Smart brands are innovating the way they tell stories. The traditional methods just don’t work as effectively as they used to. They are doing so by unleashing employees to participate in industry conversations and be brand storytellers.
And they they are doing this for many reasons – to find new audiences, extend the reach of organic content and humanize their brand. Many industry pundits call this “employee advocacy,” or even “social selling.” I call it participation marketing, and the reason makes sense. Employees tell better stories than you do and as a marketer, you must learn how to tap into this opportunity if you want your brand to be relevant. Employees have no agenda. They are authentic, and they are trusted by their peers.
But don’t take my word for it. For years, research and data have proven this point and it couldn’t be more true today:
- Peer recommendations = business value. Read this from Boston Consulting Group and Edelman.
- Technologists and B2B buyers are active on social media. It’s true. Do a quick search on Twitter or LinkedIn for topics like “digital transformation” or “future of work” and you’ll find both technology and business-related content.
- Brands are investing in employee advocacy. Altimeter’s State of Social Business Report published a few years ago says so.
While these data points may convince you to get started, building employee programs just because your competitors are doing so isn’t smart. Your culture must be ready and then you must ensure that there is brand alignment with your employee-driven content strategy.
Employee-Driven Content Strategy
Unfortunately (or fortunately), you can’t use artificial intelligence to activate your employee programs. Automation is not the right approach either. The last thing you want to happen is for employees to be robotic and tweet/share everything you ask them to, verbatim. Balance will be critical.
You want your employees to find their own voice, establish a tone and build their own narrative. They should be able to talk and write abut anything they want. If and when they decide to talk about the company, you’ll want to ensure that they have a general understanding of the brand’s value proposition. They should also understand the best practices and/or rules of engagement for using social media.
The following model can help align employee-driven content to your brand narrative:
The foundation of any content strategy or marketing program should be informed by data, specifically audience intelligence. The data should uncover a “winnable moment” and give editorial direction to a story. Whitespace could just be a nugget of information, or it could be that spark where you uncover that universal “moment of truth”—a message or narrative that no one else in the market owns, like a tagline, manifesto, brand narrative or internal “rallying cry” to motivate your employees. Quite simply, it’s the north star to which you’ll align your employees when they tell their own stories online.
This framework is one of many ways to build your content strategy. I prefer simplicity, whereby:
- Your employees are the hero of the story. These are stories all about your employees. Their opinions and insights about a topic are the north star in everything they write, share and discuss.
- Your employees are characters in a broader story. These stories are usually about someone else like a customer, partner or a member of the community. The narrative is positioned as the business value they receive from using your technology or by partnering with your company.
- Your employees comment on non-branded stories. These stories are focused solely on industry specific topics.
One of the most important things to remember is that employee-driven stories must be integrated with brand content and amplified through paid, earned, and owned media channels. This approach will help with the decline of organic reach in social media.
Buh bye Organic Reach
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have been changing their newsfeed algorithms for years. And brands are investing more and more to reach audiences that have already opted in to receive their content. Why? Organic reach is gone. If you own or manage any channel, you know this to be true.
I have personally tested content shared by employees and found that it 10 – 15% more engagement and reach than the same content shared on branded channels. Other, third party data suggests the same. In a report published by MSLGroup (in partnership with Forrester, Forbes, and Dynamic Signal), they found that brand messages garnered 561% more impressions when shared by employees versus the same content shared just by branded channels. They also found that branded content is shared 24x more frequently when that content distributed and shared by employees.
One final note. Employee advocacy isn’t that magic pill that will make all the bad guys go away. It’s a strategic decision that must be thought through and implemented with laser-focused precision. The result is that you will reach new audiences, influence others down and through the purchase funnel, and drive employee engagement all at the same time.