4 Ways to Leverage Your Company’s Greatest Advocates
With the rapid rise of social-media influencers, the concept of brand advocacy has changed drastically. Social-media influencers range from a celebrity with millions of followers to a friend posting their latest vacation pictures. The fact is, we’re seeing content all day, every day, from people we’ve decided to listen to and follow. These are the people we consider “influencers”—those who affect our perceptions, opinions or purchasing habits because we view them as trusted advisors.
Businesses often work with a wide variety of influencers with the goal of garnering the interest and loyalty of their vast network of followers. But before you engage the latest YouTube or Instagram influencer to tell your brand story, I’d suggest looking closer to home for your strongest brand advocates.
When done right, marketing through employee advocacy can drive sales, increase engagement and develop a new audience for your employer brand. The bottom line is, employee advocates help grow a company’s brand in a more authentic and organic way than any external influencer can.
However, there’s often a barrier to your people becoming some of your most passionate and enthusiastic cheerleaders, and it’s usually a result of a less-than-inspiring work environment. If your workplace culture is lacking and your leadership isn’t transparent, authentic and people-focused, then your employee engagement will typically be low. When engagement is low, it’s very unlikely you’ll have many internal brand ambassadors.
Here are four key ways to leverage employee advocacy to increase your organization’s positive brand perceptions and, ultimately, its business success.
Build an Advocacy Program with Engagement at its Core
With higher-than-ever turnover rates, employee engagement has become a very pressing issue in the modern workplace. The need to attract, retain and engage your employees is crucial to your company’s reputation, and it all begins with the people who live and breathe the company culture every day.
While you can pay outsiders to promote your company, it’s widely known the best promotion comes from within. At Ceridian, many of our employees have a passion for social media and strong social networks. LinkedIn Elevate is a recent offering that helps us curate high-quality branded and unbranded content that our people can easily share on their social networks. Ceridian employees typically post a mixture of the branded and unbranded content that’s been curated through Elevate by our social-media team. Branded content includes everything from high-level company announcements, to workplace culture content like Ceridian Cares charity events, or events put on by [email protected], Ceridian’s social committee. Unbranded content that our people share mainly consists of independent thought-leadership pieces that are of interest to them personally.
If you’re considering expanding your social or digital programs, remember to not make any assumptions. While many younger employees are digital natives, others could use some informal training or some social media refreshers along with guidelines and best practices.
For employee-led advocacy to be truly successful, remember not to micromanage, restrict or heavily edit content and to respect an employee’s right to decline to participate. This keeps the experience authentic and genuine for everyone involved.
Use Employee Reviews to Recruit
Engaged employees will gladly talk about their company, jobs and experiences to their family and friends, who’ll then spread the word to their extended networks. This halo effect has the potential to create a pipeline of skilled talent, intrigued by the prospect of working at your company because of all the positive things they’ve heard. Employee referrals are very powerful in the sense they lead to increased retention–a study by iCIMS found that over 50 percent of referred employees have been in their current position for more than five years. Simply put, more referrals lead to a lower overall turnover rate.
In today’s workforce, the sharing of workplace experiences has been extended via sites built around transparency like Glassdoor. Glassdoor is unique in that it provides an avenue for anonymous and voluntary reviews from current employees and alumni. Anyone, including potential candidates, customers and others, learns more about your organization before joining or building a partnership with you than they ever would before.
When your organization has a truly people-centric culture, built on trust and transparency, your people want to tell others about it. At Ceridian, we encourage our people to post reviews. We want authentic and genuine feedback in real time. Most importantly, we take the time to read all the reviews. We combine that information with our internal feedback and use it to enhance our workplace experience.
Advocacy and transparency at this level changes the game for you and your organization. It requires you to build and sustain a culture of growth, empowerment, trust and engagement. Never before have the employee and workplace experience been more impactful to your organization than they are today.
Culture is Key
Having a great culture in place can also motivate your employees to spread the good word about your organization. There’s no one-size-fits all, however: Some people enjoy the social aspect of planned team-building events, while others are looking for opportunities to give back to their community. When trying to build or enhance your corporate culture, remember to provide flexibility and autonomy for employees, along with a variety of complementary programs that speak to their individual passions and interests.
Transforming a culture demands leaders leading by example, and being involved and authentic in their behaviors. Executive leadership should work with employee-led committees to encourage participation and to give their people a chance to interact with them outside of a strictly work-related setting. There’s no better way for employees to become cultural ambassadors than to give them opportunities to lead initiatives they’re passionate about and provide them with transparent access to leadership.
Recognize Employees to Keep Engagement High
If you decide to leverage your employees as influencers, then make sure you continue to find ways to acknowledge their participation. Everyone loves to feel incentivized to contribute. Organizing a fun challenge, encouraging healthy competition, or giving out prizes or rewards could be just the things your company needs to kick-start or sustain strong levels of employee engagement and enlist some new brand advocates.
At Ceridian, we recognize our people in a wide variety of ways, most notably when someone exemplifies our company’s values. We do this by encouraging colleagues to share positive reviews for each other on an internal site, and then reward employees monthly who received the most peer recognition for their hard work and contributions. We also have a larger annual award, the Dave MacKay Employee Achievement Award, in which an employee who most exemplifies our late former president’s personal values receives a trip valued at $10,000.
If you provide your employees with the right tools to amplify your message, with a culture that makes them want to go to work, and with a job that makes them proud and willing to share, then you’re succeeding at making sure your employees are your best advocates.
Lisa Sterling is the chief people and culture officer at Ceridian.