You can't do employee advocacy without the right people and technology

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher September 20, 2015
Employee advocacy works - if you put an effective program in place. In her series conclusion, Barb Mosher Zinck looks at how to get the right people and tools in place.

When I interviewed Bart Casabona, Director of Social Media at Pitney Bowes, and Sarah Goodall, an employee advocacy expert, I knew two things immediately about running employee advocacy programs:

1. You have to focus on the employee, not the brand.
2. You need the right combination of people, process and technology to be successful.

Last time, I wrote about getting started with an employee advocacy program and how important the right people and culture are for success. This time I wanted to focus on how to put the employee first and understand the value that specific employee advocacy technology brings to the table. Finally, you can’t look at any organizational program without talking about ROI.

It's as much about the employee as it is about the brand

Something both Casabona and Goodall stressed is that an employee advocacy program is first about the employee. Ensuring the employee is successful will also ensure the brand is successful.

Pitney’ designed its program for both the socially savvy and those just getting started. Training was developed with the busy employee in mind, comprising an hour long instructor-led session. In this session they covered the basics of social media and social networks, the rules of engagement (guidelines for communicating on behalf of the brand), and ended with training on the employee advocacy tool. Another key is that the employee must disclose they are a Pitney Bowes employee.

In the Pitney Bowes Insiders program, Casabona said they want to ensure a culture that is socially savvy and could communicate about the brand. But they also want their employees to communicate about the industry and even personal aspects of the employee’s life. He said when you train employees how to leverage social networks and build a social presence, you are, by nature, sharing information about Pitney Bowes.

Is there a right employee for this type of program? Goodall said that there are already social superstars in most companies, but they might not be the best employees for the program. They already have their tools in place and their processes. When you implement an employee advocacy program and use a specific tool, focus on those just starting out. In her case, they didn’t select employees but opened it up to anyone who wanted to build a personal brand online.

This is not something you can force employees to do, and she doesn’t agree with making participation part of the employee’s KPIs. You want your employees to engage in the program, and that’s a slow progression, but the right way to do it.

Goodall helped set up the training program at her last company. The goal was to move employees from “social zero to social hero”. The training comprised three modules and employees could stop the training at any module they chose. The first module focused on the importance of building a social brand, getting started with profiles, building a network and then social listening. The second module, which leverages a tool, was about sharing content, and participating and engaging in others’ content. At this point many stop, but some move to the third stage - how to become a social influencer creating and sharing their content.

Rewards were an interesting discussion as well. While both Goodall and Casabona agree that rewards/gamification are part of an employee advocacy program (both have a number of modest incentives for performance in the programs they run), they also note this isn’t what drives most employees to be a part of the program.

Casabona said that by being a part of the Insiders program employees are true “insiders”, getting access to communications within the company sooner. Goodall said that being recognized by the brand is a reward in itself. In some cases, top employees are asked to participate in special functions, like being a social reporter at an event.

Scaling an employee advocacy program requires technology

You can run an employee advocacy program without a special built tool - but you won’t find it easy. Many employees want to start building a brand but aren’t familiar with the tools available. They are also nervous about sharing content about the brand, not wanting to get into trouble.

Goodall said a tool gives employees the confidence and comfort of knowing what they are doing is acceptable. It’s a safe place to click and share content, and it enables the brand to track metrics on how things are going. Although she said you could do this program without a tool, it would be a very manual, time-consuming process for both the employees and the team managing it.

Casabona said they initially started without a tool, communicating to a core of socially active employees via email. They would share traditional messaging and images. He said that this could work for a small 20-30 person group. But as you move beyond a small group and want to scale your program out, it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure employees see the information to share. It’s also difficult for the team to manage and see the impact of the program.

An employee advocacy tool enables you to manage the program centrally. In Goodall’s case, they had a central tool, but each department bought their licenses and assigned their admin to manage it. She believes this wasn’t the best approach, and that a central administrator should handle the licenses, track the metrics and report performance, support employees and optimize the content. She suggested doing a company-wide rollout working by groups or departments, but with central management.

The proof is in the ROI

You can measure the performance of an employee advocacy program, and both Goodall and Casabona demonstrate this. Goodall found a big difference between the performance of those who went through the training and those who didn’t. Specifically, trained employees:

  • are 3x more likely to share content (and this is customized content, not simply spamming out the same message)
  • share more than 2x the amount of content,
  • see 50% more engagement with their content (likes, comments, shares), and
  • most important, get 2x more clicks

Casabona shares similar positive metrics:

  • employees have shared 16,000 pieces of content
  • received 13 million impressions
  • and most important - picked up two sales pipeline opportunities stemming from this program and social sharing - something the team believed was possible but didn’t expect to see this early in the program

The biggest challenge and the best advice

I wanted to end with the biggest challenge and the best advice from Goodall and Casabona.

Goodall’s biggest challenge: Get marketing to understand. She said marketing doesn’t have the expertise or capabilities or the people to get out and participate in the social conversation. Many are still stuck in the traditional marketing mindset of campaigns and don’t understand the value of networking. They need to get the company behind them to ensure success.

Goodall’s best advice: Define what you want out of the program. Think about your goals - is it social selling, social business, marketing? Then get your team together and do the groundwork before you get started.

Casabona’s biggest challenge: Training. Pitney Bowes wanted to ensure participants were properly onboarded. Live, instructor-led sessions created a solid foundation despite the level of social-savviness of the employee. It ensured the employee got off to the strong start. The proof? Many of those who started off not socially savvy are now in the top 10 - top 5 lists of performers in the program.

Casabona’s best advice: Take the leap. Start small and expand over time. The value to the organization and the employees makes it worth exploring. Focus on the benefits to employees and the benefits to the organization will follow. Ensure leadership buy in - it’s critical, and choose the right technology partner wisely.

Something else Pitney Bowes’ employee advocacy program has been able to do - secure a seat at the larger marketing table.

My take

The insights that Sarah Goodall and Bart Casabona share clearly demonstrate several things. The focus must be on building the personal brand of the employee. When an organization invests in its employees, it shows it cares about them and their careers and proves the importance of employees to an organization’s success.

In both cases, a tool - Dynamic Signal - was used to build up the program. In full disclosure, both Goodall and Casabona were connected to me via Dynamic Signal and both spoke very highly of the tool and what it has enabled them to do with their program. There are other employee advocacy tools out there, and I recommend you carefully investigate the market before selecting one for your program.

Something Goodall said to me brings clarity to the how to do employee advocacy right. She said while the tool is very important, and you can’t scale a program like this without one, it’s the combination of people, process and technology that ultimately makes it successful.

If you don’t spend the time upfront to:

  • Define the right team to manage the program
  • Focus on your employees and the onboarding process
  • Get the leadership buy-in and support
  • Create a clear content strategy,
  • Manage and track the program’s success

No tool, no matter how good it is, is going to make you successful.

End note: If you’re new to the whole employee advocacy topic, check out my article: How organizations are winning trust through employee advocacy.

Image credit: hanging lighting bulbs © ra2 studio -

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