Huge sums are poured into marketing campaigns every year. But one line item that is often overlooked by brands, says Shirley Boudaher, is one of the most underutilised marketing tools available – the staff.
Specifically, we are talking about the notion of ‘employee advocacy’, which simply refers to employees actively promoting their workplace across their own social media channels. This is a relatively untapped area of brand storytelling but forms an important pillar in gaining peer-to-peer trust. That is, people talking organically to their friends and families versus towing a party line that you may find in comparison with marketing messaging. While leadership participation is critical for success, a brand’s employees are its best and most passionate advocates and their influence can prove much more powerful than traditional advertising.
Take ANZ Bank for example. With the desire to strengthen relationships with customers, help employees build their professional brands and showcase thought leadership, the company implemented an employee advocacy program.
To do this, the company used LinkedIn’s Elevate platform, an easy-to-use content sharing platform that equips employees with relevant industry articles and topics they can share with their network. After implementing this platform, ANZ Bank saw an average increased engagement rate with employee-sharing influencing four times more company page followers. Employees were also seen to be growing their own LinkedIn connections four times faster than before, amplifying their brand messages to a wider reach.
With nearly 40% of people in an organisation spending up to five hours per week on business-related social media activities, brands have the perfect opportunity to implement a formal employee advocacy program.
To show how impactful it can be, here are four important and tangible benefits you can unlock for your brand.
1. Elevated brand awareness
With employees connected to 10 times more people than their employer, according to LinkedIn, they are actively advocating to a much wider audience than the brand itself, resulting in improved brand visibility.
In fact, recent research from Social Media Today found that 79% of organisations reported more online visibility and 65% reported increased brand recognition after implementing a formal employee advocacy program. Strong statistics which reinforces the effect it could have on brands – and at speed.
Keep in mind, people are looking at what employees are saying about a brand, not what the brand is saying. And if your staff are using social media to demonstrate thought leadership, share workplace updates or flaunt your organisation’s culture, their voices are scaled to a whole new level, making them perfect brand ambassadors to the outside world.
2. Increased brand engagement
As the social space continues to grow and develop, it’s being overrun with content saturation and shortening attention spans. Brands are finding it harder than ever to generate real ‘qualified’ interactions across their channels.
However, this is where employee advocacy can help and deliver significant impact also. Content shared by employees can receive up to eight times more engagement than if posted across brand channels – a significant difference. In addition, employees can also drive a click-through rate which is double that of their organisation when sharing company-relevant content.
Think about it, people are more likely to engage with content shared by their personal connections. So if only 3% of employees advocate for you brand, it will result in a 32% increase in engagement – imagine how much engagement 50% or even 100% of your staff can drive.
3. Expanded credibility and trust
When employees communicate directly with their trusted connections across social media, they have the power to develop a brand’s credibility.
If you really think about it, to the everyday person, a referral or recommendation from a trusted friend is much more credible than a corporate message, with 76% of people finding content posted by others to be more honest than branded content, according to Hubspot.
People put their trust in their social networks because they know they are receiving honest information and recommendations as opposed to a branded message.
4. An impact on the bottom line
With more and more people looking to their social media networks before making a purchase decision, there becomes an untapped opportunity for employee advocates to influence their choice.
Cue ‘social selling’. This is all about leveraging your social media relationships to develop and nurture potential sales prospects. Employee advocacy is perfectly aligned with this approach, providing the opportunity to turn consumers into customers.
Employee advocacy can help a brand’s bottom line, with The Marketing Advisory Network finding that leads developed through social advocacy are seven times more likely to convert. Research also shows that a 12% increase in brand advocacy can double your increase in revenue growth.
So if you haven’t got a formalised employee advocacy program up and running, now is probably the time to get it going. And the good news is – it is one of the most cost-effective activities you can include in your budget. It is estimated that these programs can cost just 10% of a brand’s overall advertising spend, making it one of the most affordable ways to drive qualified traffic and sales for your business.
There is no doubt that employee advocacy is vital for brands to thrive in the current digital age, but if done right it can also have significantly positive wider commercial impacts on your organisation. And it all starts with arming your staff with the tools they need to harness the power of social media and getting you on the road to social success.
This article first appeared in www.marketingmag.com.au
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