You couldn’t ask for a better endorsement than having a customer refer you to others. But what happens when your company’s employees make referrals too?
Brand advertising just doesn’t have the same credibility and appeal anymore. The average consumer likes to do their research ahead of time and figure out whether a brand is really worth it before giving up their time, effort, or money. And that’s where the power of employee advocacy comes in.
Learn what employee advocacy is, why you need it, the different types, and how to set up your own employee brand advocacy program in this guide:
What is employee advocacy?
Employee advocacy can be defined as when a company’s employees become loyal promoters (advocates) of that company’s brand and products. Any employee, not just a marketer or salesperson, can be an employee advocate.
In most cases, employee advocacy happens online via social media platforms, but it can also take place when employees refer the company to individual friends and family members.
During employee advocacy efforts, employees promote your company to others in their network, typically friends, family, and peers. Employee advocacy involves some form of sharing of your products, news, content or even company culture in a way that makes your brand appealing, engaging, and worth checking out.
Why employee advocacy is important
Employee advocacy is more important than ever for businesses, no matter your size, scale, or scope. If you’re not engaging in some form of employee advocacy to supplement your marketing efforts, you could be missing out.
A well-known study by Nielsen identified that 92% of consumers around the world trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth or recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising when making a purchase decision. This means that friends and family members are more likely to trust employee sharing over any form of direct advertising by your brand.
Also, when employees choose to promote you, it reflects positively on your brand. That’s because, when an employee shares your brand, it shows that they value it – they’ve put in their own time to tell others about it. The sharing can also appear a lot more organic in nature when compared to traditional brand advertising. It’s a lot like social selling minus the mistrust and caution. After all, it’s not the company bombarding a potential customer with brand messages, but someone they know, like, and trust starting a conversation.
Last but not least, there is trust and credibility in numbers. The more word-of-mouth your brand generates through your employee network, the better your brand reputation will be among your target audience’s wider community.
Benefits of employee advocacy
The list of potential benefits that an employee advocacy program can bring to your business is long, as long as you implement your program properly. Here are the most notable benefits:
Expanded reach and engagement
A formal employee brand advocacy program can help you significantly increase your reach. A recent study by Hinge Marketing shows that employee advocacy increased brand visibility for 79.1% of brands, brand recognition for 65%, and inbound web traffic for 44.9% via social networks. Employees tend to have 10 times the network reach of brands.
Cumulatively, employee advocacy can increase your brand reach by as much as 561% and help you achieve eight times more engagement on your company content—all the more reason to create a brand advocacy program as part of your digital marketing strategy.
Authentic sharing and lead generation
Your employees have the potential to become your best brand advocates. The reason is simple – they know your brand inside and out. When your employees share company news, content, and updates, they do so from a genuine place of authority. Thus they will be able to reflect your brand’s values and messaging more authentically, and you will receive more qualified leads (and more sales).
A streamlined employee advocacy program also makes it much easier for all employees to share your brand online.
Widespread knowledge-sharing among team members enables the development of expertise. Through the process of learning and sharing, your employees get to expand their knowledge base. This, in turn, turns them into credible ambassadors for your brand and the specific niche you’re targeting.
Improved employee engagement
Having rewards (tangible or intangible) for promoting the company can create highly engaged employees. Employees feel more motivated when they know their concerted efforts to share content affect the bottom line. They also gain the opportunity to develop their personal brand, which can be a powerful intrinsic incentive for many. This recognition and incentivization on repeat can make your employees feel highly engaged, resulting in increased company performance over time.
Types of employee advocacy
Employee advocacy can come in many forms. While the basic idea behind an employee advocacy program is more or less consistent across the board, companies may modify the specifics based on what fits their brand the best. We’ll be covering some of the most common types of employee advocacy programs next.
Employee referral programs (employee-to-customer)
Employee referral programs come in two types – employee-to-customer referral programs, and employee-to-employee referral programs.
In an employee-to-customer referral program, employees directly share your brand, products or services with people who may be interested in them. There’s no restriction on the number or type of employee who can participate. Employees are also welcome to participate for as long as they like, and as often as they want.
The sharing employee earns a reward (called an employee referral bonus) every time a referred friend makes a purchase. And if you use employee referral software, every referral is tied back to the employee who made it via a unique referral link. Using referral software simplifies the process of staying on top of referrals and ensuring payouts are done automatically to the employees after a sale.
Employee referral programs (employee-to-employee)
In employee-to-employee referral programs, your employees are not promoting your products or services, or encouraging sales. Instead, your employees refer potential candidates for job openings at your company, functioning somewhat similarly to talent scouts.
Like the employee-to-customer program, your employees earn rewards for referrals. In this case, a referral is when a potential candidate progresses through the recruitment stages – whether that’s submitting an application, participating in interviews, or eventually getting hired.
When employees actually receive the rewards can be dependent on the company. Some companies will payout only at the time of hire, and some will provide an additional reward after the candidate successfully completes 3 or 6 months in the new role.
Similar to employee-to-customer referral programs, the sharing process is streamlined and tracked thanks to referral software, and all employees can participate in the program as often as they like.
Employee ambassador programs
Your employees can be your best brand ambassadors. Employee brand ambassadors can appear more genuine and likable compared to brand advertising. Keep in mind, though, that authenticity doesn’t always come through naturally when there are brand guidelines and a media policy to stick to. So, it’s essential to train your employees on how to be authentic while promoting your brand, both online and offline, as official representatives.
As with all other advocacy programs, employee efforts are tracked and rewarded. Usually, companies don’t open the program to every employee, though. While all employees are welcome to participate, they must first undergo formal training and induction before becoming official employee ambassadors.
Social media employee advocacy strategy
As the name suggests, a social media employee advocacy program encourages employees to post about your brand on their personal social media channels.
Employees can share any type of company content in the way that feels most natural to them, with some ‘control’ measures. For instance, they do have to adhere to the brand’s voice and tone, and ensure the content is in line with the brand’s messaging guidelines. Because of this, it’s crucial to provide training for employees. But at the same time, your strategy should be flexible enough to allow the employee to share their authentic voice.
The good news is that the training for a program like this can be done entirely online. Aside from brand guidelines and do’s and don’ts in the form of a social media policy, you can also cover how various social media platforms work and how to create social media posts, for example.
Like other advocacy solutions, employees receive rewards for sharing.
Organic employee advocacy
In organic employee advocacy, your employees share your brand and messaging without being asked or incentivized to do so. It’s always desirable to have your employees naturally share your brand. It speaks to how much they appreciate your brand and stand by your products and services. Given this, organic sharing can be the most trusted and authentic form of advocacy marketing for new leads and sales.
But this type of organic referral can be hard to track since it happens outside of a formal employee referral program. It can also be less reliable in terms of results as there is no motivation in the form of incentives to share.
Natural sharing takes place as a result of a strong company culture. When you’re committed to a winning relationship with your employees in everything you do, whether it’s communication, management, employee-driven payroll, or acknowledgement of employee efforts, it can translate seamlessly into organic sharing.
What is an employee advocacy program?
An employee advocacy program is a formal program that a business creates to manage and track employee advocacy. Increasingly, companies prefer to use software for this purpose because of the ability to create and track referral links and measure performance on top of day-to-day management.
Formal employee advocacy programs usually include social media marketing, given that employees can easily share links to their wider network of potential leads and customers. But that doesn’t mean the referring is carried out entirely online. As part of an employee advocacy program, employees may also be empowered to directly refer customers offline as well.
Employee referral programs, ambassador programs, and social media strategies are all included under the common “employee advocacy program” umbrella.