Employee Advocacy

Employee Advocacy Communications: Inside and Out

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In this guest post by Joel Calafell, a digital strategist at Good Rebels, you’ll learn how Employee Advocacy consists of both an external and an internal communication component; and how the best strategies are the ones that take both into consideration.

It is no secret that “earned content” and “lack of control” go hand in hand more often than not. When leveraging “earned voice” projects, the end result is usually spontaneous and unpredictable communication assets. In fact, control and credibility tend to be on two opposite ends of the advocacy marketing paradigm.

In spite of this, most advocacy projects end up pursuing a single direction when it comes to employees, opting for either internal or external communications. The reason lies mainly in the need to establish clear media objectives, audiences and channels, the same way you would build a media plan. But such a linear way of thinking could miss some of the opportunities of building a multidirectional project that could be more effective and profitable for a different range of business areas and stakeholders.

Conventionally, there are three levels within the already well-established advocacy marketing strategies:

First layer (internal – outbound comms). The most common employee advocacy projects, which capitalise on the internal employee voice to be leveraged outwards: targeting their employee’s digital communities by providing them with training, assets, information and content guidelines.

Second layer (internal – inbound comms). These projects usually activate internal Champions, ambassadors or advocates to leverage their “earned voice” to impact inside their own organisation, with the intention of activating or communicating to other employees in a more natural and trustworthy way than official channels.

Third layer (external – outbound comms). Projects that are usually based on the capitalisation of voices outside the company. Goals tend to be marketing-driven and use the “external voice” to leverage fans, clients or loyalty members to position both the brand and its products.

Brand advocacy projects can cover all three angles, but only employee advocacy projects activate communication layers 1 and 2. Let’s take a closer look at how they can work individually and together.

Communicating outwards. The ripple effect and why ambassadors matter.

Employee advocacy projects built to communicate outward have been the spearhead of corporate, comms and/or HR teams for quite some time, as they allow working on corporate positioning and employer branding objectives “out of the corporate walls”. It’s not uncommon to see some marketing teams involved as well, lured by the capacity to bring new sources of earned media and organic awareness.

At Good Rebels, we usually work with three principles in mind while developing employee advocacy projects aimed outwards:

The ripple effect. Leveraging the earned voice is not only about thinking of our ambassadors’ community, but also about the communities of their communities. Credible organic content is usually better suited to be pushed by the social network theory (we usually interact much more and with much less scepticism with content that we feel is closer to what we believe in and with people “we know”), and its impact can be exponential when activating just the right amount of advocates and creating several ripple effects at the same time.

The power of ambassadors. It’s true you want to get all kinds of different employees involved, regardless of position or level. The truth is, however, most successful programs rely on a team of engaged and thoroughly recruited ambassadors to coordinate and encourage other employees. This ambassador group often involves top management from different departments, but it should also include individuals who are simply motivated and have the power to motivate others, regardless of position. So it is important to identity and train this ambassador group first, so that they can then go on to lead by example and inspire others to participate in the program.

Advocacy media value. A framework to calculate the “gross gain” or media impact multiplier obtained by using earned media instead of owned or paid media. Most media consultancy firms like Nielsen or Ipsos have developed studies demonstrating that brand lift recall can be up to 35% and overall lifted media value can add up to x1,5 or x2, which means that when comparing your advocacy project results at the top of the funnel (reach, awareness, etc.) you should add a “credibility powered multiplier” to the net result (which we at Good Rebels call “advocacy media multiplier”).

Communicating inbound. Generating “new organic connections” through Brand Champions.

The power of internal advocacy is yet to be reinvented and fully maximised. Nonetheless, employee advocacy strategies are not just employee engagement strategies. Advocacy is about leveraging credible voices; working on employee satisfaction or retention is a nice to have, not the main goal for this kind of program. However, if advocacy is about reach, credibility and not so much about engagement… Why would you ever activate an inbound advocacy program?

There are usually three reasons for doing so:

1. From brand champions to comms champions. When working with internal comms departments there’s always a common pain point: the capacity to successfully communicate relevant messages across the organisation, because too many messages for far too many people aren’t effective at all. You want to keep messages targeted and filtered, and you want to give admins of the program the power to control the audience at both a global and local level, to ensure relevance. Conversely, most co-workers will feel much more engaged and involved when the message doesn’t come exclusively from official sources. By activating internal advocacy, conversations can happen at the kitchen table, across the corridors, or even through private 1-to-few chats.

2. Decentralised feedback and organic connections. Internal advocacy projects create a new channel for communicating inwards. This allows for messages to get to organic conversations that were previously considered unreachable, as well as to strengthen individual connections across the whole company, so feedback can be heard in an unstructured way. Sending massive and standardised surveys to your employees or delegating that mission to managers will never work the same way.

3. Synergies with other internal comms assets. Last, but not least: it’s all about the synergies. Activating internal ambassadors can boost any already existing internal comms plans or campaigns. That means, for instance, that your comms champions could try new platforms or channels, push new projects or reports proactively, or even be involved in future strategies or risk-controlled decision making.

How to develop a win-win situation:

No matter how you are activating your ambassadors, champions or internal advocates (inward or outward) you will always need to assess if you have created a long-standing win-win relationship with them. A good way to do so is to ask yourself:

Are your new advocates feeling emotionally rewarded? For instance, getting more visibility, creating new connections or generating a sense of belonging.

Are they being rewarded with new experiences? Such as participating in special events, being part of the decision-making process, or inviting them to see other places (like your HQ).

Building a sustainable and valuable advocacy value proposition requires a lot of strategic project modeling. And one of the fastest ways to achieve it is by defining a strong emotional and experiential reason why our ambassadors would be excited to be part of the project and tell everyone about it. In other words: a way to guarantee that everyone will be willing to stay on board for a long time.

So, we have talked about inward vs outward. But can you combine them both?

Absolutely yes! Synergies can be endless when creating a fully-developed advocacy project, especially when you realise it’s only natural that your activated employees won’t tell whether they are helping achieve one goal or the other. If the project works well enough, they will just care about being engaged, living new experiences, feeling rewarded and having a purpose to be on board with it.

That said, it’s still a good idea to work on your program’s vision long before activating it. If enough thinking has been put into it, it will probably be a “perfect fit” between your APVP (advocacy program’s value proposition), your project roadmap and your selected advocacy platform – for which Sociabble can be one of the best tools to help you combine an inwards-outwards employee advocacy vision at all times.

 

Joel Calafell.

Engagement & Social

Good Rebels

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