How often do you hear people complain about work? If my Facebook feed is any indication, a lot of people hate their jobs. And that's unfortunate. Because while it's one thing to be in the wrong industry or the wrong career, it's another entirely to be in the right job with the wrong atmosphere.
A lot of workplaces don't make employees feel valued or that each day matters. They don't make seeking feedback from workers a regular task and they don't prioritize keeping employees happy. That's too bad, because time and time again, it has been shown that making employees feel like true assets to a brand pays off in dividends. And one of the best ways this effort can pay off is through brand advocacy.
In short, when employees enjoy their jobs and are given the right outlets, they will advocate on your company's behalf with gusto. They will become brand ambassadors, doing the hard work of promoting your company from the inside out. But without strong leadership and a great brand advocacy program, it'll be hard to reap the potential benefits.
Today we're going to discuss why you should be interested in brand advocacy in the first place, how employers can create an environment that encourages brand advocacy, how company leaders can build internal trust and ultimately how to create a brand advocacy program that gets employees engaged from day one.
The Perks of Brand Advocacy
Before I get to the details of setting up brand advocacy programs, it's important to understand why you should pursue this route to begin with. Good brand advocacy starts with employee engagement.
According to EveryoneSocial, encouraging your employees to be brand advocates means you're putting your faith in them. This act of trust can be incredibly empowering for employees at all levels of your company. Indicating you trust them (with guidance) promotes an environment where workers actually want to advocate on behalf of the company and engage more fully in every process.
This also helps to create thought leaders out of your employees. If they engage on social media with customers, for instance, they will be forced to deepen their knowledge of your products or services and your industry in order to make for more fulfilling interactions. Plus, these social interactions will be authentic and won't appear like your typical corporate speak-filled social posts.
Providing the Right Leadership Level Guidance
Now, you can't just tell your employees to start advocating for your company and call it a day. Employee engagement starts with good leadership and that means if you expect your employees to genuinely care about the company and be advocates, you need to lead by example.
According to Forbes, employee engagement starts with motivation. More money and a fancy title are elements of this, sure. But real-deal motivation begins and ends with working for a company that expresses shared values, has trust in its employees, and gives employees a purpose.
A few things you can do to create an environment that promotes brand advocacy include:
1. Be Accessible
This goes beyond making employees feel as though they can approach you about their various concerns. It also means actively engaging yourself in company culture activities. From taking the staff out to lunch to planning a company retreat, you need to take time to connect with your employees one-on-one.
It's also a good idea to promote transparency. Companies like Buffer have transparent salary policies that allow all employees to see what everybody else earns. Such policies help to prevent any misgivings about how salaries are calculated and make it easy for everyone to be on board with your hiring practices and your payment policies. Quite simply, transparency in this area ensures there's nothing for anyone to hold a grudge about later.
2. Practice What You Preach
Be a walking, talking version of your company's mission statement. Whatever you have set as your company's goal, it's vital you make it a priority to encompass this in everything you do. That means leading by example.
So, if your mission statement includes something to the effect that you offer excellent customer service, make sure you are an effective customer service representative yourself and that you are always there to address the concerns of your employees. Likewise, if you want your employees to be more engaged as brand advocates, you should be the biggest brand advocate of all.
Learn more about how to craft a mission statement for your business:
3. Thank Employees Regularly and Ensure They Feel Valued
Employees who feel valued do better work. Plain and simple. When someone does a great job, thank them personally and acknowledge their work publicly within the company. As a business owner, you need to think about how you'd react and what kind of work you'd churn out if you didn't feel like anything you did mattered. Your quality of work would probably not be very good, right? It would behoove you then to create an environment where employees who do good work are thanked, valued, and recognized.
4. Build Internal Trust
Another great thing employee engagement can do toward encouraging brand advocacy is to build internal trust within your company. The more your employees trust you and the leadership in your company, the more they are likely to exude this inherent trust when they speak about your company online. And when paired with a good brand advocacy program, you can rest assured that your employees will communicate positively with prospects and customers. This goes a long way toward improving your company's reputation, increasing site traffic, and expanding your brand's reach. To put it more simply, placing trust in your employees more often than not means customers will trust what they have to say about your company.
Engage Employees with a Brand Advocacy Program
One of the biggest things you need to keep in mind about brand advocacy programs is that a good part of them involves letting go of control. Yes, you will be providing guidelines for conduct. And yes, you will be offering tips for how to engage with prospects and customers. But by and large, the individual interactions that make up true brand advocacy are fueled by each employee's perspective, voice, and opinion.
