Employee Advocacy: How to Succeed Without Being Patronizing

Community Management
Sophie Sykes
February 27, 2023

Word of mouth is incredibly powerful. 83% of Americans say that a recommendation from a friend or family member makes them more likely to purchase that product or service.

What if you could utilize that power to boost sales and get better candidates applying for positions in your company?

That’s exactly what employee advocacy does. By getting word-of-mouth recommendations for your company from everyone on your team, you can massively grow your audience, generate and convert leads, and even attract better job candidates who want to work for you.

However, it’s a delicate balancing act. People aren’t stupid - they know that your employees have a vested interest, and the worst thing that you can do is to advocate while being patronizing or sounding hollow.

That’s why today I’ll be covering employee advocacy in the following sections:

  • What is employee advocacy?
  • Why everyone gets employee advocacy wrong
  • The guerilla warfare of value capture
  • How to structure employee advocacy in your communities
  • The secret to supercharging your community efforts

Let’s get started.

What is employee advocacy?

Employee advocacy is an activity performed by your employees across different roles to promote your product, company, and/or brand to others. This can take many forms, through conversations with customers in customer support tickets, posts on public forums, or even talking to their friends and family.

The key is that it’s employees from within your company who are promoting you - they’re advocating others to use your products or services, or potentially even your team as a great place to work.

Think of it as a kind of social proof, whereby the ultimate goal is to drum up new interest for your company whether that be from a customer or candidate viewpoint.

Employee advocacy can be an immensely powerful tool in your arsenal for many of the same reasons that social proof is also so useful. It allows your team to directly speak to your target audience and give them a more personal recommendation, thus forming a more human connection than a generic ad campaign, and allows you to address some of the core issues your audience faces in a much more approachable and personable manner.

For example, I used to work for a company that created checklists to help people get their tasks done correctly and on time. We weren’t told to go out and spread the virtues of our product on social media and to all of our contacts, but whenever one of my family members complained about their team forgetting to do something vital or messing up one of their regular tasks, I’d mention our product as a potential solution. It was in no way a hard sell from me - just a recommendation that our product (or one similar) could solve the issue that they were encountering.

And you know what? We got a few extra customers through those conversations. Plus, since I personally knew those customers, I was able to field any questions they had, show them how everything worked and how easy the product was to use, and they were able to get to that fabled “Ah-ha!” moment much faster than a typical cold lead.

However, not all employee advocacy is created equal…

Why everyone gets employee advocacy wrong

There is a glaring problem with how many companies handle their employee advocacy, which is that there isn’t enough of a cohesive effort or tactic behind it.

Let’s say that you tell your employees to all post on their social media accounts about a new product release. They share the news, get a few likes from friends, and then nothing else happens. These scattershot advocacy attempts will always fall flat because you need two elements to see any return for your efforts.

You need:

  • Employees who can genuinely and naturally advocate the product
  • An audience who will listen

That second element is why many efforts fail. There is no structured attempt to reach anyone who will actually listen.

That all changes if you ensure that your employees are interacting with your community on a regular basis.

If you have a community, you’ve already done the hard work of addressing and building up an audience whose members massively coincide with your company’s target audience. They’re there for the community primarily, yes, but the nature of the community should be that which appeals to people who are also likely to want to use your product or services.

Employee advocacy here thus solves multiple problems at once!

Your team will be interacting with community members who are already interested in what they’re talking about. They’re not wasting their efforts by slinging praise into the dark. They’re also able to talk to a much larger audience than they otherwise would by posting on their personal accounts - you’re not relying on your team being influencers and having the reach to make a big difference. Instead, you’re enhancing the community that you already have, promoting your goods to members who already have an interest, and doing it to people who are more likely to believe them because they’re part of the same team that runs the community they’re posting in.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this, especially as it has inherent benefits to your community as a whole too.

Your employees are going to know more about your products and services than anyone else. Thus they will be able to address some of the problems that your audience is having (both in general and with your products specifically), which makes sure that your community’s voices are being heard and that they’re being promoted to as people with specific wants and needs.

It’s almost a perfect storm - you have everything you need for the employee advocacy to be effective, your team gets to talk to specific people rather than shouting into the void, and the messages will reach those who are most likely to be interested and stand to benefit from them.

The guerilla warfare of value capture

I stated above that using employee advocacy in your community is almost a perfect storm. That’s because the biggest challenge with this technique is that you’ll always be walking an extremely fine line between value creation and value capture.

Check out our CEO Patrick talking about this distinction on this podcast episode:

We’ve written previously about how important the distinction between value creation vs value capture is. Value creation is the act of creating value for the members of your community in a way that doesn’t directly call them to become customers or push them into your funnel. Value capture is the opposite - it’s when you try to convert the audience that is already there into taking a specific action, whether that’s to sign up to a mailing list or to become a paid customer.

The key to employee advocacy is to utilize both of these methods in a fine balance.

Your employees need to be interacting with the community in a way that creates value for them. However, for it to be “advocacy” they also need to promote your company, products or services in an attempt to capture the potential value that is inherent to your community audience.

