allows employees to become stakeholders by having them take part in decision-making processes. This empowerment enables them to take responsibility for their role and manage their behaviors and outcomes.  A culture of trust allows people to do their job, autonomously. Employees want to create their own successes, and with that find greater satisfaction in themselves and with the culture around them.

Feedback is a powerful tool in the workplace. It enables people to see how they contribute to the bigger picture of the organization. It’s important for each employee to see how her specific role impacts the organization. Show employees, directly, how their work is improving customer retention, profitability, or the metric that is most closely related to their position. This will motivate them in their jobs, in attainable goals, and increase their engagement.

Skills and knowledge training provides the growth and expansion employees need to keep improving and advancing in their careers. Challenge them to find learning opportunities that can be applied to their jobs and allow them to put this new-found knowledge to work. The empowerment and satisfaction they can reap from this experience will encourage them to look forward to future learnings to continue growing their skills and knowledge.

Collaboration across an organization opens the door to team spirit and engages people at a more root level because they believe every employee is approachable for conversation. Being able to collaborate on projects with colleagues will increase employee engagement, and make the projects more satisfying and effective allowing employees to ideate, give peers feedback and bring solutions to the forefront. In other words, to take ownership.

Why You Need Advocates

Employees who are advocates for their organization cast a wider net not only inside the organization but externally, as well. They reach a larger audience and position themselves as the voice of the organization. They will increase your brand engagement with potential new customers and employees, which from a monetary value, can save companies dollars in advertising and marketing promotions. As engaged employees, advocates are tremendous agents and defenders of your company’s reputation, again positioning themselves as a voice for their employer. Further, research has shown that employee advocates can increase the stock value of organizations by over two and a half times versus organizations that do not support employee advocacy and engagement.

Creating Advocacy

Focus on your culture to understand how employees view the company. To truly understand how successful an advocacy program will work, you first need to understand what people are thinking. If you guess you may guess wrong and that could produce a myriad of consequences. Leadership needs to have the courage to ask, “What do you like and dislike about working here?” This information is gold to the wise employer. With this in hand, set out to better understand what your employees are seeing and that may even include how they view the leadership within the organization. Be prepared to leave your ego at the door, as the feedback may be a wake-up call for management, but if the goal is to create a better workplace, recognition of what works and what is failing miserably must be addressed.

Communication is key here. Employees are inspired by leadership that is open and authentic with communications. Strong leadership that has a clear idea of the company’s direction will be viewed much more favorably than a waffling leader that is out of touch with the company’s mission. When communications flow back and forth between leadership and the employee population, the likelihood of misunderstandings and mistakes lessens.

Measure the results. Whenever possible, track the metrics that will gauge the outcomes of employee advocacy. For example, if increased customer retention is the goal, design a program to determine what a successful outcome will be. Communicate this goal to your employees, then provide them with the resources and opportunities to explore and expand on their knowledge and skills in support of the goal. By tracking the data, you can adjust how you communicate and incentivize your employee advocacy initiatives for future goals.

Trust and Opportunity

Organizations need to believe in their employees and want to help them to promote the organization, but first they need to give them good reasons. Pressuring them rather than encouraging them will not work. Advocacy needs to flow naturally for it to be believable. Leadership can, however, empower employees with knowledge and tools to promote the benefits. With a minimal amount of direction, companies can offer opportunities for employees to exercise their bragging rights in a public, social way. I know of companies that had business cards printed for each employee so if that person was interacting in a social setting and felt the opportunity was right, they could hand their business card to potential new customers and even use it as a referral card for job seekers.

Of course, having a set of “Do’s and Don’ts” is helpful so employees understand what would fall outside the parameters of advocacy. No organization can tolerate proprietary information being shared with people outside the company, so establishing parameters that address items such as this, is important.

The Dividends

Essentially, the value of having employees who act as brand advocates offers a value next to priceless. What better way to market your organization, espouse the features of your products and spread the word in a social manner that is much less expensive than traditional marketing and advertising.

To me, employee advocacy is when employees look forward to pitching the benefits of their organization and do it because they’re excited and energized, not because they’re specifically prompted by management. What sets these advocates apart from other employees is they’re engaged with their employer and find their workplace environment a satisfying atmosphere where communication and opportunity to grow and collaborate occur with consistency.

And most importantly, organizations need to give employees a reason to advocate for the company. An engaged employee advocate is the best bet you have for increasing customer satisfaction, and to experience business prosperity in an organic manner that is natural and unprompted. And the best aspect is, it’s one of the best methods for retaining valuable talent and attracting more of the same.

