Everyone has a platform and a personal brand these days—why shouldn’t your association leverage that? That’s the idea behind employee advocacy, a growing social media trend.
Perhaps this should be obvious, but messaging needs scale.
It can’t just be a matter of one person shouting something, not even if that person or association has a million followers. Sometimes, the best message needs lots of voices behind it, promoting widely. On its own, a retweet may not be enough—but neither will a message based on a robotic script. It needs to feel lived-in, authentic, like something those people would actually say.
But who can you get to do this kind of messaging for you? Your members might do it on their own, but even they need a push. Who do you know who’s already in lockstep and can spread an important message to the broader world?
How about your staff? Sure, it may not be in their job description, but many of them have existing social presences, some of them quite large or perhaps even underutilized. They might even be thought leaders in their community.
There’s actually a name for this kind of worker-focused engagement that’s gaining some momentum in the corporate world: employee advocacy.
This is not exactly the same as the shoe-leather approach of traditional advocacy, but it has similar goals. Basically, it leverages the fact that everyone has a platform now, big or small, and as a result, 100 separate small messages can have more impact than one big one.
Generally, this kind of approach encourages employees to speak out in a certain way, by whitelisting topics, suggesting things to write, or making recommendations to staff members as to how they should shape their message. It’s suggestive, not forceful. Shares can be incentivized internally, too.
“Employee advocacy is one of the best ways to increase a company’s audience engagement of content,” writes Adrian Fisher, founder and CEO of real estate tech firm PropertySimple, in a column for Forbes. “Therefore, it’s essential to make it as easy as possible for team members to find and share company and industry content.”
This sort of employee advocacy can take a lot of forms. Among them: asking employees to update their LinkedIn profiles to mention a certain brand message or to include a link to your latest blog post in an email signature.
It’s a hot trend. Recently, the online community Product Hunt featured a tool called Easy Advocacy that effectively aims to automate these messages. Email your coworkers, encourage them to amplify your message. Easy peasy, the thinking goes.
Like “Crowdspeaking,” But Narrower
If this general idea sounds somewhat familiar to you, you might be aware of the idea of “crowdspeaking,” which relies on social media to help spread messages at scale to push it into the social media stratosphere. Our membership blogger Tim Ebner wrote about it in 2018. However, the ground has since shifted in ways that make crowdspeaking a bit more unreliable. Social networks such as Facebook, with concerns about another Cambridge Analytica at the front of their minds, have effectively barred such services because of concerns of manipulation.
Whether a side effect or a key goal, the most popular ones, such as Thunderclap, have shut down entirely as a result.
Too bad—it was a good idea for advocacy. But just because it’s harder to do a crowdspeaking campaign at scale doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to amplify a message on social media in a big way.
The Benefits and Pitfalls
However, the ability to amplify in this way isn’t the only benefit of employee advocacy. It can also be a way to help keep staffers engaged with the broader mission—a problem that Gallup has traditionally noted, with only around a third of employees saying they feel engagement in the mission. (Side note: Gallup used to track this stat daily, if you can believe it.)
On the website Convince & Convert, Krzysztof Kazibut of the advocacy platform Bambu says this kind of program could help.
“By curating content through a central platform and inviting your colleagues to share interesting and relevant information across their social networks, you can help connect the dots within your organization,” he writes. “Such efforts will not only amplify your brand’s reach and engagement, but they will also impact individuals in a measurable way.”
But Kazibut warns that there are a lot of areas where a program like this could go wrong—particularly by over-incentivizing the shares (which can discourage sharing in the long run) and too-stiff rules around what can be shared.
“The intent is to empower your people to share important information while positioning themselves as trusted experts in their fields,” he explains.
One other point I’d add here is that sharing messages shouldn’t be compelled. This in many ways needs to be structured like a wellness program: as much as it’s great to get everyone to sign up, some people will choose not to do it. That’s fine. Maybe they want to keep their personal Twitter account dedicated to Marvel fan fiction.
In the long run, you don’t want messaging from your employees to feel forced—much the opposite. After all, they’re doing you a favor.
So give your staff a reason to share, but make it empowering for them rather than just for you. If everyone benefits, the result will be far stronger in the end.