In my work for the last 15+ years in utilizing social media to develop brands and communities, one thing has always remained true for brand strength – a sense of social advocacy both internally and externally is necessary for companies who want to develop a strong online reputation.
What Is a Social Advocacy Program?
A social advocacy program is a strategic way for a company to grow and talk to the marketplace by making top executives and other future leaders at your company into social media spokespeople.
For companies that do it well, through excellent social customer care, their customers and clients become their best social advocates – the dream of any company social media marketer.
For B2B companies who have always relied upon sales relationships to capture market share, such programs help to drive word of mouth social leads and social brand visibility. B2C brands and specifically individual celebrity brands like political ones – think how President Trump and Obama built their popular social brands and advocacy.
Why You Need a Social Advocacy Program
Why is it so critical that you start to deploy proper social advocacy programs inside of your organization?
Let’s just consider the fact that enterprise organizations now are utilizing gamification tactics to encourage social advocacy amongst employees and it is paying off in many forms – from more positive reviews on Glassdoor to massive increase in online exposure from shared company content across employee engaged social media programs. There are several social marketing SaaS companies as well as AI software firms, those of which I have been analyzing in the last several years, that have been leading the way to provide online platforms for engaging employee social advocacy for corporations that invest in social branding. One of those is Sociabble.
One of Sociabble’s clients, PWC in France, has confirmed that because of the proper internal implementation of a social employee advocacy program the company has made their “Employees day-to-day superheroes for the brand.”
How Can It Be Done?
When we talk about the need for social advocacy, we point to the need to curate and share original, authentic content more and more.
How can we do this?
Managed social platforms, use and predictive conversations in AI and related tools. Converging marketing and communication teams and buy in from executives in social customer care.
I witnessed this first-hand a few weeks back when I was brought into Thomson Reuters as part of their Global #SocialMedia Day to Keynote on Social Advocacy via Social Branding. Large and small B2B companies are aware that by engaging their own employees in the practice of Social Selling that they can grow rapidly and maintain positive employee retention.
What’s in It for You?
Companies and organizations of all kinds can benefit in multiple both internally and externally. Let me share some of these benefits to your organization.
Internal Benefit: Your Employees Become Vocal Company Advocates
Coached correctly and guided by your marketing department, your own employees can promote your brand in an authentic, lively, and unexpected way. They can lend expertise, personality, and human faces to your business, carrying the brand goals forward in a fan-welcomed and measurable format.
Social advocacy programs will enhance the company’s reputation while providing personal and professional benefits to your staff, elevating them within as well as outside of the organization and further increasing their loyalty. Staff will be more onboard with the company’s market stance and vision, perhaps helping in the implementation.
Additionally, with the increasing number of millennials who are now reaching upper management, social advocacy is a great engagement device. Social marketing is a fundamental mode of communicating for people under 35, and it’s important for them to know that they’re working for a future-minded company. You can encourage employees to act. This could with a points related or gamification system or it could be rewarding employees with incentives like additional remote working days or money rewards, vacation days, etc.
External Benefit: Target Engagement Online
Microsoft Europe, a Sociabble customer stated that “If 10,000 MS employees did their share of content they estimated an increase of 300-500 million impressions per year online.” But it isn’t just stale, boring content. The content that drives target engagement through employee involvement can and should be personalized in some way. The best content uses storytelling, is filled with examples, and is developed to support the customer buying cycle.
Think like a Netflix series so that each “episode” you or your employee tells teases and leads to the next piece. This can be any type of content, from a blog post, to an infographic, white paper, audio, or video file. It may not so much be a company spokesperson and associated executive personal brand that makes that happen, although important, it may just be a comment support a content post and that comment engaging the audience of an ordinary employee.
Your best opportunity to truly engage is to identify your spokesperson social brand. This can be more than one person. At a recent accounting firm client, we identified social brand leaders by industry vertical type and empowered those internal leaders with content, events and social commentary guidelines to guarantee their social brand success. It has been confirmed in a recent marketing report on social branding of thought leaders that 92 percent of B2B buyers use social media to engage with sales industry thought leaders.
The Essential Components of a Social Advocacy Program
Companies need to put certain building blocks in place, regardless of the business sector. These will establish the base for your program. Here are the essential components of a solid social advocacy program:
1. Social Media Strategy
Without a solid strategy and plan complete with benchmarks and KPIs, a social advocacy program will fail. A proper social media strategy needs to define original, authentic content for sharing both internally and externally, channel use and frequency, social customer care and related resources as well as important social media monitoring, management and engagement tools – everything from live chat to predetermined AI responses and more.
2. Social Advocacy Onboarding
Creating the rules of engagement for employees is critical. Employees who post must follow an internal handbook which clearly defines corporate values, external-facing policies, branding musts, and importantly, “no-go” areas. This is an ongoing process of education. Think of your social advocacy program as part of your employee onboarding and exiting, a part of all company recruiting efforts.
3. Blueprint for Social Advocacy Implementation
Plan for how social advocacy will work. This means who will manage the program, how it will be monitored and how employees and key stakeholder advocates will continually be engaged. Don’t forget integrated efforts. Employees and key advocates don’t just communicate online. Provide tools, resources, and guidelines to produce and distribute offline, event-based content to help to continue to drive online impact.
4. Approval & Monitoring of the Program
Who has veto and editing power over the content? In practice, this is almost always the social media director or someone in corporate communications. Quality control is critical. Through social, you are talking to employees, management, potential customers and current clients, as well as to the world at large. Make sure they have the tools and guidelines to properly monitor and manage. Other features can help to make your program effective. Individual communication platforms should be created for each staff included based on their position, interests, area of expertise, and your business philosophy. Consider letting these representatives make posts about their own outside interests if these align with company values (e.g., mountain climbing, sailing, motorcycles, and travel).
Supplement the social media training programs with real-world leadership training to develop staff members into leaders of tomorrow.
The time to set up a program is now. The benefits are likely to show up as solid sales figures as your company increases visibility in communications. This can’t be ignored.