Your Biggest Fans: How Executive Leaders Drive Employee Advocacy

Mar 19, 2020 | CEOs, Employee Advocacy, Executive Social, Leadership

It’s no wonder employee advocacy programs have become incredibly popular in recent years. A well-run employee advocacy program produces increased brand recognition, streamlined communications, and advertising value.

How do you implement and maintain a successful program? One key to success is getting your leadership on board. It isn’t enough to have your executives cheering from the sidelines, they need to lead the charge.

We interviewed social media experts who run successful advocacy programs, and they told us that having executives actively involved in the programs significantly increased program success. The experts shared these tips for getting your executives to step up and lead the participation.

Lead by Example

When Kelsey Kruzel, Program Manager of Social Media, joined CDW in 2018, she wanted to take the company’s employee advocacy program to the next level, and she knew exactly where she needed to start. As program manager for social media, Kruzel says, “To get users on board and fully embracing new advocacy tools and practices, you truly need executive buy-in.”

Kruzel’s team successfully targeted two leaders. One executive was already involved in the employee advocacy program; the other had high levels of participation from people on their team. With active leaders engaged in advocacy and a strong social media presence, it became easier to get new users on board. Kelsey says the difference was like “night and day in terms of adoption across the CDW worker base.”

“Executive buy-in/support is key to any employee advocacy program. One of the biggest mistakes is trying to build a program from the ground up without it,” she explains. “You can definitely have an impact, but there’s a limit to how much you will be able to achieve.”

Validate the Value of Social Media

The first step to getting executives on board is to make a case for the value to the business. Daniel Ku, Director of Marketing at PostBeyond, starts the conversation with executives by sharing data on the value of executives participating in social media. For example:

“Executive activation on social media builds brand trust, solidifies your brand’s presence and can establish your executive as a thought leader in the space,” Ku adds.

For execs who don’t get the value of social media in general, Ku refers to Weber Shandwick’s research about Social CEOs. According to Ku, it shows that “executives who are active in social media are perceived as more open, credible, and transparent. They have a positive impact on company reputation, showing that the company is innovative, enhancing company credibility, and helping organizations attract new employees as well as customers.”

Do your research and show your team other executives who are active and making an impact using social media. Especially include a competitor or two, since this is a win whether or not the competitor uses social media. If they are active, the executive feels like they will be behind if they don’t participate. If they are not using social, this is a way for your company to gain an advantage.

Now What?

Once executives are willing, the next step is to make them able. How do you translate the passion they have for their work into successful employee advocacy? Kruzel says executives often tell her they want to do more, but they don’t understand how to actually use social media, as a strategy or as a tool.

Daniel Ku recommends a “Crawl, Walk, Run” approach that he has seen work successfully for one of their clients.

At the Crawl stage, their goal is to help the executives understand the value of advocacy and social in general and get them to participate at the most basic level. They:

    • Address objections.
    • Work with the executive to identify a purpose for being on social.
    • Choose a platform, typically beginning with LinkedIn.
    • Define their tone of voice as an executive.

At the Walk stage, they consider what content the executive can easily share. Maybe they will share industry-specific content from Gartner or Forrester. Or maybe just share the company’s content.

When executives reach the Run stage, they are ready to create their own content. Maybe they want to write their own; maybe they want someone to write for them.

Address Their Fears

Eliminate all the reasons leaders don’t want to participate and proactively address their concerns. Kruzel recommends anticipating potential issues or fears leaders might have and solving for those before you go into a meeting.

The biggest concern is typically that social media posting will take too much time. Kruzel addressed this issue by making the process as low-lift as possible for the executives. Her team did much of the work for them and were able to get the executives’ admins to help.

Other common concerns are about misrepresenting the company or not being creative enough to come up with comments. Many executives also have concerns about privacy and security. A surprising number believe that no one cares what they think, and of course, that’s not accurate.

Define a Strategy

Work with leaders to identify a business purpose for their personal presence in social media. They might want to interact with customers or partners. Or their focus might be on internal communication with their team. With a specific goal in mind, it becomes easier for them to justify investing their time.

Make It Quick and Easy  

One-on-one coaching gives executives the opportunity to learn exactly what they need and get all their questions answered privately. Other ways you can make it easy for them to be active:

    • Provide a content library of vetted, sharable content that execs can easily copy and paste.
    • Make it clear that they only need to spend 5-10 minutes a day to reap the benefits of the program.
    • Provide cheat sheets and checklists, so they know exactly what to do.

Start at the Top, with Just One or Two Executives

New behaviors receive greater acceptance when modeled by leaders.

And, if only mid or low-level employees participate in your employee advocacy program, your ecosystem can skew towards an incomplete perspective. Your program needs the depth of knowledge and experience found in the insights executives provide.

At the same time, trying to get all your executives simultaneously on board participating in an employee advocacy program could infinitely delay the program launch.

Kruzel says 100% participation at the C-level isn’t necessary. “You don’t have to do it all at once,” she says. “Start with one exec and then bring others on board. You don’t need the CEO; you don’t need all the execs on the same page. Start where you are and grow over time.”

Give Executives Different Content

Often, executives don’t want to post the exact same content as everyone else. From a leadership perspective their goals are drastically different from your average salesperson or recruiter. Their focus is more around speaking to leadership, the strategy they are employing as a leader, and promoting their brand at a high level.

Kruzel says execs can still share some of the same updates as employees, but their commentary will be different. A lower volume of posts is also acceptable. Kruzel shares that one of their executives uses the advocacy tool on Twitter, but on LinkedIn, the exec only posts once a week and puts more intentionality into that post.

Ask Them to Talk About It

Encouraging executives to talk about social media when they are speaking at employee meetings not only keeps the executives accountable for engaging with social media, it models behavior for employees and makes sure they are getting the right message.

One of PostBeyond’s clients demonstrated the impact that executives can have on employee participation in social media. Ku tells the story of a vice president who posted an update. A C-suite prospect engaged with the update and became a lead. “The VP talked about it at a town hall meeting,” says Ku. “After hearing him tell that story, the company saw an 84% increase in employee sharing!”

Turn It into a Game

Lisa Marcyes, Head of Global Social Media at Oracle, has a secret weapon to increase employee advocacy: “Something I’ve had great success with is gamifying social engagement with a leaderboard,” says Marcyes. “Each week I present a social snapshot of who had the most mentions related to the brand on social media. It’s been a fantastic way to encourage social engagement and increases the number of positive social mentions associated with the brand.”

Reinforce Training & Learn from What Works

After your employee advocacy program launches, make training, encouragement, and support continuing processes. Ku recommends providing ongoing reinforcement workshops, either in-person or through webinars, where you share the latest changes on each platform.

He also suggests a quarterly business review:

    • Who is using the employee advocacy program?
    • What is everyone doing?
    • What shares generated the most engagement? Which content created the most buzz?
    • Who is most active?

Keeping an eye on what the executives are doing can tell you who needs more training, more content, or help integrating the work into their schedule.

Lead the Charge

Employee advocacy programs are valuable tools. Executives who see this value, endorse it, and actively participate in the program set the pace for employees and can greatly benefit their companies and their own careers.

As Ku says, “The #1 ingredient in a successful employee advocacy program is executive involvement. Getting their endorsement and involvement is one of the most important components. If executives don’t believe in the value of social, the employee advocacy program often fails.”

Who else should read this? Please share!

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