Many brands and organisations have discovered that their own employees are probably their most valuable ambassadors. Today, corporate reputations are no longer built through advertising and PR only. People prefer to rely on what they hear through their peers, family and friends. Employees could play a significant role in promoting the organisation or brand they work for.

In the professional debate, employee advocacy is predominantly associated with social media – and rightfully so; it is in the online world that the power of peer recommendations and informal communication through social networks has become most eminent. Numerous corporate reputations have been damaged by social media fails. So finding ways to positively influence conversations about an organisation on social media is important.

Employees who are engaged are usually very willing to stand up for the company they work for. However, that does not necessarily mean sharing branded content on social media. If you would ask them, they would probably say something like: ‘I will share content on social media if it is good and if it makes me feel proud. But actually, what I need most is support in face-to-face conversations!”

That makes a lot of sense. Most conversations take place in a face-to-face setting – a chat with the neighbours, a drink with friends, a dinner party with the family. How does this differ from online advocacy? In these kinds of settings people are considered ambassadors, whether they like it or not! People simply start asking questions or making comments the minute they know where their conversation partner works. “So you work for Nike? Actually, most of my running gear is Asics. I don’t think Nike is any better, just more expensive because of all the marketing money they need. Don’t you agree?”

In situations like this, employees could be very effective and credible advocates. That is, if they are well prepared. If not, they could even aggravate the situation. So from a reputation management perspective, supporting employees in face-to-face advocacy is a very smart strategy. And employees will greatly appreciate it too, because not knowing the right answers can be awkward… “You work for phone company X? Great, I’m looking for a new provider! So tell me, what’s special about X?” “Ummm…”

It is even more awkward when people start to complain or when the company you work for is under fire from the media. Many bank employees avoid talking about their work at all in social settings. Not because they themselves distrust their employer, but because they lack ammunition to address critical questions and comments. That is why Google is said to provide their employees with a ‘how to survive a dinner party’ app, to help them deal with critical questions. For the same reason, a Dutch bank provided all of its staff with an app that enables them to initiate action when people they know have a complaint. These are simple tools that are highly appreciated, because they help employees be true advocates when it is needed most.

Michiel van Delden

Michiel van Delden is a co-founder of Soveryus.

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