We get it: social networks are great, low-maintenance, low-cost ways to share content and advocate for your brand. All you need to do is share the right content that aligns with your company's business objectives and resonates with your customers and prospects.

And one more thing: Smart organizations enlist their employees to champion brand-advocacy efforts on social. But what's the right approach? We asked a few experts.

The Question

How can you transform your employees to brand advocates?

The Answers

Kendal Peiguss, Marketing Manager, Toast

headshot of Kendal Peiguss

Peiguss is the marketing manager at Toast, a cloud-based restaurant management platform based in Boston. She specializes in lead generation, social media, and customer and partner marketing. She is an alumnae of HubSpot's social media team and former segment leader at SmartBear, where she helped the company earn the Forrester Groundswell Award for Social Media. She is a recipient of AdWeek's "100 Women We Admire" and has led sessions on social media engagement at the Gilbane and Social Media Week conferences. Tweet to Kendal Peiguss

When a company adopts an inclusive social media policy, encouraging everyone to share job openings, pictures from office events and recent blog posts, it's empowering employees to take a sense of ownership and pride in the business.

At Toast, we encourage people outside of the marketing team to write articles for the company blog about their experiences with customers and the industry. This inadvertently gets employees involved in brand building. The company shows them some love by sharing their article online, and the employees get the opportunity to build their own personal brands under the company umbrella.

Brand advocacy is contagious. It only takes one or two leaders within an organization to inspire others to be more active and excited. A successful internal social media program takes frequent and consistent reminders to share content with their networks. Employees are already on social media. With a few adjustments and reoccurring encouragement, companies can shift existing behavior to be beneficial for the business, too.

Susan Emerick, CEO and Founder, Brands Rising

headshot of Susan Emerick

Emerick founded Brands Rising to help business leaders develop employee advocacy programs. She recently published her first book, "The Most Powerful Brand on Earth: How to Transform Teams, Empower Employees, Integrate Partners and Mobilize Customers to Beat the Competition in Digital and Social Media." She's also a marketing director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, where she oversees customer acquisition and retention marketing communications strategy for the Individual Business Unit (IBU). Tweet to Susan Emerick.

Employee advocacy doesn’t just happen. It requires investment, a strategy and a thorough program design that’s supported by leadership. When you work with employees, it's critical to equip them with clear guidance, training, support resources and technology. Employees will also need a clear line of sight into what’s expected of them and how they’ll be evaluated. Providing employees relevant research and real-time access to social intelligence will guide their social media engagement. Ultimately, employees that create advocacy for a brand are aligning their engagement activity to support the goals of the business.

For example, if the goal is to drive customer retention, employees will need to engage in only a few online forums, discussion groups or communities where customers tend to seek help with a product they purchased. The opportunity for the business is to help customers in the target segment to understand the latest product features and to address concerns of customers who are considering upgrading their product. 

In addition, the business would like to acknowledge customer testimonials, to encourage supportive customers and share testimonials to spread information that might be helpful to other customers. Ultimately, the business expects these activities to create advocacy for the brand. In order to help support the goals of the business, the employee can achieve measurable goals within those online communities, where customers discuss the brand’s products. In this case, the employee will take actions that increase their reputation as a trustworthy, knowledgable and reliable resource within the online community.

Every employee will achieve greater success with the right support from your organization. The key is to determine the right balance of empowerment and accountability.

Hank Nothhaft Jr., CEO and Founder, Trapit

headshot of hank nothhaft jr.

Nothhaft Jr. developed Trapit while serving as an entrepreneur-in-residence at SRI International. For the five years before becoming the CEO, he served as Trapit's chief product officer and was responsible for strategy and product development as well as business development and marketing. Before SRI, he was group product manager at WebEx, where he led the virtual conferencing leader's flagship Meeting Center service through the company's acquisition by Cisco. Tweet to Hank Nothhaft Jr.

We see so many companies struggling with this challenge right now, from startups to some of the most innovative Fortune 50 companies. Especially as social has shifted from brand awareness to customer service to now a real ROI-based focus on social selling, companies are recognizing the potential value of leveraging employees as advocates. It’s not just a switch you can turn on or a top-down process that you can enforce across an organization, though.

There are three primary things that companies need to do to help turn employees into advocates: Clearer processes, better content and more aligned motivations.

Companies need better processes for surfacing and sharing content for their employees. I’ve met with some globally-leading companies whose system is to simply send an end-of-the-week email to advocates with articles to share, and many more have no process in place at all. If you want employees to share content, you need to deliver it in a timely and streamlined process.

The other side of this is the actual content that you are asking your employees to share. No employee wants to look like a corporate shill, just blasting white papers and company news to their personal and professional networks. We recently commissioned a survey of employees about content sharing, and the most valuable content they want to share is relevant industry news. Companies need to take a broader view of content and find the right mix of internal content and third-party articles to provide for their employees to share.

Finally, the motivation for employees needs to be aligned with the company. Top-down incentives quickly become transparently inauthentic, and gamification has proven to be fleeting. Instead, companies need to empower their employees to be leaders in their industry and for their networks, to raise their own personal brands along with the company’s.