Social interactions are a part of our DNA. We seek meaningful relationships even if they’re casual in nature and lack an immediate benefit. Smart brands are doing the same. They strive to be human and realize the importance of building affinity with their customers.
This creates a unique crossroads for today’s marketers. They stand at the intersection of business and humanity. Internally, they are being held to strict KPIs and have to account for their marketing investments. Externally, they are expected to build a brand that listens to their customers’ wants, needs and desires and then respond in near real-time. Many call this digital transformation. For many organizations, social media is now considered a critical part of this transformation, yet many haven’t capitalized on its full potential. They don’t utilize what’s standing right in front of them – their own employees.
This is unfortunate because employees are the driving force of the brand and its products. They are the fuel, the back bone and infrastructure for business growth. They have unique perspectives and stories they can share that are relevant and valuable.
I believe employee advocacy is the largest untapped marketing opportunity for brands today. I call it Participation Marketing in my book, with the caveat that employees must be authentic when engaging externally with customers, the media and influencers. This is most true within the B2B/technology industry. For example, B2B decision makers are the “most-marketed-to” audience online today. And while they don’t answer sales calls and ignore to advertising, they do pay attention to content shared by their peers – other B2B decision makers.
The 1:9:90 model of influence can be applied to social participation among employee advocacy programs. It’s a helpful way to think about how employees participate in programs and how content spreads into the digital ecosystem. Here’s how it works:
The 1%: These are the top influencers, the opinion leaders and the content creators. They essentially move the market when they speak, write, tweet or publish just about anything. They’re journalists, academics, influencers and some of them work right along side you.
These are your brand storytellers. The internal 1% are most likely creating content already and it’s not just the c-suite. It’s the subject matter experts, product managers, data scientists, or anyone else with proficiency in writing and using social media.
The 9%: Industry enthusiasts who share, comment and recommend on social channels. They aren’t shy about sharing their opinions. The majority of your employees fit into this category. They promote others and their own content.
Not all of your employees will be active storytellers and that’s okay. Internal salespeople, technical consultants and other employees may not create loads of content but they will have no problem at all giving their two cents and sharing it with the world.
The 90%: The majority of social media users are quiet, but they learn and consume content daily. They rely heavily on word-of-mouth and they Google everything.
This is the majority of your employees. Even if you have a thriving company culture, most of your employees will not actively create and/or share content. You have to be okay with that. It’s the nature and law of participation.
Many smart and innovative companies are unleashing their employees into the marketplace. With the combination of training, good content and streamlined technology.
Employee advocacy is smart business
Yes, an increase in friends, fans and followers is great. And nothing beats a PowerPoint slide showcasing exponential increases in likes, comments, shares and clicks. But, vanity metrics only take you so far. The harsh reality is that CMOs and other c-suite executives are holding their marketing and PR teams accountable for quantifying their spend and investment in social media programs.
You can deliver business impact by focusing on content developed by influential sources (like employees) and meeting decision makers at the right place, at the right time and in the right channel. Here are some key business drivers that showcase employees’ contribution in social marketing programs:
- Brand awareness: It’s a soft metric, yes. And, far removed from a sales transaction but necessary before any deal can be made. It’s also well understood. Telling brand stories on social media is a cost-effective means to drive awareness in a crowded marketplace.
- Customer education: A stellar employee advocacy program can steer customers in the right direction and either help close the sale or maintain loyalty.
- Word-of-mouth: More than 80% of people on the internet seek recommendations and spend hours researching products before making a purchase decision. Smart employee advocacy programs will intercept consumers as they enter the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) through content creation and engagement.
- Search engine visibility: Content posted to social channels can improve search rankings through keyword focus, links and engagement level. Videos and images can also make you easier to find. The B2B purchase process always begins with an unbranded keyword search―matching what your customers are searching is table stakes. This is vital when creating an employee-driven content strategy.
- Sales: A strategic “social selling” campaign is a valuable concept. Still, it requires sales teams to leverage personal social channels in an authentic way with content that delivers value. Couple great content with a clear call to action, trackable links and a streamlined landing page can be a powerful way to close a deal.
It’s clear that employee advocacy programs deliver value externally and specifically to marketing and communications teams. but that’s just scratching the surface. There are internal benefits of employee engagement which result in a motivated workforce that can truly deliver on the Holy Grail of business ―digital transformation.