Let's spend a few moments to talk about what makes up a good brand advocacy program, specifically:
1. A Clear Objective
When putting together an advocacy program based on employee engagement, it's vital that you first approach it with a clear objective. What do you want to accomplish with this program? Do you want to give your brand a boost on social media? Encourage more email signups? Create more repeat customers?
It's fine if you answer all of the above, but just know that you'll need to spell out how you want to accomplish each of these things in your brand advocacy program. Most often, the goal of these programs is to get employees actively, enthusiastically, and authentically engaged on social media so as to encourage more social interaction, make new sales, and create new brand ambassadors out of your customers.
2. A Code of Conduct
As a part of the program you also need to write up a set of brand advocacy guidelines that give your employees a rulebook to consult about how to speak about your brand online. The fewer rules the better. The more guidelines you heap on your employees, the less authentic they will sound so make sure you keep the guidelines limited to things you consider to be of utmost importance. A few things you might want to include are:
- Your policy on swearing.
- What topics and social conversations you'd like employees to engage in.
- Brand and industry hashtags to use.
- Any discounts, deals, or promotions currently running.
By focusing on what your employees can share rather than what you'd rather they avoided promotes an atmosphere of positivity and freedom, which are two things you absolutely need to harness if you want to see employees spawn advocates out of your biggest fans.
3. A Fool-Proof Set of Tools
There are a number of tools available that help companies manage their employee advocacy programs. If you plan on keeping things very simple, you can use a social media management tool like Buffer, HootSuite, or Sprout Social to schedule and organize social shares.
However, there are dedicated brand advocacy tools, too, that you might want to consider if you envision having several employees acting as advocates, talking about your company on social media, and participating in incentivized programs. These tools are also helpful for keeping track of your overarching advocacy efforts and the efforts of each employee so you can reward them.
A few tools you might want to look into include:
Learn more about how to manage your social media tools:
4. Gamification or Incentives
While creating a company culture that's conducive to having employees that actually want to speak positively about your company and promote it amongst their friends and family, some kind of reward system is a good idea, too. The advocacy tools mentioned above typically have incentive trackers built-in so you can keep tabs on the employees whose social posts have received the greatest number of shares or who has had the most customer interactions.
Rewards can range from badges like you get on Foursquare to coupons or gift cards for third-party vendors. But really, what you choose as an incentive is only limited by your creativity and your budget.
Now, gamification efforts are typically reserved for fan-based advocacy programs but they can be highly effective within a company for employees as well. IBM recently launched a tool called Beehive that allowed employees to connect with team members, colleagues, and people they've worked with on past projects. But to get people to sign up, they added a gamification component that runs on a point system.
The more users posted to the internal social network, the more points they received. However, the point system only encouraged people to create more posts in the short-term. That's why it's important to couple points, badges, or level ups (virtual rewards) with tangible ones (company recognition, gift cards, other perks). When those points actually add up to something, interaction is more likely to be sustained because an incentive to do so goes beyond the novelty factor.
5. Built-in Analytics
The last component of a good brand advocacy program is something I already touched on above but it merits its own callout here. Analytics help you track the progress of your advocacy program and it helps your employees see how they're performing. It can create a competitive environment if you offer perks for certain levels of social participation but this is largely positive because the competition and promise of incentives are highly motivating.
On the flip side, by using analytics of some kind, you can be totally transparent. You engage employees in the advocacy effort and no one can hold a grudge against one another because who performed best is displayed concretely by the numbers for all to see. Plus, tracking the numbers lets you see what kinds of social posts have the greatest tendency to go viral, which ones warrant the most discussion, and even what tone or personality fosters the greatest interaction.
All of this collected data helps you to hone your employee advocacy program and lift up those who do the best work. Plus, you can use this info to create a brand advocacy program for your fans and customers. It's a total win-win. Learn more about using collected data in your small business:
Encourage Brand Advocacy Through Employee Engagement
Now that this tutorial has reached its end, you have a much firmer grasp on what employee engagement is and how you can build it through solid leadership. Such leadership involves everything from making yourself accessible to building trust within your company's ranks. And from there, you now know how to build a brand advocacy program with clear objectives, flexible guidelines, and the right tools to encourage employees to dive in head first.
Prioritizing employee engagement and brand advocacy might seem like a lot of work but once you're committed, the effort pays off handsomely. Your employees are your best advocates and now's the time to encourage them to get the word out.