Connecting Customers, Employees and Brand

Last year, our 2015 State of Social Business research report showed a 191% increase in Employee Advocacy interest over the past two years, and our most recent research shows that 90% of brands are either planning such programs or already active.   When I see growth numbers like that, the skeptic in me is stirred: is this the new “bright shiny object” of social media, that is, will the hype meet expectations?

To answer that question, I recognized that we needed to hear from three crucial participants:

  • Brands: What is driving their interest? What results do they expect? What challenges do they face? What’s their plan from pilots to full scale? What does a mature program look like?
  • Employees: What motivates them to share? How do they feel after sharing? What concerns do they have? What (and where) do they share organically today?
  • Consumers: How do they engage with these posts? What actions do they take? What type of information resonates with them?

To answer these questions, I interviewed 10 leading brands and 9 employee advocacy tool vendors, as well as fielding a global survey of brands, employees and consumers. The resulting research report will be published next week–and freely available, as open research. In our study, we found areas of significant opportunity for brands, as well as disconnects between brand ambitions and employee advocacy outcomes.

One way to think about employee advocacy is the native advertising of social media. Wikipedia defines native advertising as “…a type of advertising, usually online but feasibly elsewhere, that matches the form and function of the platform upon which it appears.” What’s more natural than a friend sharing their work life through social? Does that make it advertising? An important line is being blurred between the personal and private lives of employees. For years, brands have mandated through employee social media policy to basically “leave social media to the experts”, but I see a number of catalysts changing that stance:

  1. EMPLOYEES ARE THE BRAND. Employees are the most important assets most companies have, and yet they remain largely untapped on a platform where a vast majority of consumers communicate—social networks.
  2. SOCIAL’S SHIFT TO A PAID PLATFORM. Social media’s shift from organic to a paid model (social ads) has had an impact, as only 3% of a brand’s messages today reach consumers without the support of paid advertising on Facebook. A range of research shows that employees have far greater reach in aggregate than official brand pages in social. For example, one study by MSLGroup found that brand messages reached 561% further when shared by employees vs. branded channels.
  3. EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT. Employee engagement levels are largely stagnant, impacting business in many ways, but especially retention and productivity. Many brands are investing in Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) internally to connect employees to reach each other and company leaders to increase engagement. We found a correlation between using social tools internally and getting employees comfortable with advocacy.
  4. AVAILABILITY OF EMPLOYEE ADVOCACY TOOLS. To overcome questions of what is and is not appropriate to post, today’s advocacy tools provide employees a stream of approved content that both informs them about the brand’s business and gives them confidence to post to external social networks.