Employees as part of your word of mouth marketing strategy

Girish Kumar

September 25, 2020

Finding new ways to generate business is getting tougher. Competition is fierce. And simply having a presence and a nice looking website or office space is no longer enough to make you stand out. Winning nowadays requires strategy and squeezing the most out of every opportunity.

But there’s one powerful area that tends to get neglected by many businesses:

Word of mouth marketing (or WOMM).

What is Word of Mouth Marketing?

Word of mouth marketing (WOMM), also called word of mouth advertising, is the social media era’s version of simple word of mouth.

  • Traditionally, word of mouth marketing was spread from one person to another based on recommendation.
  • Modern word of mouth marketing describes both targeted efforts and naturally occurring instances where users share their satisfaction with a brand.

Word-of-mouth marketing is not new, but companies are putting a new spin on it to elevate their brand in ways that help marketing, sales, and recruiting.

What’s the spin?

Instead of customers, employees are the ones spreading word to their personal social networks through employee advocacy programs.

This article shares four keys to success with in-house advocacy programs, and has some compelling stats about word of mouth marketing for sales, awareness, and even recruiting. 

I would love to hear about your experiences with advocate marketing (note, this is slightly different than influencer marketing, although many can make the case that employees and advocates can be more influential than the traditional definition of an influencer).

How to Get Maximum Engagement From Your Employee Advocacy Program

Employee advocacy is the promotion of an organization by its workforce. This could mean that employees share information about specific products or campaigns. Or, it can mean that employees share the company culture online. This can help boost brand reputation and make recruitment easier.

Employee advocacy can take many forms, but the most common and effective channel is social media.

The reasons why are simple.

Your employees already have social media profiles. They may even be on some platforms that your brand isn’t. And they definitely have followers that you don’t. Plus, they may already be sharing business content on their personal channels. Especially if they’re enthusiastic about their work or about showcasing their industry expertise.

An employee advocacy program provides guidelines, resources, and rewards. It standardizes how employees share brand content and makes it easier for them to do so.

It’s not just the company that benefits. Employees get something out of advocacy too. They can enhance their credibility and position themselves as industry experts. For salespeople, an employee advocacy program can provide a great basis for social selling techniques.

If the idea sounds intriguing to you, it should, because employees have real power:

  • Brand messages reach 561% further and are re-shared 24 times more frequently when shared by an employee vs. the brand. (Source: MSL Group)
  • Job applicants from employee referrals are hired 55% faster than average; referral hires constitute 40% of all hires; and 46% of referral-hired employees will stay longer than three years. (Source: Jobvite)
  • Some 55% of people trust information shared by employees of a company on social media, content sharing sites, and online-online information sources. That’s up 9 percentage points in 2016—up from 46% in 2015. (Source: 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer)

However, you can’t simply whip up an employee advocacy program and expect it to be successful. You will need planning, buy-in, great content, and empathy to create a program that is habit-forming and rewarding both to the employees and to the company.

Clear Goals

It’s no secret that any campaign or initiative that begins with a clearly defined goal is executed more successfully than fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants counterparts. Your employee advocacy program is no different.

Use the SMART goal method (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-based) because it holds everybody accountable. You can have more than one goal, such as macro goals for the entire program and micro goals that apply to specific areas of the program, such as participation, reach, and conversion.

Here are some examples of macro and micro SMART goals that you could adapt for your own employee advocacy program. Define goals by finishing the sentence, Our program will be successful if…

  • Within 12 months, access to our employee advocacy platform is rolled out to 100% of our employee base and training is included in all new employee onboarding. (Macro goal)
  • Within the first 60 days of launch, we can capture one inbound lead or candidate application as a result of employee-shared content. (Micro goal that would likely justify program expansion)
  • After being part of the program for three months, participants still log in to read and share content more than once a week. (Micro goal that could justify discontinuing another employee communication tool, like a newsletter service)
  • We can sustain active participation rates above 50% (measured quarterly) for each division that participates in the program. (Macro goal)

Executive Sponsorship

The other benefit of having a clear goal is that it’s easier to get buy-in from senior management to start your employee advocacy program. And it’s not just a matter of budget. The most successful employee advocacy programs also have executive sponsorship—someone to both champion the program internally and lead by example as a participant.

The key to finding the right executive sponsor is to look for someone who appreciates a strong employee culture and has an established digital and social footprint.

Once you’ve identified potential candidates, simply reach out to them to explain the goals for your employee advocacy program, and invite them to provide feedback and input.

Ask your executive sponsor to announce your employee advocacy program to the entire organization. That person’s status within the company will carry the most weight when explaining the purpose of employee advocacy, which will translate to greater participation and enthusiasm.

Relevant Content

At the core of employee advocacy is content. You are asking employees to spread the word about your company to raise awareness and reach new audiences. Your company should therefore be publishing great content that they’ll be proud to share.

The most successful employee advocacy programs include not just company-related content but also a healthy mix of industry content to turn employees into valuable resources worthy of your audience’s attention.

To create a healthy and substantive content mix for your employees, start by making a list of all the types of content you create and where it’s published. Add in brand and industry hashtags, Google Trend or Keyword alerts, lists of influencers, and industry websites that you know frequently publish great content.

Consistent Habits

The last piece of a successful employee advocacy program is the responsibility on the part of the program administrators to keep the program top of mind through constant promotion and use.

Employee advocacy programs, and the tools that go with them, are generally considered non-essential uses of an employee’s time. It’s your job as a program administrator to acknowledge that, but strive to deliver a valuable, meaningful experience for them every time they log in, lest the effort be dismissed as pointless.

In addition to promoting the program as a whole, practicing empathy has a positive impact on how your employees will participate in the program:

  • Remember that you’re renting space on their social profiles, so the content you ask them to share needs to represent them and needs to carry their voice (not the voice of the marketing department).
  • Understand (and nurture) what motivates your employees to be advocates for your company.
  • Recognize participation, achievement, and enthusiasm in a meaningful way on the individual, team, and company levels. Employees want to know that their efforts are working!

Just as in traditional word-of-mouth marketing, success happens only when your participants are engaged and motivated on a personal level. Use the above outline to continually provide them a relevant and motivating experience, and your employees will champion you in ways that benefit everyone!

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