- 71% of social marketers see employee advocacy as a cost-effective alternative to influencer marketing.
- Engaging employees in posting about their employer builds authenticity and trust.
- Employers should educate employees on the impact of their social media posts to ensure a positive impact.
In the age of influencers, it's clear that anyone can be a brand. Everything we post online is representative of who we are, what we do and why we do it. Many businesses are leveraging one of their most valuable assets – their own employees – to help them market their brands. After all, who knows the company better than the people who work there?
By having your employees serve as "internal influencers," you can cultivate a personalized and authentic online identity that conveys what your company is really about. Consumer trust is low; however, communicating with your audience via your employees is a great way to be transparent about your company.
"People don't buy from brands; they buy from people they know and trust," said Michael Idinopulos, head of client experience and new ventures at McKinsey & Company. "When a customer or prospect Googles the people they meet from a company, [personal] social profiles will come up first. Those profiles had better be compelling."
LinkedIn is the most popular professional social media platform, with over 260 million users logging in every month. LinkedIn provides an opportunity for employees to display their work history and industry knowledge as well as share news and messages from their company.
Haley Hanlon, business.com's social and community content manager, said that employees can boost their company's social image and attract new talent by posting about it, as young professionals are often much more apt to apply to a company if they see peers and connections posting positive things about it.
"Young professionals are extremely suspicious of job postings and advertisements that sound too good to be true," she said. "Seeing somebody you actually know posting pictures from a company outing or sharing an update about their department resonates much more."
Employees can show through their posts whether a company truly is dog-friendly, or if the quarterly philanthropy events actually happen.
"It's about establishing brand authenticity," said Hanlon. "Having employees sharing their own version of social media posts brings life and loyalty to a business that is otherwise just another LinkedIn company page."
Since small businesses often don't have the budgets for traditional marketing and advertising campaigns, social media marketing through employee profiles should be a top priority for businesses, Idinopulos said. [See related article: 14 Social Media Marketing Solutions for Small Businesses]
"LinkedIn and Twitter capture a lot of traffic, and they send some of that traffic to your employees' profiles," he said. "You can use that to your advantage by encouraging employees to post content that will represent your company well and drive traffic to your site. Leveraging your employees' social networks is a lot more cost-effective than paying directly for clicks."
According to a 2018 study by Sprout Social, 71% of social marketers see employee advocacy as a "cost-effective, scalable alternative to influencer marketing." By utilizing your existing talent, you can cut down on or eliminate paying for traditional marketing.
"It's essentially free (and effective) advertising," said Hanlon.
The key here, however, is to organically cultivate employee participation in your marketing efforts. Forcing employees to tweet or post about their fabulous work environment is only going to derail morale, and the efforts will come across as disingenuous.
"One of the most important things we teach our employees [is that] we are not on social media to sell anything," said Mark Grasmayer, product evangelist at Workspace365. "We're there to establish connections."
How to create a culture of employee advocacy using social media
The most important tenet of employee advocacy is not to force your employees to post about the company. But how do you organically create a culture where employees want to post about your company?
An easy first step is to provide ready-made content or opportunities for employees to create content, like sharable posts about employee outings, press releases or company-sponsored charity events. This way, if employees want to post about work, they can easily do so, and the process feels natural and organic.
You can also host trainings or seminars to teach employees about how what they post can impact the company.
"Help your employees understand the impact of social media," said Grasmeyer. "Create a platform in which you are able to provide content or interesting questions that they can post on their profiles."
While employee advocacy should never be forced, it's good to have guidelines in place for what employees should and should not post.
"Train employees on what works and what doesn't," said Michael Brenner, chief marketing insider at Marketing Insider Group. "And start small – my advice is for employees to share what they know and things they are passionate about."
Make sure you have clearly defined guidelines on what is expected, like good grammar and accuracy, and what is strictly not allowed, like political posts, hate speech, or negative comments about the company.
"Employees should never contribute to negative comments or feel as if they must be a keyboard warrior to defend their company," said Amy Ahlblad, partnerships manager at Glamping Hub. "[Let them know] that negative comments will be handled by the social team, and it will be up to the company if and how they would like to respond."
Editor's note: Looking for the right online marketing service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
You should also encourage employees to create high-quality profiles. A strong, carefully thought-out profile portrays both the employee and your brand in the best possible light. It's more than having a professional photo and filling in all of the profile fields. Employee profiles should use consistent language to name and describe your company, hit key marketing messages and include links to your business's website and job postings.
Finally, help employees build relevant networks by providing tips and support in networking. As they build their profiles and move along in their careers, employees should naturally build a relevant network. Employees should connect with customers, partners and prospects. These are important connections to create and maintain, as they are the ones who most likely pay attention to what employees post online.
"We've been able to recruit new talent through interactions on the posts from our employees," said Dary Merckens, CTO at Gunner Technology. "You meet so many new designers, developers and engineers just by engaging on social media."
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.