Employee advocacy is hot. Especially in the US where the number of advocacy platform vendors has doubled in just one year. It is becoming increasingly more customary for US employees to be an ambassador of the brand or company they work for. In Europe we might be a little less outspoken in this respect, but that tendency seems to be shifting. As employees are increasingly driven by the desire to do meaningful work at a relevant organisation they also become more inclined to stand up for that organisation, promoting their employer’s products and services or defending the company’s position in the public debate.

from a reputation management point of view, that is great news. Because as we all know, today’s extreme transparency is causing a ‘credibility shift’ from formal, controlled communications such as advertising and press statements to informal communications. People prefer to rely on what they hear from people like themselves, when seeking information about a company or a brand. Informal communication in social networks has become a significant arena for making (and breaking!) reputations.

Potentially, employees could play a significant role in this arena. Edelman’s Trust Barometer revealed that in the last five years ‘the credibility of regular employees has increased dramatically, ahead of that of the CEO’. A ‘person like myself’ is trusted even twice as much as a regular employee. That is why many organisations have started employee advocacy programmes. Turning staff into active ambassadors could be a very effective way to manage reputations!

Interestingly, employee advocacy has thus far been very much the domain of social media departments and service providers. The focus is on tools and platforms, the aim is to get employees to share just any branded content through social media. But that does not necessarily help organisations manage their reputation. We see some room for improvement here.

First of all (and you will agree if you consider the advocacy stuff your social network throws at you), branded social media content usually does not tell a consistent story about the company or brand. It is a hotchpotch of articles, product promotions, corporate videos and so on, all coming from different departments. There does not seem to be a plan behind it all for the overall story that should come across.

Secondly, it is all about social media, whereas we have evidence that employees themselves actually prefer face-to-face advocacy over social media. They want to be able to do the right thing in conversations, which is not the same as clicking the share button. They would love to tell their friends during their barbecue get-togethers what makes their employer stand out from the competition, but unfortunately they lack a captivating, fact-based elevator pitch.

And thirdly, advocacy is built on engagement. True ambassadorship requires highly engaged and informed employees – people who believe in what the organisation stands for and who are encouraged to spread the word. This is a result of culture and leadership rather than tools and platforms.

A successful employee advocacy programme requires more than just tools; it requires a thorough and integrated approach. Including change management required to embed advocacy as a key behaviour in the organisation. Including a clear content and storytelling agenda to engage employees and help them truly contribute to building reputation. And yes, also including the right tools to support advocacy, online as well as in face-to-face conversations.

Michiel van Delden is a co-founder of Soveryus.

Soveryus provides the only employee advocacy platform that supports real ambassadorship! And the knowledge and support to make it a success.

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