Too often, companies make the mistake of not tapping into one of their strongest marketing tools: their own employees.

Employee advocacy can (and should) be a significant part of any organization’s social media strategy — and many forward-thinking businesses are starting to harness its power.

According to a recent survey conducted by PostBeyond and Golfdale Consulting, interest in employee advocacy has grown 191% since 2013. Why? Because research shows that organizations with high employee engagement perform 202% better than those whose employees are not engaged. Even more notable, employee social marketing generates leads that convert seven times more frequently than other leads.

Those numbers say a lot about the effectiveness of employee advocacy, and it’s a fact executives can’t afford to ignore.

What Is Employee Advocacy?

Social media has fundamentally changed the way people share information about their everyday lives — and this includes the organizations they belong to and businesses they work for. Currently, one-third of employees post social media messages about their workplace without any encouragement from their employers.

Employee advocacy takes this trend and leverages it by arming employees with information that’s curated, optimized, and shareable. This information could include content about specific products or campaigns, or it could mean promoting the company’s culture. What is important is that it’s sharing, via social media, in a strategic way to essentially turn employees into digital influencers and using that influence to benefit your business.

In the past, the idea of employees sharing company messaging on social media came with mixed opinions; many organizations were worried about the potential conflict this could cause with human resources and legal departments. Now, though, businesses are beginning to see the powerful impact employee advocacy can have on marketing, sales, and recruitment. Nearly half of organizations currently have a formal employee advocacy program in place — and most of them (more than 75%) back their programs with resources.

The ROI of Employee Advocacy Programs

According to research by Kredible, an employee advocacy program involving 1,000 active participants can generate the equivalent of $1.9 million in advertising value. An effective employee advocacy program creates this kind of ROI for your company in a variety of ways:

  • Builds authenticity and trust. More than 75% of people trust content shared by their own network more than content shared by a brand. Encouraging employees to share and comment on brand messages and information about your company creates a level of transparency that customers respond to. This type of authentic interaction also builds credibility and improves brand image.
  • Increases your reach. Brand messages are re-shared 24 times more and reach 561% further when distributed by an employee. Leveraging this employee reach and driving impressions and visibility can deliver a real competitive edge to your business.
  • Makes the most of your employees’ time. The average employee already spends at least two hours a day in social media. Why not use some of that time to promote your business?
  • Improves employee engagement. Giving your employees more insight into what’s going on with the business and allowing them to use their own platforms to discuss company happenings encourages person-to-person conversations — both internally and with your outside audience. This engagement can have a positive effect on company culture, which makes your organization a happier place to work.
  • Enhances your employer brand. According to Glassdoor, 79% of job applicants use social media in their job search — and that number increases to 86% for applicants who are in the first 10 years of their career. Positive, well-informed posts by your employees about your business will drive more interest from job seekers.
  • Nurtures thought leaders and influencers. Thought leadership isn’t just for CEOs and company founders. By regularly sharing high-quality content on a specific topic, your employees build their reputations as industry leaders while growing their networks.
  • Takes sales to the next level. Nearly one-third of companies report employee advocacy as a key driver in shortening their sales cycle. Equipping employees with timely industry-specific content positions them as an authority while creating brand awareness and driving sales.

The Importance of Leadership for Effective Employee Advocacy

Research shows that companies that embrace employee advocacy gain a significant advantage against the competition. After implementing an employee advocacy program, 79% of firms report more online visibility. Employee advocacy increases web traffic (44.9%), improves search engine ranking (32.4%), and increases content downloads (24.6%).

If you haven’t launched an employee advocacy program yet, where is the best place to start? The answer lies with leadership.

When CEOs and executives enthusiastically embrace and participate in an employee advocacy program, it creates a “lead by example” approach — and the adoption rate of the advocacy program by employees greatly improves.

In a survey conducted by Weber Shandwick, 80% of executives said the top benefit of having a social CEO is having a reputable source for sharing company news and information. According to a report from Bambu, 60% said they want executives to keep them informed so they can share company news with others. In other words, your employees want to help spread the word about your business. Savvy executives know how to use their own social media activity to make that happen.

With employee advocacy, you empower your employees to become ambassadors for your business, which results in more effective sales teams, increased brand recognition, and streamlined communications — all which can have a major impact on your bottom line. But your employees can’t do it alone. Executives who embrace and participate in these programs not only set a positive example for their teams, but lead them toward a more successful, sustainable, competitive advantage in the marketplace.

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