5 Ways to Make Your Employees Your Greatest Brand Advocates

An employee-advocacy program can be a powerful thing.

learn more about Heather R. Huhman

By Heather R. Huhman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

An employee-advocacy program can be a powerful thing. Having your staff spread the word about your great product or service apparently yields positive results: In a recent 2015 Hinge Research Institute and Social Media Today survey of 588 professionals, 79.1 percent of respondents whose companies had such a program reported increased brand visibility. Additionally, 65 percent saw improved brand recognition, and 33.7 percent had better brand loyalty.

Related: Recruiting Employees -- and Their Friends -- to Market Your Brand

But handing over the branding reins to employees makes many employers nervous. With so many different people speaking out about the company, there's a risk of losing control of the company's brand image.

In order for companies to build an effective employee-advocacy campaign, employers need to take the time to lay the groundwork for success. And employees need to be included in the process.

Here are five steps to help create an employee advocacy program that actually works:

1. Clearly define the company brand to employees.

A company can spend countless resources developing and promoting its brand to current and potential customers. But how well do employees really know their company brand?

As a part of its 2013 State of the American Workforce report, Gallup surveyed more than 3,000 employees about their company's brand. Only 41 percent said they they knew what the brand was or how it was different from competitors' brands.

If employees are expected to become advocates for their company, they have to fully understand what the company stands for and how to present that to the world.

So, if you're just such an employer, your first step is to identify confusing parts of the brand by asking employees to describe the company. Then, formally define the brand by aligning the mission statement, core company values and key message of the company.

By comparing and contrasting the difference between the actual brand description and employees' perceptions, employers can clarify and better define the brand before employees become active advocates.

2. Get on the same page about program goals.

After formally defining the brand employees will be promoting, the next logical step is to get them on the same page about the program goals.

An employee advocacy program can positively impact everything from brand loyalty to recruiting. However, the type of content and posts employees create need to be crafted with those goals in mind.

For example, if an employee -- let's call him Max -- tweets about how much he enjoys being a part of the office softball team, his tweet could help attract talent. But if the point of his company's employee advocacy program is merely to reach a new client demographic, it won't be as effective.

When explaining the goals of employee advocacy, be clear on the impact employee contributions can have. This will not only show employees the importance of their role in the program, but also help them become more engaged in the process.

Related: The 5 Essentials for a Corporate Brand Employees Live and Customers Buy

3. Show employees what's in it for them.

It's only fair that, if employers are going to ask their employees to do them the favor of promoting the employee brand on social media platforms, employers offer something back in return.

Designing an incentive system to go along with the advocacy program not only encourages employees to participate, but also shows them how much employers appreciate them. And if companies want to create effective advocates, making employees feel valued is a great way to do it.

In a 2014 American Psychological Association survey of more than 1,500 employees, 91 percent of employees who felt valued said they were motivated to do their best for their employer, compared to just 37 percent of employees who did not feel valued. Furthermore, 85 percent of valued employees said they'd recommend their workplace to others; only 15 percent of non-valued employees would.

No matter what the company's goals for employee advocacy are, it's important to show workers they are appreciated for, and benefit from, their efforts in the program.

4. Give them the right tools.

Involving employees in brand promotion means they will be called upon to use skills that they may not already possess. Although many people have Twitter and Facebook accounts, not everyone is an expert on using them for business purposes.

Companies can provide the necessary training and increase employee engagement in advocacy programs by having employees train one other on the strongest skills. For example, people from the marketing department can educate their co-workers about the importance of building a brand, while sales representatives can give deeper training on product details.

Employees also need the tools to be brand advocates in a variety of situations. While social media is a great platform for advocacy, it's not the only one out there.

Conferences and networking events are great opportunities for employees to spread the word about all their company has to offer. However, employees have to understand that there's a difference between giving a general organizational overview during an introduction and working in the area of brand advocacy.

Employees need to think about ways to align advocacy goals with their participation in professional events. And employers need to give them the tools to do that.

There are a ton of great networking apps on the market that can go hand in hand with company goals. For instance, if a company is looking to improve recruiting, one option is Industree. This app helps managers find potential employees at seminars, tradeshows, and other networking events.

By giving employees the right training and tools, companies can make it easy for them to be brand ambassadors in any situation.

5. Evaluate and tweak the program.

As with any initiative a company undertakes, no one is going to get an employee advocacy program right on the first try. Some things are going to work wonderfully, but other parts are going to need improvement.

Before formally starting an employee advocacy program, companies should decide how they will evaluate its success. They should look not only at what goals were achieved and which weren't, but also what challenges affected the outcomes.

Finally, companies should incorporate employee feedback about the program. It's employees' hard work that will make or break the program's success, and if they aren't happy, an advocacy program will never be successful.

What other steps have you found to be important to building an effective employee advocacy program?

Related: Build Brand Advocacy From the Inside Out

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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