These days, employee brand advocacy programs are getting a lot of attention — and for good reason. When your staff members share, create, and engage with your brand across their social media channels, it exponentially increases your brand’s reach. In fact, when employees share something — anything — with their social networks, each one reaches 20 times more people than a typical brand sharing with the same number of followers.
But employee brand advocates offer something even more valuable than reach. Employees are powerful forces for building your brand’s trust and credibility. Put simply, members of the general public trust everyday people like themselves a lot more than they trust businesses and CEOs.
A recent study by Edelman on trust and employee engagement found that employees are the most credible voices on multiple topics, including innovation, business practices, integrity, and the company’s work environment.
Since employee brand advocacy is so valuable, you may be wondering...
Is it okay to ask employees to use their personal LinkedIn profile for the promotion and marketing of the business?
This is a question that’s recently been floated across LinkedIn groups by Alex Embling with Strategic Internet Consulting from the UK. So first of all, many thanks to Alex and the several other marketing professionals who are addressing this question head-on!
Because this question is so important, we wanted to jump in on the conversation, offer a few of our own insights, and highlight some valuable wisdom from other professionals who contributed to the discussion on the LinkedIn Inbound Marketing group.
Our short answer:
Yes, you can ask employees to share your branded content on their personal LinkedIn account. But don’t make it mandatory. If you try to force employee brand advocacy, it won’t work.
But the short answer doesn’t quite provide the full picture. Here are a few more tips and insights...
TIP 1: You have to establish the right company culture
Assess your business and the quality of your offerings.
Are you doing amazing work that your employees are proud to be a part of? If you’re producing sub-par work or products, employees won’t want to share your content across their networks. On the other hand, if your team is doing amazing and remarkable work, employees will be far more likely to share your brand’s content. Remember, an employee share is a vote of confidence — they’re vouching for your brand across their networks.
Do you have a transparent culture of trust and freedom?
Yes, you need to provide employees with the right tools, training and guidance, but the business also needs to trust employees’ judgment and offer them the freedom to make sound, solid decisions. Along with trust, a business also needs to give its employees the freedom to share what types branded content they want to share.
Don’t expect employees to automatically share and retweet every single piece of content your brand produces. Instead, encourage an environment where employees share and engage around brand content that resonates most strongly with them. It will be for more authentic, and it’s likely to be a more natural fit across the employee’s network.
Here’s a bit of insight on organizational culture and employee brand advocacy from Andrea Kennedy:
“If you have employees who have bought in to the culture of the organization, and who are career professionals who love what they do, chances are the promotion across any platform will occur naturally. ...anything less than an authentic endorsement will be 'smelled' for being the spin that it is.”
TIP 2: Answer the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) question — before it’s asked
The benefits of employee advocacy should be a two-way street — your brand benefits and your employees benefit. So be crystal clear that your employee advocacy program does in fact offer value to your individual team members, and be sure to explain this benefit.
For instance, consider your internal team members who are technical or topical experts. It’s certainly in the best interest of your brand to elevate them as thought leaders and industry experts. But encouraging your employee to create or share content on social media also helps further your employee’s positioning in the industry, and it strengthens their own professional brand.
Here are a few words of wisdom from Chris Fell on the WIIFM question:
“LinkedIn profiles belong to the employee so it’s about enabling and encouraging them to use it. What we do...
- Show them the benefits to them (WIIFM) of sharing content on the status update and in groups
- Providing valuable educational content (eg a Blog) to your target audience will mean your employees should relish the chance of sharing such great content with their network AND TO THEIR GROUPS, not boring drivel about how great your product or service is."
TIP 3: Don’t allow this question to poison the well: “Yes, but what if I help build up an employee thought leader, and then they leave? And take their network with them!”
Turnover happens. It’s part of business. (And if employee retention is a problem, then an employee brand advocacy program is the least of your concerns.)
But more to the point, your brand needs to push forward and nurture the team members it has today. Don’t allow fear of turnover to paralyze your progress. Nurturing employee advocates is an ongoing, evolving journey. You’ll lose some advocates over time, but you’ll also gain new voices and perspectives.
Here are sage insights from Matthew Harding on employee advocacy and turnover:
“Yes, you might lose some good people, but you reap the benefits while they're with you. It's an ongoing thing. You're going to lose people anyways, but if you're the company that keeps churning out thought leaders... then that speaks volumes about your company.
On the other hand, if through your efforts as a company help nurture a thought leader in the field, and they leave you, does that negate everything good they said about your company? I don't think so. Most people listen to others not because they are going on-and-on about how great a company or product is, but because they are helping people solve problems, or just great at giving insight in their niche. The product they attach to may reap the benefits, but that's not why people listen.”
So yes, you can ask employees to share content on their personal LinkedIn account (and other social channels, for that matter), but don’t make it mandatory. Here’s a disclaimer that our team uses when asking employees to promote content on personal social channels:
Promoting company content on your own social channels is not required. However, we do want to encourage open sharing of content to position both the company and our team members as industry experts and thought leaders. If you feel that a particular post or asset resonates with you and with your own professional networks, please do share.
Additionally, if your company is ready to build an effective employee advocacy initiative, be sure to invest the time and dedication to developing a comprehensive employee advocacy plan — including building the right culture, offering employee training, and establishing program metrics.
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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in February 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.