So integral is social media to everything we do these days, it’s hard to know whether it is the proverbial chicken or the egg in our information-hungry culture.
Our increased thirst for information may originally have been driven by the knowledge that ‘news’ was available as soon as anyone with a camera phone was on the scene; and this has morphed into 24-7 news channels, magazine and opinion sites, fake news, mock news and more.
As buyers, the early days of Google, eBay and the Amazon bookstore (remember that?) allowed us to search for information and products without feeling compelled to buy; to compare prices and understand our options without leaving our armchair. And this has morphed into the biggest wholesale change in marketing and advertising behaviour since bitcoins could buy sliced bread.
The buyer-led journey, or inbound marketing – call it what you will – requires a different mindset from brands. Coinciding, as it has, with a massive shift in the perception of what is authentic in the business world, it’s no surprise that anyone with a vested interest is deemed untrustworthy.
Authenticity Is Key, In Content And Delivery
The recent report on employee advocacy, Employee Advocacy 2.0, co-authored by Onalytica and Tribal Impact, addresses this matter head on. To quote Jay Baer, Founder of Convince & Convert, “Consumers are disappointed by brands. Trust in brands is lower than ever and the flipside of that is just as important, that people are trusted more. The reason people are trusted more than advertising is that there is no financial stake in the outcome.”
However, Tim Williams, Onalytica’s CEO sounds a valid warning: “Brands are buying Employee Advocacy software and rolling out social media training as a tick box exercise, but this tends to result in an amplification of branded content rather than employees creating content that increases trust and impacts the buyer journey.”
For employee advocacy to work, in order to create powerful brand influencers, brands need to recognise that it’s no good simply going through the motions. They need to put a robust program in place; to invest in the quality of their content and training for their advocates.
In other words, they must treat the creation of brand influencers as a long game.
Consistency, Culture, Content: The Building Blocks Of Successful Employee Advocacy
To achieve success, brands need to look beyond social media channels. These are really the final piece of the puzzle: the point where their messages and content can be amplified to an audience who sees the brand influencer as someone who has chosen to be an advocate, and not simply a puppet or mouthpiece of the corporate machine.
To create this true advocate, corporations must live and breathe their messaging. They need their corporate values and the way they work to match claims of true customer satisfaction, excellence in their field - whatever their chosen message. And they need this to be evident in every process and every department of their organisation.
Take the company culture: it’s well documented that a successful employee advocacy program will impact recruitment, drive referrals and increase the levels of top talent within an organisation. But, for that top talent to stick with the business, they need to experience the culture that is promoted externally. The organisation needs to be genuine, the behaviours and values consistent and, if this happens, the advocacy will speak for itself.
Employee advocacy is far more engaging and genuine if advocates are creating their own content, sharing their own opinions or blogging about their own experiences. Collectively, they are then providing their own input into the online conversation and the content is tangible, credible and believable.
Active Listening Will Deliver Targeted Content
Simply sharing branded content and well-worn key messages won’t wash with this audience. People are too used to looking for the catch – they can see when words are being put into the mouths of advocates. It’s also impossible for such static, contrived content to be used in response to trending topics or to answer consumer concerns: one of the biggest success factors for brand advocacy is the involvement of social listening.
When content can be targeted at a particular market sector or group of consumers to illuminate a solution to a problem, it becomes extremely powerful and will almost certainly differentiate the author from their competition.
To quote the Employee Advocacy 2.0 report again, here’s what Melonie Dodaro, CEO of Top Dog Social Media, has to say in respect of this: “Anyone can throw advertising dollars out there but very few understand how to truly connect with buyers. Companies have an army of people at their disposal to do this when they’re trained and empowered to do so.”
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
The key to everything here is creating a genuinely powerful voice. Anyone can implement an advocacy program but many will be unsuccessful: fizzling out after a short time, failing to impact the right audiences, or running short of quality content and risking negative associations or a lack of engagement.
With the right building blocks in place, an employee advocacy program will become self-fulfilling.
Employees who embrace this way of working will find their own personal currency increases as they are seen as experts in their field. They become an authority through their blogs and shared content. They understand the products and services that they are advocating; they ‘get’ the business plan and the goals. Higher quality content and information is shared; engagement levels increase; thought leadership becomes possible and the brand remains front-of-mind and is differentiated from competitors.
And that’s when the power of true brand advocacy really kicks in, for everyone involved.