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Turn Employees Into Advocates: 3 Lessons From Referral Marketing

Customer advocacy marketing – that is, turning existing customers into engaged consumers who go on to share the benefits of your product or service with others in their network – is enjoying a surge in popularity, given our increasing resistance to other forms of promotion.

The benefits of an active force of brand advocates are obvious. When your customers are doing your selling for you, you spend less of your own time and energy pushing your message out to consumers. In fact, these customer-led promotions may be more effective than any advertising strategy you’re able to implement on your own, simply because we’re more inclined to trust personal recommendations than we are marketing messages.

That said, marketing and advertising aren’t the only realms within which you can leverage the power of personal recommendations. Many of the strategies used in customer advocacy marketing apply just as well to employee advocacy programs.

In this context, however, you aren’t trying to lure in new customers with personal testimonials. Instead, you’re using employees’ natural inclination to post socially about their experiences at work to drive everything from positive brand sentiment to future sales.

Step #1:  Create an engaging culture

This can’t be overstated: employees will not advocate for a company they don’t believe in.

Shep Hyken, author of The Amazement Revolution, shares how important organizational structure is in driving customer advocates:

“Customer advocacy starts when the culture of the company is aligned with what you want the customer to experience. To begin an advocacy program, the organization must be customer-focused. What’s happening on the inside of an organization is felt on the outside by the customer.”

Intuitively, this makes sense. An unhappy customer isn’t going to refer their friends and family members to a company they don’t like; in the same way, employees who aren’t satisfied in their current positions aren’t going to post good things about your business on Facebook.

Unfortunately, disengagement is common among employees. Paul Keegan, reporting for Inc. Magazine, cites research from Gallup that states:

“Only 30 percent of American workers are engaged at work. The cost of this disengagement ranks in at a whopping $450 billion to $550 billion per year, encompassing absenteeism, workplace accidents and higher health care costs.”

Clearly, addressing your company’s culture and the role it plays in employee engagement offers many benefits beyond increased advocacy – and it should be done before any formal advocacy program is put in place.

So what does employee engagement look like? The fact is, every company will define it differently. As Hannah Botelho of Hubworks notes:

“Remember that your definition will likely – and should – be different from another organization’s, and that it may evolve over time as you listen responsively to your workers’ feedback. Once you’ve defined employee engagement, you can begin putting programs in place to support your objectives.”

Whether your employees are currently engaged or not, consider the following suggestions for creating the kind of workplace your employees will want to recommend:

  • Invest in leadership and professional development programs. Show employees the pathways that exist for growth within your organization, and offer the resources they’ll need to follow them. OfficeVibe reports that “86% of businesses and HR leaders believe they don’t have a good leadership development path” in place.
  • Help your employees believe in the mission of your company. The Dale Carnegie Institute reports that “54% of employees who were proud of their company’s contributions to society” considered themselves “”
  • Show employees that their contributions are valued. Wagepoint suggests that companies “Create an environment where everyone is treated as equals, and where all ideas and contributions are respected and appreciated. There should be a sense of camaraderie in the workplace, not an atmosphere of distrust and cutthroat behavior.”

Poll your employees periodically (and anonymously) about their level of engagement. Do not begin a formal advocacy program until you’re confident that at least some of your workers would be willing to recommend your company.

Step #2: Establish your employee advocacy goals

Once you’re ready to move towards formal employee advocacy systems – but before you actually create and implement your programs – take the time to consider what you hope to get out of them.

For example, are you hoping for:

  • Direct referrals for new business from your employees?
  • Positive reviews of your company on sites like Glassdoor?
  • Positive social media messages spread organically by your employees?
  • New job applicants referred through current employees?

Each of the above goals could be the focus of a formal advocacy program, though achieving each of them might require different tactics.

Consider also what your company is willing to invest in the program. Will you pay cash bonuses for successful referrals? If so, how much will you pay? Will your referral bonuses be one-sided or two-sided? Should the bonus be paid out immediately after a referral sale is closed, or should there be a waiting period? Will all employees be eligible, or will you be limiting your program to carefully-chosen advocates?

If you’re considering a compensation scheme that doesn’t involve cash payouts, poll your employees to see if the perks you’re thinking about offering are sufficient to incentivize referrals. Your employees may not be motivated by a $25 movie gift card, for example, but they might go to the ends of the earth to drive new business if you offer extra PTO.

This type of brainstorming process is a critical part of developing both customer and employee advocacy schemes. What works for one company won’t work for another. It’s up to you to identify the goals and incentives that are right for you.

