Employee advocacy: Great for employer branding or just another box to tick?

Employee advocacy_ Great for employer branding or just another box to tick_

In today’s ‘tick box’ culture, it can be tempting for businesses to dismiss yet more new initiatives that promise the world but increase the burden on HR. But with the latest Edelman Trust Barometer finding that 52% of consumers trust standard employees more than CEOs, employee advocacy is one practice you should invest in.

Employee advocates can be invaluable in promoting your brand and are most probably your best source of future talent; the LinkedIn Talent Trends survey 2016 found that 41% of candidates found their job through someone they knew at the company. What’s more, 72% of candidates want to know about the company culture, and 56% want to hear it from employees’ perspectives when going for a role.

The statistics are compelling. But where do you start? If you’re not sure how to go about turning your employees into advocates, these five questions will help:

  1. What are you doing to improve your workplace culture?

Increasingly, employees want to work for companies who offer a great culture to work in, one whose values align with theirs and provide a sense of common purpose. As well as supporting employee career development, you can do a lot to make your workplace a positive environment to shout about. And those who perceive you as a supportive and value-focused employer will be more likely to praise you as a good employer.

One of the best ways you can go about improving your culture is by providing opportunities for team members to communicate and socialise, even if it’s only via an internal social network. It doesn’t have to cost the earth either; Facebook’s new free version of Workplace could work well.

Trusting and encouraging employees to share company information on their own social networks will drive a culture of transparency and inclusivity – values they’ll hopefully share via reviews on sites like Glassdoor to reinforce your reputation.

  1. Who are your most engaged employees?

84% of people in a Nielsen online survey said word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family were the most trustworthy; spreading your message through your employees’ social networks can definitely give your employer brand greater authenticity.

To start with, identify your supporters, those employees who are most engaged and positive about their roles, to share your content and brand messages via social media. Trying to get unengaged staff to promote your workplace culture will backfire, but positive advocates can have a positive knock-on effect across the company.

You can also look to include your most highly skilled employees in your advocacy programme by asking them to contribute thought leadership articles for your blog or act as media spokespeople. Prospective employees will likely be impressed, not only by the insight these articles provide, but the opportunities you provide for career development – another critical concern for candidates in today’s job market.

Since referrals are one of the top sources of external appointments, advocates can add enormous value to your recruitment function, be it through endorsements on your career pages or directly introducing promising candidates to you.

  1. What information and guidance are you providing employees?

The chances are your employees are already passing information on about you online and through word of mouth. So whilst you don’t want to deter them with strict rules, providing guidance on how, where and when best to post, what not to say as well as how to manage difficult queries or comments, will protect your brand and ensure a consistent corporate message.

Are you internal communications effective? If you’re not sure, seek employee feedback to make sure the flow and level of information is meeting their needs and enabling them to promote the company accurately.

Ideally you should establish a staff social media policy and provide training to ensure that employees have the knowledge and confidence to be effective ambassadors.

  1. Why should employees advocate for you?

In the same way that a strong company mission appeals to prospective employees, a strong advocacy mission can motivate your staff to get involved. A LinkedIn report found that 73% of purpose-oriented people are satisfied in their jobs, so whether it’s about raising awareness, driving event sign-ups or something else entirely, putting some purpose around what you’re trying to achieve should improve engagement.

It’s worth considering what you’re willing to offer employees by way of incentive for their positive reinforcement of your brand. If they’re likely to be rewarded for their efforts, they may be more likely to get involved – and it could lead to some healthy team competition.

The profile raising benefits of activities such as blog or whitepaper authorship will be incentive enough, but activities like social media campaigns may benefit from a prize for the employee who, for example, shared the most posts.

  1. How can you prove it’s worth the investment?

Employer branding is notoriously difficult to measure in terms of ROI. So the best way of justifying the investment in employee advocacy is to set quantitative goals for your advocacy programme and measure against them regularly.

Make sure your goals are closely aligned to your corporate goals. Metrics such as jobsite traffic, enquiries etc. can be especially helpful in driving employee engagement with the programme. And others, such as the percentage of employees engaged and referrals received, can help you ratify the decision to continue it to senior management.

Far from being a tick-box exercise, employee advocacy is a powerful tool that can have a significant impact on your employer brand for a very low cost. A good employee advocacy programme requires a strong workplace culture to be effective. But paradoxically it is also one of the best ways to strengthen your culture and ensure employees want to advocate and attract skilled talent for you.