Why look around when you already have it in you? Employees, the best marketing and branding assets any company can have in promoting the organisation with its products and services are often under looked by the organisations in promoting the brands. Employee advocacy, the least explored frontier of marketing strategy is gaining prominence on various grounds in the recent times. Thanks to the internet connectivity and the fad of the social media among the GenY and the millennials, this dark horse gallops in taking the marketing strategy to the next level. Social media has completely galvanized the way employee advocacy can be used in marketing and has resulted in the emergence of a new marketing channel in the communications mix-Digital employee advocacy. Though employee advocacy has many channels, in this blog we endeavour to unravel the hidden potential of digital employee advocacy in honing the marketing strategy of an organisation.
Why employee advocacy?
In this digital era, employee advocacy is synonymous to social media marketing. For the cost-effective reach and connect it offers, it would be ridiculous to find any brand without its presence on social media. Many of us might have a stint of doubt on the discretion between a brand promoting itself and an employee promoting the brand. Brands have official social media pages so as their employees with personal social media accounts and pages. Are both one and the same? What difference does it make when an employee promotes a brand? Employee advocacy embellishes the brand promotion with the elements of trust, empathy and ownership.
It would be apt to say that a hair line of difference between the two makes a fair deal in the quality of connection with the customer. Few years ago many companies had doubts with respect to investing in this new marketing tool .But today the companies that heavily invest in social media marketing have also started investing in employee advocacy programs. It is these early birds that would reap the benefits in the long run in terms of tangible and intangible terms. The reason it works is because people trust content and recommendations from people they know more than marketing messages from companies.
A sneak peak into employee advocacy stats:
Before delving further deep, lets understand the benefits of employee advocacy in social media compared to that of self-advocacy of a brand
- People are 16 times more likely to read a post from a friend about a brand than from the brand itself.
- 72% of sales people that use social media as part of their sales process outperform their peers and exceed their quota 23% more often.
- Brand messages get re-shared 24 times more frequently when shared by employees’ vs the brand.
- Leads from employee advocacy are seven times more likely to close than other forms of leads.
- Customers referred by an advocate have a 37% higher retention rate.
- 50% of employees that share content to social media post about their employer.
- 21% of employees are estimated to be advocates, and an additional 33% have high potential to become employee advocates.
- Interest in employee advocacy has grown 191% since 2013.
- Nearly 86% of employee advocates say being involved in social media has positively impacted their career.
The journey of Digital employee advocacy so far
The journey of digital employee advocacy has extended beyond the frontiers of just promoting organisational values and culture with significant break through into marketing strategy as well as discussed below
In Human Resource Management:
Digital employee advocacy has made significant inroads in grabbing the lime light of many HRM strategists to enthral and retain the top talent .A few in terms promoting the corporate culture, values and vision of the organisation are described below.
- Social recruitment-Use employee referrals to minimize losses on failed conversions-Ex: One of the internship ad campaigns run by L’Oreal on LinkedIn with the support of their current network – with 15,000 L’Oreal mangers and employees on the site, earned them 90 top-profile candidates in less than five months and saved one recruiter shop £20,000.
- Promote C-suite thought leadership-Engage with employees to position the c-suite executives of a company a thought leaders. Ex: IBM firmly believes in employee advocacy and promotes leadership thoughts through its program called “Red Book”
- Employer Branding-Build a solid employer brand by engaging with the employees to promote corporate culture-Ex: Deloitte has been very active in this approach in which many employees promote the work culture at Deloitte through various moments of fun and experience at their work place.
In Marketing Strategy:
Marketing wizards have also started deploying this in their communication mix for influencer marketing to connect with the target customers. A few excerpts are as follows.
- Influencer marketing: Reach out to the major audience through the micro influencers.The employees themselves in a cost effective way to that roping in a celebrity to promote your product or brand. Ex:Cisco is one such example which has successfully integrated social into its marketing strategy with employee advocacy as prima facie of influencer marketing.
- Event marketing: Promote your events online to get the best reach and connect with the customers with over 40 to 60 times more ROI than paid media. Ex: For one of IBM’s recent events, the IBM DataFirst Launch that took place on the 27th of September 2016, in New York, New York, the organization had substantial support in gaining event visibility from its army of ‘IBMers’.
- Social selling: The cheapest sales channel to connect to the farthest customer to sell your products. This is extremely prominent in terms of B2B sales. Employees generate white papers, journals to multiply the lead generation and conversion. Ex: Adobe’s employee advocacy effort attests to the effectiveness of employee advocacy in social selling. In 2013-14, when the company ran its first year of employee advocacy, one employee ended up generating more revenue than Adobe’s official Twitter account.
Though the above excerpts indicate significant breakthrough of digital employee advocacy in marketing, it would be apt to say that the surface has barely been scrapped .There is a lot more to be explored in fathoming the depth of his ocean. Because of its wide reach and cost-effective methods, digital employee advocacy can have a huge potential in the following areas.
The road ahead for digital employee advocacy
Research & Development:
- Market research: Companies often pay huge chunks to market research companies in gauging the pulse of the customer for better customer insights. It is high time that companies take to the route of digital employee advocacy for market research: Ex: Each of its advocates can post his views on the attributes of the product such as packing, reliability and pricing to know the customer insights. This can be as effective as Key Information technique can even replace the same if carried out effectively.
- Pilot Testing: Alike the customers being segmented on various demographic patterns so are the employees with respect to age, life style and psychography. Identifying the right advocate can help in launching the product on to target the desired demography with limited spill over to its other customers there by minimizing the impact of any backlash.
- New Product Development: Marketing inputs are the base for any new product development and employees can conduct segment specific online surveys . Get inputs from the customers on the product attributes and compare with those of the competitors .Ensures the best overlap of brand and its customer objectives. The launch of WhatsApp business has provided a further close reach to the customers while still ensuring the confidentiality.
The Marketing Mix
- Integrated marketing communications: Different employees manage different campaigns for various stages in customer journey alike a digital marketing agency .But with integrated communications in ensuring the homogeneity of brand positioning among its target audience. It wouldn’t be exaggerated to say that this might give the digital marketing companies a run for their money in near future.
- Online reputation management: What would be more accurate than those from the horse’s mouth. Employees can effectively take up the damage repair responsibility in case of any backlash to safeguard the product/brand. Ex: Employee advocacy has definitely made a difference in the re launch of Maggi, a nestle product banned for its ingredient mix.
On these lines there are still many frontiers to be explored by the digital employee advocacy in evolving the marketing strategy of any company. Though the cost of implementing this is ephemeral the benefits of digital employee advocacy are eternal. As the journey progresses new challenges unfold and unravel the untapped potential of this powerful marketing strategy tool in the sands of time down the lane…