Step #3: Design a formal employee advocacy program

Finally, it’s time to codify your employee advocacy program. If you’ve created a positive company culture, you may already have candidate referrals happening naturally – the same way that customer advocacy often springs organically from happy buyers.

Putting a formal plan into place will allow you to magnify this effect and ensure that you’re meeting the goals you set for your program in Step #2 of this process. Take the following steps – based off the process of creating a customer advocacy program – before rolling out your initiative:

  • Enroll a manager. Programs – whether customer advocacy, employee advocacy or something entirely different – are often most successful when they’re driven by a committed leader. Find someone within your organization who can spearhead your new program and take ownership of its results.
  • Set referral guidelines. If you’ll be incentivizing positive social promotions, for instance, consider writing out guidelines on how employees should speak about your company on social media. In any case, codify guidelines for acceptable advocacy behavior. Gray areas only lead to frustration.
  • Educate your advocates. Make sure any employees who will be participating in the program understand what you’re trying to do and how they can help achieve it. Get them excited. Make them feel important for being entrusted with the responsibility of advocating for your company. The happier they are with the program, the more likely they are to participate.

Once your program is launched, monitor both its activities and results. If you aren’t on track to reach your goals, make the necessary changes to ensure your organization gets the greatest possible benefit out of your new employee advocacy program.

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How to Create a Social Media Advocacy Program

Employees can elevate and amplify your brand messaging to their own social networks and beyond.

Word of mouth marketing is nothing new. But today’s technology gives brands ways to accomplish it more efficiently by marshaling their internal teams to act as social media advocates. According to recent reports, social media content shared by employees gets eight times more engagement than content shared through the brand’s own social channels and is shared 25 times more frequentlyAnd leads through employee social networks convert seven times more often than any other leads.

Whether you’re looking to raise brand awareness, increase sales, or attract new talent to your organization, it’s time to consider the power of employee advocacy.

Employee advocacy occurs when employees actively represent the company’s brand on social media channels, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and even specialty hiring sites like Glassdoor. Grassroots social media efforts are effective because the message comes not from executives or from the human resources department — who obviously have a stake in increasing sales or attracting top talent — but from actual employees.

The case for employee advocacy.

Under the guidance of a social media specialist, your employees can elevate and amplify your brand messaging to their own social networks and beyond. Here are five steps to building a successful social media advocacy program.

1. Define your goals.

Are your goals to improve search engine rankings to drive traffic to your company website? Raise brand awareness? Increase sales? Recruit top talent? Whatever your objectives, you won’t know if you reach them unless you set goals and identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will show you’ve reached them.

When it comes to social media, “likes” and “followers” don’t always tell the whole story. While it’s important to build your numbers, you’ll ultimately need to determine the value of those eyes on your brand and find ways to measure the results your social media advocacy efforts have achieved.

2. Establish guidelines.

While some employees — especially millennials — might love getting permission to “play” on Instagram or Twitter during company time, it’s important to make sure employee advocacy efforts are on task — and on target.

Set up company guidelines for what your team should — and especially should not — share on social media. Offer quick training or “cheat sheets” for how to quickly set up a Twitter or Instagram account and best practices for creating posts or sharing photos.

3. Provide incentives for employees.

Offer incentives to encourage reluctant employees to take the time to promote your company on social media, and to ensure active employees share messaging in alignment with your goals. For example, you could present a $100 gift card for every recruit that results in a hire, or offer incentives for sales leads that come through employee social media accounts.

Most importantly, establish a company culture that is social media-friendly. Sometimes, all it takes is asking an employee to post a review on Glassdoor, or sending a company-wide email asking employees to share news of an exciting new product launch. Don’t be afraid to share suggested messages from your marketing or social media teams, which could inspire employees to create their own.

4. Monitor progress.

Employee advocacy can be powerful, but it can also be dangerous. By setting your employees loose on social media, you can’t keep a tight rein on all the messaging. But that’s OK. Messages come across more genuinely if they don’t sound like excerpts from a corporate press release.

It is, however, vital to monitor your team’s updates to ensure they are posting nothing inflammatory or discriminatory. Also, track progress to gauge which employee posts are more successful at driving leads or new recruits. Praise employees publicly for their most successful social media efforts. Zappos, for instance, displays a leader board to recognize employees with the most social media followers.

5. Adapt the program to improve results.

If you’ve successfully engaged your employees to participate in social media advocacy but aren’t seeing results, ask these questions:

  • Are your employees on the right platforms? (That is, do they have a presence on the same social media networks as your customers?)
  • Are they sharing the right messages?
  • Are they over-sharing? (When an employees’ Twitter feed starts to look just like a brand’s, their followers are likely to tune out.)

