How to create a culture abuzz with internal fans and advocates

Empowering workers to become online ambassadors can boost engagement and dramatically increase your marketing reach. Here’s how to rally the troops.


How would you like to improve your marketing reach, revenue and reputation?

Look no further than your workforce.

By harnessing the goodwill of the people who know your company better than anyone, you can tap into a rich source of brand advocacy. You might boost engagement along the way, too.

Engaged employees have a vested interest in your organization’s success. They are aligned with your messaging and vision. They offer something much more important than increased productivity, though.

A positive employee attitude can engage your customers as well. That’s crucial to reckon with, because as many as 68 percent of customers abandon a brand as a direct response to poor employee attitude.

The bulk of customer brand perception doesn’t depend on the ingenuity of your video marketing strategy or the quality of your products. It largely comes down to human interaction with customer service representatives, your employees at events, email and live chat responses, and the content that your employees share about your brand. More than anything else, employees’ interactions with your customers shape the impression of your brand.

The benefits of enlisting your employees can be substantial. If you motivate just 6 percent of your staff to share content, customer engagement can increase by 60 percent. With 10 percent active employees, you’re looking at the potential for a 100 percent increase.

LEAP limited launch program Elevate helps companies empower their employees to become social professionals

(Image source)

However, when you fail to activate your employees, you’ve effectively created a financial black hole for your organization. According to Gallup:

Actively disengaged employees cost their organization $3,400 for every $10,000 of salary, or 34 percent.

By that calculation, an actively disengaged employee who makes $60,000 costs the company $20,400 a year.

So, how can you activate your employees? Here are tips and examples of how to get started:

Making work meaningful

Employee activation is all about motivating your employees to share content with their social networks. Word-of-mouth marketing is a highly effective technique for generating leads and boosting sales, and employee activation is a great way to expand your reach. For typical businesses, the social networks of employees are 10 times the size of the social following of the company itself.

Activating your employees is about more than casting a wider social media net. As you boost internal advocacy through training, supporting, mentoring and mobilizing, you’re also aligning employees’ work with the organization’s purpose and mission. You’re making their job more meaningful.

This isn’t just a shiny ideal. Purpose is what makes work appealing, and it’s something consistently profitable companies have focused on for years.

Southwest Airlines, for example, spotlights company culture and customer service. It recognizes employees regularly on its website and in its brand magazine, and the airline maintains a library of videos sharing stories from happy customers.

The win-win of employee activation

Active employees also have plenty to gain. Sharing insights and expertise can boost their own brand, too. Eighty-six percent of those who have been a part of a social media advocacy program for their job have said it has helped their career.

Here are a few bonuses companies are seeing from employee activation:

  • Easier to attract top talent. Employees are trusted three times more than your organization’s CEO by potential recruits. When they are visible on social media as brand representatives, it’s much easier to attract high-quality hires.
  • Increased employee retention. Companies with active social media engagement are 20 percent more likely to retain talent.
  • Better brand storytelling. Want more authentic content? Get it from the people who are the heart of your business by inviting them to share their voices.
  • Boost in sales leads. For employee sharing on LinkedIn, research shows that sales leads increase by as much as 58 percent.

Three brands excelling in employee advocacy

Dell

Dell has created a training, support and facilitation program to empower its sales employees to be active, effective online ambassadors.

Dell’s Social Media University involves more than 16,000 employees in 46 different countries. This is how it works:

  • Employees who want to be a part of the program go through training.
  • Dell then gives employees branded accounts to use (@dell).
  • There’s a governance system in place to guide the process, approve ideas and facilitate more worthwhile marketing and recruiting content.
  • Dell has a specialist team to monitor and respond to customer service issues and branded conversations on social media.

This structured approach has been a big win for employees and for the company. Dell has found that social media content posted by its employees is eight times more engaging than content the company publishes. This approach has also boosted revenue significantly.

Adobe

Adobe’s Social Shift program is another approach to fostering employee brand advocacy. It offers education and best practices to help employees become better brand advocates. Employees can even test their ambassador skills by practicing with simulated experiences.

Lauren Friedman, head of Adobe’s global social business enablement, says: “We believe that people trust people. People buy from people. Relationships fuel our overall success.” She also points out that the program gives employees plenty of autonomy: “We don’t want to create an army of Adobe-bots!”

Adobe encourages employees to:

  • Post on the Adobe Life blog
  • Participate in contests for social media sharing, with weekly recognition for top ambassadors
  • Become spokespeople who post on LinkedIn and Glassdoor
  • Compete for a chance to attend special events such as Adobe’s MAX conference

More than a third of Adobe’s employees have gone through the Social Shift program. It’s no wonder Adobe has developed a reputation for having dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable employees.

Starbucks

The coffee giant has mastered the art of soliciting user-generated content. In addition to its formidable marketing arsenal of customer-based brand advocacy, the company has turned its staff into a veritable social media army.

Starbucks encourages employees to share company updates and stories on its social media profiles. Starbucks also uses its internal team to gather feedback before releasing new products. This is an excellent technique for B2C companies that want to test new ideas on “consumers” before launching into the market.

As Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said:

[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance, and as such, the primary catalyst for delighting customers. [They] elevate the experience for each customer—something you can hardly accomplish with a billboard or a 30-second spot.

Michael Brenner is CEO of Marketing Insider Group. A version of this post first appeared on the Marketing Insider blog.

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