There are no set rules to follow that will create this balance for you. Nor are there any guidelines that can apply to every interaction in order to get the same result. Your audience is full of people who have different wants, needs, problems, pain points, and budgets, so your advocacy needs to be subtle in addressing the composite parts of that community audience.

For example, let’s say that your company makes shoes. You’ve built up a community centered around physical fitness and activities, whether that be gym routines, rock climbing, trail running, or sports such as football, tennis, and soccer.

What kind of employee advocacy would tread the line between value creation and value capture?

Well, first you need to know which section of your audience your employees will be addressing. Are you planning to have them talk specifically in the “sportswear” forum, or in a more general discussion about ideal gym routines? This will affect how they will need to approach the topic in order to effectively promote your shoes.

Next, how open is that part of your community to direct calls to action? A sportswear subforum would be a great place for a “What our team wears” thread that would showcase some of the products that your team utilizes themselves, but a discussion about the Super Bowl results isn’t going to be nearly as open due to your products being largely irrelevant to the discussion.

Then there’s the question of what employee advocacy should take the form of. I’ve already touched on how important it is to utilize the community that your brand has built instead of relying on your employees’ own social accounts. Instead, you could combine the two by having the team tweet out photos of their workstations, then share their tweet on your official accounts. That way you’re promoting your employees’ accounts to your audience (so they have an extra incentive to post in the first place) and you’re getting free content that promotes your team to potential candidates.

Alternatively, you could ask your employees to either post new threads in your forums to get the discussion going or to contribute to existing ones to help the conversation flow. Going back to the sportswear example, this could be a new thread of employees sharing their experiences with your products or their own fitness routines. It all depends on whether there are any current conversations happening in your community that would benefit from your team’s input and whether they are relevant enough to your brand that you could capture some of the value that you’re creating.

It’s a tug-of-war between value creation and value capture. Both are important, and your community will always benefit from activities that create value for it even (and sometimes especially) if you don’t have a value capture element to them. However, trying to capture value without also creating it will often come across as overly promotional and pushy. Even in the advocacy that directly promotes your products you need to be creating value for the community to make sure that the posts can stand on their own, as that’s the only way that your community members will actually pay attention.

How to structure employee advocacy in your communities

There are a few simple steps that you can carry out in order to make sure that your employee advocacy efforts have the greatest chance of success. These are:

  • Foster a company culture that encourages advocacy
  • Decide goals for your efforts
  • Start off small
  • Have set rules and policies for advocacy
  • Create a structure to follow

You’ll never succeed in getting your employees to advocate your company or its products without first fostering a company culture that they are comfortable in and actively enjoy being part of. That’s why you need to ensure that they’re getting the support they need to both carry out their tasks and enjoy them. Open communications between your teams, encourage collaboration, share helpful resources, and make their workplace as welcoming as possible.

Next you need to decide what the goals of your advocacy should be. This could be anything from posting a certain number of times per week to generating new leads, filling vacant positions, or hiring a certain number of new employees. This will inform you of what kind of advocacy you need to encourage, and how best to go about it.

Once you’ve set your goals you should start off small, preferably with a group of employees who are most enthusiastic about the company or its products. Gather a small group of people who are most likely to advocate for the company on their own time (or who already are) and test out different advocacy methods with them. They’ll be the most genuine in their recommendations, and so will be able to test out what works best in pursuit of your goals.

Guidelines and policies are a must-have for any kind of structured advocacy efforts. Take what you’ve learned from your smaller-scale tests and draw up policies based on when your team should be posting, where, what kind of content it should be, the tone they should adopt, and how active they need to be in following up the discussion.

Finally, create and deploy your employee advocacy structure on a large scale based on what succeeded in your tests. Continue to iterate your guidelines, policies, and tactics as you go to get the most out of the program, and don’t be afraid to try out new ideas or to cull attempts that don’t work out. Iteration is the name of the game!

Above all else, you need to listen to your community throughout the whole thing. See how they respond and what performs well with them. You aren’t marketing at them, you’re creating value by showing them a peek at what the people behind the curtain think.

The secret to supercharging employee advocacy in your community

Orbit is a community growth platform that acts kind of like a CRM for all your community members across the different places they live. It's a single pane of glass through which you can see everything happening in and across your community.

Here are three ways you could leverage Orbit to boost your team's employee advocacy:

  1. When you see someone talking in your community and you want to chat with them further, you can DM them on Twitter from within the Orbit platform.
  2. You can see when moments are happening that are positive or negative sentiment, so you can pick the most effective times to dive in and join in the conversation.
  3. Get notified in Slack when things happen in the community that you want to act on. For example, you can get alerted through a DM in Slack if a negative sentiment moment happens in your Discord.

There are loads of other ways you can take community intelligence data and turn it into precise and effective action. And you can set up workflows to automate loads of it too!

Sign up for a free trial, or contact sales if you're looking for all the enterprise features!

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