But what exactly is employee advocacy and why is it such an effective mechanism that SMEs can take advantage of? Here, we’ll look at the essential definitions of employee advocacy, how it can be used to grow your business and get some key insights from small business owners who have used its methods to great effect.
Simply put, employee advocacy involves promoting a business or organisation through your members of staff. This includes raising brand awareness and exposure through digital and offline channels, recommending a company’s products/services to friends or family members, or becoming a company spokesperson through expert product knowledge.
In this digital age, employees can become influencers with ease. The combination of your staff’s expert knowledge and appropriate online channels can create effective, customer-receptive messaging that’s on a level with potentially more expensive traditional advertising.
An integral part of employee advocacy and one that goes a long way to getting them involved in the process is ensuring that your staff is engaged and valued. If an employee is unmotivated, then you’re likely going to have a hard time of them convincing customers of the value of your brand. Indeed, Gethin Nadin, Director of Global Partnerships at digital employee experience platform Benefex says, “when an employee is engaged, they become your biggest brand advocate. Their personality shines through when they deal with the public, and they work with enthusiasm”.
Gethin notes that a bad employee experience can negatively impact a business’ bottom line; an engaged workforce is a multi-faceted essential when it comes to advocating for the business. On the front line, the company’s most visible employees should be “optimistic, happy and innovative”. To keep your customers returning, employees need to be invested by their employer.
Whether it’s a company newsletter, event photos, or special promotions, there are plenty of ways to communicate your brand’s message in a less overbearing, more approachable manner. Since a customer’s first point of interaction with a business is through its employees, these outgoing, customer-focused messages can be make-or-break. As Gethin says “if you don’t make a good impression, your customer may leave and never return”.
Alex M H Smith, founder of Basic Arts, an organisation dedicated to helping businesses grow organically without the use of expensive advertising, believes that synchronicity between the personalities of customers and employees helps to create “incredible focus and clarity”. If the thing that attracts customers to buy from you is the same as what attracts employees to work for you, then that’s when you know you’re onto something. Similarly, Gethin offers that “the best employee experiences will ensure you position yourselves as a company of choice for both customers and employees”.
Since social media can play such a large part in employee advocacy, it’s worth creating social media guidelines that your entire workforce can follow. Ensure the message is understood and will be communicated in the appropriate manner. Educating them on social media best practices encourages participation, involves them in general trends of social media and opens them up to the goals of brand advocacy.
That last point means an employee advocacy mission statement might be a smart thing to draw up. Give your staff a reason to promote the business – it’ll create a common bond between employees while also lending their messaging a purpose. Use those experienced in social media as leaders in your advocacy, too – as they can help to guide and inspire others to get involved.
So, you know what employee advocacy is and the overall value that it can contribute to your business, but what specific benefits can an advocacy programme yield – and what steps can SMEs take to maximise the return on these?
How many people are seeing your content in their social feeds? What we want here is ‘organic’ and ‘viral’ reach, since these cost nothing. A blog, a news piece about the company, or an engaging picture can end up spreading like wildfire if it’s picked up by enough people.
Engagement means that the people who have seen a post have also interacted with it in some way – whether that’s a like, share, click-through or comment. If enough people engage with your content, your viral reach can increase – so ensure what your employees are posting is interesting enough to be actioned against.
Any ambitious SME will want to retain their existing customers, while also actively seeking out new business. Lead generation refers to the process of attracting strangers and turning them into leads, i.e. someone who has indicated an interest in your business. The content we mentioned above could have a call to action, a landing page, some sort of form to fill in or an offer of appropriate value.
Generating a lead is a little like leading the prospect down a path; there should be logical walkways for them to follow, and giving them something to act on can help to generate that lead.
As we mentioned before, the use of leaders to inform both your employees and customers is an important part of advocacy. These thought leaders offer the best answers to the hardest questions, differentiating you from your competition by employing expert insights and unique knowledge – and helping your audience engage in the process. They’re an integral, highly useful part of your team.
Employee advocacy is right there, waiting to be used, so don’t let the opportunities it affords pass you by. As Alex says, “all that clever thought you’re using in advertising? Turn it inwards. Your employees are people too, and they’ll respond in exactly the same way if you do it well.”
Be sure to leverage the talents and knowledge your workforce uses on a daily basis in other areas. It could make the difference between you and your competition.
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