Social Business: It's time for employee advocacy

by Peter Kim 31 Jul 2013 Blog Post

Customers are connecting. Are you?

Social business is currently in the mainstreaming phase. Most companies have figured out that social media can help build consumer relationships, especially when integrated with marketing campaigns. However, social media marketing still falls short when brands fall back to a stance of being a monolithic logo that communicates in corporate-speak. Recent kerfluffles involving Chipotle and Bank of America demonstrate just how much consumers dislike being reminded that there’s actually a wizard behind the curtain.

Fewer companies have embarked on the aspect of social business that can create sustained business value, but has a greater degree of difficulty to achieve: internal social business. The guideposts to creating value are hiding in plain sight but many brands lack the self-confidence to allow their employees to act as public brand ambassadors. According to Forrester Research, “only 41% of respondents in a recent corporate survey believe their CEO is setting a vision for brand building across all consumer touch points.”

After all, when the media loves telling the stories of how rogue employees at Domino’s, Taco Bell, and Subway have embarrassed themselves and the brand, the natural corporate reaction is to lock down, not open up. These public gaffes get magnified in part because the brands have little in the way of an advocate base to defend the brand, thus the negative signal broadcasts loud and clear.

Companies would be wise to inspire employee advocates as a counterweight, before crisis hits. Buy the air conditioner before the heat wave or the generator BEFORE the snowstorm, not after, when prices are marked up and inventory is impossible to find.

Forrester recommends that brands enlist an army of brand advocates:

Forrester: Enlist An Army Of Brand Advocates

As with any initiative, success with employee advocacy requires attention to people, process, and technology. The first two aspects are touched on above; the third covers a small emerging market with tools that can create powerful leverage for brands when placed into the hands of the right users. That is, users who are trained with the right mindset and operate within the boundaries of a brand-appropriate set of policies and guidelines.

Easier said than done, right? Social business may be mainstreaming, but it’s still early in the phase. Businesses need to look past the external hits and misses of social media marketing and focus internally to unlock long-term sustainable value.


Download: Supercharge your Brand with Employee Advocacy

  • Don N

    Peter, Thanks. An intereest and relevant article. BTW a recent HBR article supplemenets your points – HBR – “The Perils of Being a Social Media Holdout,”

    • Peter Kim

      Thanks for the pointer, Don. I like this point: “the key ingredient for evaluation is simply to experience it for yourself.” In many situations, executive FUD originates from a lack of personal understanding.

  • Doug Collins

    The story changes a bit each time it’s retold: a campfire truth.

    Firms need to find comfort in the reality that, to the extent they see their brand as a narrative, their brand changes a little each time somebody tells its story in the social space.

    Learn how to loosen the reins to survive in the Digital Age.

    • Peter Kim

      Interesting analogy, Doug. Hasn’t that always been the story for brands, regardless of social media? For example, Coca-Cola was created in the late 19th century and has been marketed as many things. Digital brings more voices and persistence of opinion into the mix, making the ride a bit wilder.

  • TImothy Brensel

    Peter, I think you hit a nerve with this one! Encouraging employees to become social brand advocates must seem to some like asking Pandora to open a thousand boxes. For companies that have confidence in their company culture (which is the true brand afterall) this is exactly what is needed to deliver on the promise of social media. Real people, real feelings, not scripts.

    An army, indeed!

    Thanks for the knowledge!

    • Peter Kim

      Indeed. Most executives I speak with have no intention of encouraging employee advocacy. Take a look at the strong opinion voiced in thread comments here:

      People are generally more professional in expressing their views; however, that sentiment captures the general fear that managers harbor.

  • asit gupta

    employee advocacy is a natural outcome of having products /services which imbue the employees with pride and a culture which encourages employees to behave like normal human beings and not corporate drones humming PR deptt crafted lines. Zapposs is an example of this. Employee advocacy is thus not a campaign, but a culture change.

  • Chris Boudreaux

    Hey, Peter,

    All good points. The simple reality is that the brands who figure out how to make it work will win overwhelm their competitors and win.

    A relevant quote: ““Before a revolution, everyone says it’s impossible. Afterward, everyone says it was inevitable.”

    However, this Forrester framework should evolve beyond a campaign-centric approach. Social media require a a relationship focus. Focusing on campaigns or launches generally leads Marketing to ask employees to parrot brand-approved messages, instead of empowering employees to develop longer-term relationships, at scale. That’s where the greatest value lies.

    Thank you for the post.