Brand advocacy. I'm sure you have heard this word pop up in several marketing meetings this year, haven’t you? If brand advocacy has been a buzz word this year, prepare for even more hype to come around this concept in 2018. The reason why brand advocacy is going to be a dominant trend in most 2018’s marketing strategies is because it allows businesses to do what every business loves doing: do more with less!
Why do Businesses Need Brand Advocacy?
Integrating brand advocacy into your marketing plans will allow you to receive support with content production from your own employees. We all know that creating content is an expensive and time-consuming business. What brand advocacy allows businesses to do is drive active employee participation and leverage the internal skillset, industry, and company knowledge to generate and distribute content.
Employee-generated content also represents an incredibly effective way to reinforce company culture and values, showing how these concepts practically translate into real behaviors and campaigns promoted by the people who make the company. Patagonia (@patagonia) does this by publishing on their corporate blog employee-generated content that supports the company's marketing efforts to position itself as a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle brand.
But wait, it doesn’t end here! By boosting active employee engagement, we are not only contributing to content creation and distribution, but also developing a more attractive perception of our brand to both potential applicants and customers. According to Edelman Trust Barometer 2016, employees embody company culture and values and therefore are three times more trusted than CEOs. In other words, employee engagement (or the lack of it!) affects your brand perception and consumers’ trust towards your company.
This certainly doesn't come as a surprise: it's the concept of dogfooding applied to your brand awareness efforts. Think about how your perception of a brand changes when you see the employees of that company actively partcipating in company life by producing and sharing content on social media. This participation can be in the form of proudly announcing new product features, sharing exciting company news, or supporting talent acquisition campaigns. This last point is effectively exemplified by Rapid7 (@rapid7) and their series of short videos "At the movies," casting real employees using their own face and words (and acting skills!) to give a taste of Rapid7's culture code.
Driving Brand Advocacy with a 4-step Roadmap
We can see now that there are certainly a lot of benefits deriving from brand advocacy, but how can we practically drive employees’ engagement and make sure they will not perceive it as an extra burden on their shoulders? We say brand advocacy, they hear more work, right? We’ve all been there.
To truly unleash the potential of brand advocacy, we need to stop looking at our employees as loudspeakers for brands. This is certainly not how we want to approach employee advocacy.
We want to encourage our employees to act as brand advocates to grow their personal brand first, and as a result of that, help strengthen the company's perception. This activity of creating and sharing content online will offer brand avocates the opportunity to establish new meaningful connections, progress in their career, and consolidate their own personal brand, something that will stay with them forever regardless of whether or not they continue to work for their current company.
Sounds like a win-win scenario, right? Let’s see how we can put brand advocacy into practice with a 4-step roadmap.
1. Create a tiger team
Gathering a tiger team will serve as the cornerstone of your brand advocacy efforts. A tiger team is a group of six to ten employees who clearly perceive the value of brand advocacy and are not afraid of evangelizing with their peers. Ideally you want to cast a wide net and create a cross-functional tiger team including players from all the main departments in your company.
What types of personalities are we looking for? Most likely the first people who will support you in this project will be the "social rockstars" in your company – who would you go to if you had to organize a fun run, a company BBQ, or a pub quiz night? Definitely try to involve those people first, but make sure to include also those more introverted types to fairly represent company diversity and have a more thorough approach to the events you'll be planning.
Finally, adopt a bottom-up approach when gathering your tiger team. Employees might feel under pressure if the input to participate comes from HR or the leadership team. On the other hand, if the input comes from their peers, they’ll be more willing to learn more about the cause and actively engage.
2. Educate and provide guidelines
Employees might not understand the benefits that derive from acting as a brand ambassador, so before asking for their contribution, remind them how this will help them build a stronger personal brand on social networks, establish thought leadership, and grow their professional network.
Moreover, creating content can sound scary to many people since it requires writing skills and a deep understanding of the persona you are writing for and of the channels you are using to distribute your content (e.g., social vs. microblogging platforms vs. corporate blog). This is why you want to organize study groups, training sessions, and workshops to provide employees with guidelines on your house rules and buyer persona, how to align your brand’s voice to different social media, and how to repurpose content.
3. Share tools and resources
Creating educational paths and offering guidelines is a great staring point, but also remember to provide employees with some practical tools and resources that can help them create and distribute content easily.
For example, curate ready-to-share content and send weekly emails to suggest cherrypicked content from the web. Or use programs like click-to-tweet to make sharing a status update literally as simple as clicking a button. Mind you, this is all about shaping your personal brand, so remind them to personalize the message to fit their own voice!
If you find it hard to hand-curate the content to share with your colleagues, try using some content aggregator apps for social media such as DrumUp (@drumupio) and Quuu (@quuu) to receive weekly updates on the best content on your topic of interest published around the web.
Sharing content can feel intimidating because not everyone feels comfortable with their writing skills. Help your colleagues or employees hone their writing skills by offering them access to editing and proofreading apps such as Hemingway editor (@HemingwayApp), or get inspiration on how to write compelling headlines with Hubspot's blog title generator.
4. Motivate and reward
I know what you’re thinking: ah, here’s the catch! But money is not the only way to motivate employees. Brand ambassadors want to be recognized for their contribution, so make sure they receive shout-outs from their managers in team emails and all-hands meetings to celebrate their commitment with the rest of the company.
Try also to drive some healthy competitiveness between brand advocates with a monthly leaderboard, and reward the top performers based on the number of shares or likes their posts receive.
As we mentioned, acting as a brand advocate is a great opportunity to build your personal brand and advance in your career. Make sure brand advocates will be recognized by the executive leadership and invited to join special projects that will help them in their career development.
Investing in brand advocacy and implementing concrete processes to help employees grow their personal brands are for sure significant mind shifts for businesses. However, hopefully these four steps will support you in this process and help your company unleash the power of employees to start seeing impressive results both in terms of company culture and brand perception.
How Can I Learn More on Brand Advocacy?
If you wish to learn more on how to enable deeper engagement with peers, employees, and customers, and devise an effective social media strategy to accelerate sales, join me for a hands-on, workshop-style training on Building a Brand with Social Media on September 25th at the Westin Boston Waterfront.
During this training, you will learn how to:
- Identify the benefits of becoming a social leader and create an actionable strategy to consolidate brand presence on social media.
- Plan content to shape the perception of your company as a workplace on social media.
- Motivate and organize employees' work to act as brand ambassadors.
- Monitor brand sentiment on Twitter and measure ROI of social media efforts across main social platforms.