As a young marketer, one of the first things I learnt was the importance of brand advocacy. Sure, attracting customers to your brand and successfully selling them your products is one thing: but turning them into advocates was – and still is – the holy grail of good marketing.
Brand advocacy comes in many forms: be it singing a product’s praises on comparison websites, to waxing lyrical about good customer service on social media. But, before I digress too far into the world of marketing, the reason I mention this is because brand advocacy shouldn’t just be of significance to marketing departments – it should also be a priority for HR.
Why should HR care about employee advocacy?
With every business bracing themselves for a recession, it’s likely they’ll be looking to reduce their operating overheads. HR is often one of the first departments to bear the brunt of company cost-cutting; but marketing activities often don’t escape being scaled back, either. In both instances, this is where nurturing employee advocacy can pay huge dividends.
Having employees who advocate your brand can help increase social engagement across platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – channels that are often expensive when it comes to running paid marketing promotions. In fact, a study by global telecommunications company Cisco found that employee social posts can generate up to eight times more engagement than posts from employers!
A more positive and visible digital presence can help generate new leads, user traffic and social shares for your marketing teams. For HR, employees advocating your brand on social platforms can help lead potential new hires to your door, and without the need for potentially costly recruitment activities. They could do this by:
- Sharing details of a job opportunity within their team or department
- Posting an update about the company
- Talking about the benefits of working for your business
- Re-sharing company posts that talk about a specific topic relevant to your business.
It isn’t just your social marketing and recruitment activities which employee advocacy can support, though.
When you have staff who are advocates of your business, it’s more likely they’ll want to enhance and develop their careers with you. In addition, employee advocates will likely become subject-matter experts on your products or industry. This can help develop their own networking opportunities, relationships with like-minded businesses and support their advancement up the career ladder within your business.
How HR can nurture employee advocacy
Given that employee advocates can be vital during tough economic times, nurturing them should be high on HR’s agenda. Here are some key actions HR can undertake:
Evaluate your employee engagement strategy
As you’ll no-doubt already know, having an engaged workforce is vital when it comes to generating better business results. This is because employees who have a much deeper connection with an employer will more likely actively contribute to a firm’s success. In addition, they’ll be more inclined to share positive experiences of working for your company with others, thus becoming those all-important advocates.
However, if you aren’t actively trying to drive engagement within your workforce or failing to track engagement or sentiment, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to grow a workforce of brand advocates. So, before you attempt to nurture advocacy in your business, it’s vital you evaluate whether your business could be doing more to create more meaningful engagement with staff.
If you want to learn more about how to support employee engagement even when finances are tight, you can read our blog on the subject here.
Define your objectives, targets and measurements of success
If you do decide to initiate an employee advocacy programme, ask yourself: what will be your key objectives, and how will you measure them? This is where engaging with your marketing colleagues could be beneficial!
For example, your marketing department may want to leverage employee advocacy to increase user traffic to your website, boost social engagement and/or generate new sales leads. On the other hand, you may wish to reach potential new hires, expand your talent pool or improve company productivity.
Before you set any plans in motion, work together with any key stakeholders to set out solid, achievable targets and build a blueprint for successful execution. In addition, agree what your KPIs will be to measuring success and decide how you will monitor progress.
Encourage your employees to grow and develop their careers
HR should encourage their staff to try and clarify what they want out of their careers and identify what the business can do to support them. This is because when employees feel their careers are actually ‘going somewhere’, they’ll likely be happier in their work and be open to taking on new challenges.
This is where having an effective performance management programme – and the HR software to support it – can be an HR team’s trump card. It can help HR teams and managers to work with their employees to set goals, develop new skills and explore new career possibilities either with the business, or with another company in the future.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive to inspire employees to consider career paths elsewhere, the best company cultures are ones that encourage employees to take ownership and grow their careers, even if it means moving departments or to another business to achieve them.
If an employee decides to take build upon their career elsewhere, a good development experience will help nurture advocacy. Specifically, it can increase the chances of them recommending your business to others who are also looking for a place to work that will add value to their career prospects – thus becoming your advocates.
Build employee confidence through transparency
When it comes to nurturing employee advocacy, if a company and its HR team are transparent and honest with their employees, a workforce will likely feel more secure and comfortable in their roles. In turn, when a company’s employees feel assured, they’ll be more inclined to advocate a company to others.
Ensuring transparency within a business – be it in how you measure employee performance, manage absences or communicate company updates – can help create a more open and inclusive environment. Also, encouraging an environment of openness and transparency can enhance levels of trust between senior leadership teams and their employees – supporting positive company cultures and engagement.
Encourage an ‘open-door’ policy and listen to your employees…
Encourage your managers have an “open-door” policy and be approachable to everyone, not just to other senior leaders. This is because an open-door policy indicates to employees that senior leadership teams are open to questions, concerns, suggestions, and (in some cases) challenges – all hugely important parts of positive company cultures.
You can do this by initiating pulse surveys, conducting confidential exit interviews, or simply talking to employees face-to-face. This will help you to discover how employees really feel working for your organisation, and highlight any barriers to employees recommending your company to others.
… And act on their feedback
Lastly, it’s not enough to simply listen to and note down what your employees say and feel. To successfully nurture employee advocacy, you must act on the feedback you receive, and be seen to be doing it, too!
You can do this by telling your employees what you’re going to with their feedback or suggestions. Communicate your plans and keep your workforce updated as to your progress or any key milestones. You can do this through regular email communications, or even through a shared workspace or HR portal.
Of course, there may be some suggestions your employees provide that are unrealistic or not possible for your business. Demonstrate that you’ve genuinely considered your employee’s feedback and explain why you cannot act upon some of the suggestions you’ve received. You could also provide an alternative suggestion to show your employees that you’re not only actively listening to them, but also valuing their thoughts and comments.
When employees can see that you pay more than just lip service to their suggestions, they’ll be more likely to share positive comments about your business to others around them.