A funny thing happened on the way toward widespread adoption of social media marketing: The use of global social networks as traditional publishing — and hence brand marketing — platforms was rightly perceived as a fairly limited way to achieve trusted, meaningful engagement with customers and prospects.
By now, everyone has heard that social media is an intrinsically different medium, and indeed, it is more involved, demanding, and harder to control than traditional media. In short, after years of declining results in old channels, companies have finally come to terms with the fact they must fundamentally rethink how they connect with the marketplace.
In the last couple of years, companies have increasingly sought out so-called ‘genuine’ and ‘authentic’ new ways of reaching, conversing, and otherwise collaborating with those on social media on topics of mutual interest, namely the products and services that they provide. This has led to countless experiments in adapting social media advocacy to the marketing function in our organizations, while also living up to both the standards and expectations of the new social channels.
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The need for social media advocates
The question has always been, however, how to best use social media platforms with the least cynicism and the greatest effect to truly engage with the marketplace, while having a measurable and cost-effective business impact. While the short-term goal of such activity might be driving new transactions (sales and other outcomes) and increasing brand awareness, the long-term goal is to partner with and co-create the best joint outcomes. This includes producing better products, ensuring they are supported well, and more prosaic yet very valuable results such as increasing margins and reducing time to sale.
Over the last several years, we’ve started to see a new trend clearly emerge from leading social businesses: companies dealing with the realization that they have limited — and relatively untrusted — amounts of social capital in their possession. Certainly, a few marketers are doing extremely well in this regard, but the total level of reach in social media of even most large brands is relatively limited.
Yet those very same companies also have legions of interested parties who do have — at least collectively — a tremendous amount of social capital that they just might be willing to employ for mutual benefit. If only they had guidance on how best to do it.
What is social media advocacy?
Social media advocacy is the practice of strategically enlisting employees, business partners, supply chain, customers, industry influencers, and other interested stakeholders to become social media advocates, if the right motivation exists. Now, while I observed recently that the environment for social media advocacy has grown increasingly favorable, and the infrastructure, techniques, and management processes have moved beyond early experimentation, we really haven’t talked about specific examples of successful social media advocacy programs. In other words, is there actually good evidence that advocacy works and is happening?
Fortunately, the lack of good examples of social media advocacy programs is no longer the issue. In fact, we’ve found brand advocacy efforts are starting to thrive in many industries, even while the exact result and approach remain relatively varied, usually a sign of early days. For now, the advocacy programs that exist currently are largely focused on the constituency that companies have the most direct influence over, namely employees; though, certainly, we know of good examples across the constituency spectrum.
In terms of trust and predictability, employees make a good ‘starter’ group for companies to get up to speed on creating an advocate program. Employee advocates obviously have a vested interest in furthering the goals of the company, and their alignment with the organization’s interests and objectives is presumably (though certainly not always) why they are employed there.
Examples of social media advocacy
Here are some social media advocacy examples — many current, and some past — that leading enterprises have engaged in:
IBM. The global technology firm has 500 thought leaders in its IBM Voices advocacy program, including a matching advocacy tool to centralize and promote their social presence.
Cisco. The communications company has over 1,300 advocates that are given guidelines and support to amplify the company’s messages and get the word out about new products and services as well as provide support to customers.
Dell. The computer manufacturer has one of the largest social media advocacy programs in the world. Over 10,000 employees have gone through their internal social media certification program and are trained to support the company’s objectives in social media. What’s more, they have an advanced listening and triage program to mobilize advocates to address time-critical situations on social networks to amplify brand-approved messaging and hashtags.
Deloitte. The global management services firm employed a social advocacy platform with over 1,200 members to help with recruiting.
SAP. Long a leader in using social media to engage with the marketplace, SAP’s has its SAP Mentor program that recognizes its most effective advocates, gives them prestige, and makes it easier for the public to find and engage with them.
Sprint. The company’s Sprint Ninjas employee advocacy program continues to grow, with about 2,000 employees now and a target of about 8,000 eventually.
H&R Block. The tax preparation firm uses an internal social media hub as part of its program to connect employees with the public on social networks like LinkedIn. It has also used employee advocates effectively in recent marketing, brand awareness, and sales efforts.
Fidelity. The financial services firm has an ongoing ‘Turn Here’ program, which has a component that connects employees with their consumer engagement effort.
Note that these social media advocacy examples are tech-heavy, as we often see with social media. Fortunately, we are now seeing more traditional companies try their hand at advocacy programs now. Also, there is a good mix of B2B and B2C stories when it comes to employee advocacy which is encouraging.
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