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How organizations are winning trust through employee advocacy

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher August 26, 2015
Consumer trust is eroding. One of the best ways to win that trust back is through employee advocacy programs, but there are pitfalls. New diginomica contributor Barb Mosher Zinck assesses the latest research.

According to the 2015 Social Business Report from the Altimeter Group, employee advocacy is growing in importance. Forty-five percent of organizations surveyed said it was a top external objective. Compare that to only 16% in 2013.

Altimeter suggests that the focus on employees (both engagement and advocacy) is a sign of digital maturity and the need for a more holistic strategy. But it’s also a sign of something else - the lack of trust by consumers.

The decline of trust

Consumers trust business less and less. In the 2015 Edelman TrustBarometer global study, not only do 60% of consumers distrust the media, but 80% distrust business, government or both. Even the CEO is losing credibility.

What can you do if consumers distrust you? It seems pretty simple on the surface. The Internet gives consumers access to a wide range of voices and opinions, and who do they tend to trust the most? People they know or people like them. They also look for expertise from analysts and industry experts.

If you look internally and think about who would be considered a trustworthy voice for your brand, who would you choose? Who meets the criteria of trustworthiness based on who consumers tend to listen to on the Internet? Your employees.

The rise of employee advocacy

Edelman’s TrustBarometer found that 68% of consumers trust a company technical expert, and 63% trust “a person like yourself”. While trust in the CEO is at 43%, trust in a regular employee is 49%. In fact, employees are considered the most trusted for engagement, integrity and operations (they are only second to Academics for Products).

From 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer global study

So it seems to make sense to get your employees out there advocating on behalf of your company doesn’t it? There’s a slight problem however. Most employees hate their company.

The biggest challenge for employee advocacy

Ted Coine says that employees who love their company are the most powerful force for brand building. Unfortunately, 70% of employees hate their job and/or the company they work for. Of the remaining, only about 13% actually love their company.

That means it’s not as simple as drafting a social media policy and mandating your employees start sharing content and promoting your brand. You might just be lucky most employees want to keep their jobs, because if they didn’t your brand might be ruined on social media from the inside.

Coine says that before you starting thinking about employee advocacy, think about employee engagement. And that’s likely part of the reason why 60% of organizations surveyed by Altimeter say that employee engagement social business programs are in the planning stage or in their first year of use.

“An "engaged employee" is one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization's reputation and interests.” (Wikipedia)

Essentially, engaged employees are happy employees and some of these (not all) are willing to help promote their company across social media.

Getting employee advocacy right

Let’s assume you’re doing a good job at employee engagement. How do you tap into that to drive an employee advocacy program?

Edelman says to keep your employees regularly updated and engaged on the state of the business, tap into in-house technical expertise to inform both internally and externally, and empower employees to serve as advocates.

Amy Tobin says to first understand what your goals are (and “expanding reach” is not a goal), find the employees in your organization who can best help you deliver on those goals, and then give them the right guidelines and tools.

Develop a clear social media policy and make sure every employee understands it. That’s important first step. Another thing you can do is create great content that is shareable. Don’t require every employee to share every piece of content you create, rather let them choose the content that resonates best with them.

You should also encourage and support them in their own content development. Not everyone is a great writer, but you’d be surprised how much your employees have to offer content wise, and how good some are at writing about their work.

The other idea that is growing around employee advocacy is personal brand building. Empower and support your employees to build their own personal brand, and this in turn will help increase the trust of your organization. Support your internal experts to write about their knowledge, share information over social media, speak at conferences and events, all to increase their exposure and build trust.

Employee advocacy can be very beneficial - but you have to be measuring it. You’ll want to track not only what your employees are doing across social media (and other channels), but also what happens when they do it.

Finally, don’t forget to reward your employee advocates. Although many do it because they love their company and the work they do, everyone likes to be rewarded for their efforts.

Who’s good at employee advocacy

NASA has become an expert at employee advocacy. It has 490 social accounts across 12 platforms. Everyone is sharing in their organization. Who better to know about what’s happening with their projects - large and small - than the astronauts and scientists working on them?

The media only tends to share the big stuff, but NASA relies greatly on an engaged community of everyday people to promote the work they do. NASA has removed its reliance on media, telling their stories themselves and creating “space ambassadors” across the world to continue sharing.

Adobe is another example of a company with a strong focus on employee advocacy, ranking in fourth place in the SociaLook Leaderboard for employee advocacy (Yahoo and Salesforce rank just above it). SociaLook measures advocacy through Twitter and Adobe has almost 1500 accounts with over 1 million followers.

Not only does Adobe provide hashtags for its employees to use in its tweets, but it also trains its employees on how to be better advocates through its Social Shift program and supports the growth of employees’ personal brand.

My take

Ted Rubin, a social media expert, offers a very interesting perspective on employee advocacy. He says that it’s a mistake for many organizations to be shutting down social media within their walls. Organizations, Rubin says, are concerned they are losing control. But the truth is, organizations don’t own their brand anymore, consumers own it. To keep what are potentially your most influential advocates from taking part in social media is a huge mistake.

When I worked for a large consulting firm, I was a big proponent of personal brand building. I believed that if people thought highly of me then it spoke well of the company I worked for. I loved the work I did, and had no problem promoting the company based on that area of expertise. To me, employees are as much the brand as the product and/or services sold. This puts employees in control of the brand as well.

The more time we spend on social media researching products and services, the more we seek out the experiences of other people. B2B and B2C orgs have a great opportunity to leverage employee advocacy by empowering internal experts to talk about their work and their understanding of the industry.

If consumers are comfortable that intelligent, knowledgeable people are behind the scenes getting the work done, they’re more likely to purchase from the company. That doesn’t seem like rocket science, at least not to me.

Image credit: Starke Frau vor Tafel mit Muskeln © Robert Kneschke -

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