Determine where you need to make changes and convey that information to employees.

Remember, social media marketing takes time and employee advocacy is no different. But with an army of influencers at your fingertips, you should see the needle move on your social KPIs before too long.

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The Role of Communication in Employee Experience and Employer Branding

Slack, an internal communications platform designed to improve workplace communications, grew to a $1.1 Billion valuation within eight months of launching to the general public. Their adoption rates are off the charts, and their users adore them. There’s a very good reason for this:

Clear workplace communication leads to team success.

But many of us forget how significant communications is to the bottom line, or how detrimental lack of communication is to the employee experience.

A recent study by AON Hewitt on global employee engagement trends shows a -26 percent downward slope in overall work experience between 2013 and 2014. Ouch!

They also found that a disengaged employee costs a company $10,000 in revenue annually, according to a survey of more than 7,000 enterprises.

Oh, and guess what? In 2014, CareerBuilder reported that 59 percent of workers surveyed expressed general dissatisfaction with their jobs.

That’s getting expensive fast.

As an enterprise working on your employer brand, you know how important employees are to attracting top talent.

So what to do now?

Improve Employee Experience and Drive Employer Brand 

When it comes to sharing the employee experience with the world, your employees are your best assets.

And the best employer brands exist because employees genuinely love them and want to talk about them. This produces a ton of benefits, including better employee engagement and talent acquisition:

  • Employee referrals have the highest applicant to hire conversion rate – only 7 percent of applicants are via employees but this accounts for 40 percent of all new hire hires (Source: Jobvite)
  • 67 percent of employers and recruiters said that the recruiting process was shorter, and 51 percent said it was less expensive to recruit via referrals (Source: Jobvite)
  • 47 percent Referral hires have greater job satisfaction and stay longer at companies (Source: Jobvite)

According to a data published in Altimeter and LinkedIn Relationships Economics 2014, employees of socially engaged companies are:

  • 57 percent more likely to align social media engagement to more sales leads
  • 20 percent more likely to stay at their company
  • 27 percent more likely to feel optimistic about their company’s future
  • 40 percent more likely to believe their company is more competitive

And yet, as described in the Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study, disengaged employees make up 74 percent of the average company’s workforce. Your employees play a significant role in communicating your employer brand, but this becomes a huge challenge with a disengaged workforce.

How Do You Improve The Employer Experience?

Despite the downward trend in work experience globally, AON Hewitt discovered reported that work experience is looking optimistic. The North American work experience improved 21 percent between 2013 and 2014, mostly fuelled by Canadian ratings.

On top of that, the best driver to this increase was enhanced communication within the company.

Without the proper communication channels in the workplace, it’s hard for employees to stay engaged. They need to feel like they have a voice. They need to feel empowered to make decisions. They need to know what’s going on in your enterprise. If they don’t, they’ll leave.

Or even worse, they’ll stay as a disgruntled employee and cost you a ton of money.

So what if you could create a communication channel for employees where they feel empowered?

How Employee Advocacy Helps Improve Communication

Employee advocacy is the result of the right culture, communication, and content. Employees become knowledgeable about your company and WANT to talk about you positively, both online and offline. And establishing a formal employee advocacy program can help improve communication and better the employee experience, resulting in a stronger employer brand.

But how does employee advocacy actually help?

  • Content as Knowledge: By creating a centralized content library that employees can securely access, they can consume your content, making them smarter about their industry. This content knowledge translates into better communications skills, making them better at their job.
  • Modernizing the enterprise: Because of the complexity of implementing an employee advocacy program, you most likely don’t have an existing communication tool that can centralize all content and employees, and make it easy for them to communicate internally and externally. Adopting a program forces you to change, and invest in digital technology that your employees actually want to use.
  • Developing daily communication habits: By integrating the right technology within your existing enterprise stack, you can help employees develop daily communication habits, like consuming enough content and sharing to their personal social networks. Technology helps activate social media training for employees and helps communicate your brand appropriately.

All of this helps improve the employee experience and distribute your employer brand.

Everyone Benefits From Improved Communications

By giving your employees the right content and access to modern technology that improves their skills, you’re investing in their professional development. When you show them you care, they become more engaged, which in turn improves the overall employee experience.

And by improving the employee experience, your workforce wants to participate in your employer branding efforts.

As an enterprise, it’s your responsibility to grow your employees. Give them the right knowledge and tools, and they’ll help attract and keep the right talent. Period.

How are you improving employee communication at your company? Do you invest in the employee experience? Leave a comment below and share with your colleagues!

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