Making employees your most effective brand advocates

How can your business use employees as the most effective brand advocates, improving recruitment, retention and reputation along the way?

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The world of recruitment and retention has never been more challenging and for every business struggling to attract and retain their top talent, there is a current employee somewhere who could help with that. Welcome to the world of Employee Brand Advocates. If it’s not something you’re already reaping the benefits from, take note.

The idea of an ‘employee advocate’ is an umbrella term that explains the internal and external promotion of a business by a current employee using their own contacts, personal, family, and business. A current employee who opts into the programme has the opportunity to collaborate with the business to develop and push out agreed content to their own networks often using social media to do so. No big marketing campaign, no giant budget, just simple, authentic, word-of-mouth advocation. Word of mouth from someone who can speak from real experience. You could be forgiven for approaching recruitment by thinking only of prospective candidates, instead, it’s worth taking some time to focus on and invest in the employees you already have knowing that they might be your secret weapon in long term recruitment.

The Win: Win for employee advocates

As an employee, what would it take to participate in a brand or employee advocacy programme? Working through the motivations of engaged employees, it’s clear that the catalyst to become active as a brand ambassador start in a positive place.

/ Start with Engagement

Put simply, an engaged employee is a happy employee. The curse of many big companies is that a team member feels irrelevant, ignored, or under appreciated. By focusing initially on the overall employee experience, from internal communications to training, review, working conditions and taking on board feedback, every effort in this area will serve you well when it comes to developing a group of genuinely engaged employees. From there setting up an Employee Advocate Programme is a way to continue to engage your team, to show that their actions and opinions matter and to align on values and a purpose that you both share. Being part of the organisation at a higher level will offer your employees a sense of pride and belonging, it will offer them the opportunity to network and to position themselves as thought leaders and it will bond them to your company in a more substantive way. By ‘partnering’ with your employees, you’re investing in recruitment and retention of talent all at the same time.

/ Move to Rewards

Build on the commitment of your employees by setting up a rewards system within your Employee Advocate Programme. Whether you use company wide recognition, financial or another benefit based reward, it’s key to make the process work for both for you and the employees involved. Incentivising the process does not undermine its’ authenticity, instead it will motivate the employees to be more open, to think outside the box when it comes to their networks and to potentially target like-minded individuals in the process.

/ Consider Recognition

The medium and long term incentive for employees involved in an advocacy programme is that they are gently and positively building their own professional brands. By positioning themselves as leaders in their network, as key contacts with their company and as a positive and substantive voice to listen to, they can look forward to broadening their contacts, and asserting themselves professionally in a way that all only serve them positively in the future.

The Win:Win for Employers

As employers, investing the time and resources into developing and growing an Employee Advocacy Programme is a significant decision but with short, medium and long term benefits, it’s easy to see why businesses are choosing to do just that.

/ Enjoy the most Authentic Marketing

Integrating authenticity in marketing is a very powerful thing and no more powerful than when it comes to relying on your employees to act as your brand marketeers – after all, people trust people more that they trust brands.

“Trusted brands are built with people, rather than for them (…) Welcome to the new brand circles of trust” Grace Lesley, IPA

If you offer your employees the right tools to amplify their voices and leverage personal networks, you put them in the perfect position to promote your brand and business in a most authentic and genuine way. LinkedIn research found that the average UK employee has a network 10x larger than the follower base of a company and jobs shared will yield 30% more applications than those promoted in other ways. Using employees in your marketing to share your recruitment marketing messages will give you the opportunity to reach a significantly larger audience, and knowing the person from whom the message comes means people are more likely to trust on it and act on it. All this can happen as a compliment to your marketing budget and strategy amplifying and underlining more traditional marketing mediums.

/ Prepare for Brand Building

Making use of your employees’ networks and contacts will, over time act as an incredibly powerful, compound way to build your brand. Messages endorsed by individuals who know your company, the values, the purpose, who have real experience and can act as your brand ambassadors, are an invaluable addition to traditional forms of marketing. Word of mouth is powerful so agreeing a content strategy with your employee advocates that dovetails with your overall marketing plan is key. Design a process that allows each voice to be magnified and you can look forward a build in brand reputation in the medium and long term.

/ Improve Quality and Seriousness

LinkedIn reports that companies with an Employee Advocacy Programmed are 58% more likely to attract and 20% more likely to retain top talent. As a statistic alone, that’s hard to argue with. Add to that the potential scope of your employee’s networks for finding exactly the candidate you’re looking for and suddenly you have the holy trinity at your fingertips: the right candidates, coming to you for the right reasons, on a budget that you control. Your values and brand goals, shared by an employee who can speak honestly and positively, may mean that some of the questions that come up during the early stages of recruitment marketing could already be answered by the time a candidate is referred to you.

/ Save Time and Money

Recruitment marketing, and indeed any marketing efforts cost money and take time. In an environment where recruitment is increasingly challenging, budgets and where you direct them are all important. Imagine being able to make budgetary and time decisions in a less pressurised way all the while knowing that your Employee Advocacy Programme is working away at the same time, with little cost and no time implication. Arguably yielding better and more serious results, without the rising costs and lower returns. Depending on the incentive or reward scheme you choose to put in place, setting this up should be a no-brainer for most active and growth companies.


How to set up your Employee Advocate Programme?

/ Plan

At the outset take some time to clarify your goals and strategy. Put in place a detailed plan around the content you want to share, the brand colours, the language, the logo that needs to run along with it, as well as the timeline you’d like to work to. Set up a schedule and a content strategy that is shared with your Employee Advocates so that you make sure that you’re comfortable with every piece of content being pushed out while being linked to your brand. Clarity is key here.

/Consider inclusivity

As you put in place a detailed plan, identify a broad spectrum of Employe Advocates that represent a bandwidth of age, gender, race and additional work needs. For your Employee Advocates to really connect in an authentic way, they need to represent the people with whom you want them to connect, a full spectrum of potential employees that can help you to build the diverse team you are working towards.

/ Train

Once you’ve agreed on a messaging strategy and the individuals who will participate, it’s important to build in training and strategy for any newcomers during their onboarding. Introducing them to the programme from the outset facilitates a culture of openness, trust and long-term relationships. Continue that training, if you change your strategy or approach, let your whole team know, they can only help if you’re open with them about your needs and plans. The programme creates a partnership, so investing in your team honestly and as equals will encourage the same from them.

/ Listen

Agree your incentive programme and make sure it never misses. Your advocates deserve the recognition and rewards and it’s useful to ask them what would really make the difference to them. If financial or product based rewards will be most desirable, go with that, if they’d prefer points or benefits of another kind, ask them. The scheme will only function optimally if everyone gets something out of it.

Whatever Employee Advocate Programme you decide to set up, your employees are your most valuable asset. Whether that’s to do the job they were employed for or to also be the advocate for your brand growth, before you start investing externally in expanding your team, take some time to invest in the team you already have and see what happens. Tending to the team you already have might be enough to grow an even more successful business landscape for the future.

Making employees your most effective brand advocates

Susannah Hylands