Employee Advocacy: the next big marketing channel?

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Watch out HR, here comes the marketing team and they want your people!

A new breed of marketing tools is emerging. The goal: to convert every employee on the payroll into social media advocates for your company’s brand…


The lion’s share of marketing efforts has now shifted from a ‘broadcast’ approach in traditional media and direct marketing to sophisticated interactions on social media and through new content-driven approaches. The growth of online communities is driving a renewed interest in affinity marketing. But as all marketing teams rapidly jump onto new channels, these become crowded and the targeted audiences become wiser and less receptive.

Is employee advocacy the next new thing?  The math make sense but will employees play ball?

Our channels are tired!

Think for example of email marketing. As marketing professionals we embraced it because it was cheap, could scale rapidly, and produced measurable and quasi-immediate results. But today no marketing professional with any sense of self-worth would be buying marketing lists and spamming innocent victims.  Building effective marketing lists today is a labor of love and careful management.

Then came webinars, a workhorse of content-driven client engagement. But today most of us are weary of webinars, having experienced a few too many blatant sales pitches disguised as informative sessions. Fewer people show up to live webinars these days, as we all know we will receive a link to the recording which we may choose to watch later.

Google advertising was another go-to channel. But being based on bids, as more companies jump into the bidding process the prices have been driven upwards. White papers, online surveys, infographics, RSA-animate type videos… all these channels have lost their cool and are now in the “been there, done that” bucket.

An army of advocates…

And so, after a decade of companies foolishly trying to contain their workforce’s social media activity, progressive companies are now trying to tap into their employee base as spokes people for the corporate brand.

It’s easy to see the appeal of this channel, speaking as a marketing professional.  The argument goes something like this:  If we have 10,000 employees and we can convince 10% of them to share positive company news online, and each of them send out 10 messages a month, and they are connected to 50 people each on average…  that’s (10,000/10 x 10 x 50) = 500,000 touch-points a month. And that does not include any retweets/reposts.  Half a million touch-points a month with no hard cost…  that is music to the ears of any digital marketing manager.

Beyond pure reach, converts to this approach highlight the increased trust, impact and conversion rates of posts that come from people we know.

The trick then is convincing social-media happy employees to want to play game.  This can be hard when

A) ‘corporate’ has been reluctant in the past (not to say downright censorial) to encourage employees to openly share company information online.

B) for most employees, a firewall between private and public life is still preferable.  Does my mother really want to see my posts about the big new client we managed to secure?

HR and Marketing have been known to partner before, mostly around internal communication. HR might borrow some tricks from Marketing to improve employee engagement on the intranet or help promote the new healthcare plan.  But employee advocacy takes the HR/Marketing collaboration to a new level.

One big motivation for HR?  Employee advocacy is just as good at finding qualified candidates and promoting the employer’s brand as it is in driving brand recognition and sales leads.

…and a swarm of suppliers

You know an idea must have legs when the venture capital firms are making some big bets, and employee advocacy has many providers of technology.  Some of these are pure-play platforms, whereas others have expanded into advocacy as an adjaceny to their current activities.  But key platforms include Dynamic Signal‎ , Hootsuite , Bambu , NextBee and others.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet Jean-Louis Benard, the French CEO of employee advocacy platform Sociabble at an event in NYC organized by our friends at UP THERE, EVERYWHERE.  Jean-Louis walked me through the key features and challenges of deploying an employee-advocacy program.  Platforms such as Sociabble are feature rich, strong on metrics and reporting, and easy to administer and populate.  Like many of these developments, the technology has matured rapidly.  The challenges, as always, are on the adoption side.

The number of big corporates that have launched (or are planning) employee advocacy efforts is impressive.  Virgin Media, Microsoft, Wiley, FiveGuys, Oracle, KPGM, Monsanto etc.  So we can look forward to many presentations from these big firms in future conferences as the employee advocacy story evolves.

The number of big corporates that have launched (or are planning) employee advocacy efforts is impressive.  Virgin Media, Microsoft, Wiley, FiveGuys, Oracle, KPGM, Monsanto etc.

Come join the party

Certainly the technology to facilitate employee advocacy is there, and there is plenty of case studies and companies committing to this channel.  It’s like a big party with some big name sponsors, and lots of early revelers have arrived and joined the fun…  now to see if this new marketing platform has staying power or if the party-goes will hang around for a while and then move on.  Success will depend on the party organizer’s ability to keep the music going, the crowds engaged and rewarded for participating.

 

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