Launching an employee brand ambassador program

Employees are well-positioned to act as a bridge between a company and potential customers, writes Ambera Cruz.

This article first appeared in The Love Issue, our June/July edition of Marketing mag.

ambera cruzRecent research has found only 55% of consumers consider a company’s marketing materials to be a trusted source of information when making a buying decision. Fortunately, you can get your marketing message in front of the right person at the right time and in the right way. How? Employee brand ambassadors. Employees are well-positioned to act as the bridge between a company and potential customers.Although any company employee will have a perceived bias for their company’s product or service, employee brand ambassadors from outside the sales and marketing teams will come across as providing a more authentic point of view. Additionally, the fact that they are willing to endorse a product and personally vouch for a brand validates that brand.

In March, LinkedIn uncovered some rather astonishing results regarding the effect of employee advocacy for brand engagement and how this differs when an employee shares versus when a company does.

For every post that is shared, they discovered that employees receive on average a two times higher click-through rate than when the same piece of content is shared through the company. So viewers are clicking twice as often, compared to the identical piece of content being shared by the company. LinkedIn’s statistics back up Nielsen’s results about trusting recommendations from people we know.

Issue badge Love IssueThe research further uncovered that, the larger the company, the more it benefited from employee advocacy. Companies with more than 10,000 employees saw click-through rates 2.4% higher than when the company shares, and companies with fewer than 10,000 saw click-through rates over 1.8% higher.

There is no doubting that employees should always be fully utilised and share brand content to their network. But you need to be realistic about the type of results you will receive if you only ever post brand content.

Our results show that employees will only receive a two times higher click-through rate once the employer has built a thought leader status. So our figures, in fact, show that, on average, employees will not receive higher engagement than your company. Well, not unless they are willing to make some serious changes to their current social activity.

When cultivating employee support and advocacy on behalf of your brand through a formal employee brand ambassador program, the extra training provided to brand ambassadors – including ensuring they are kept up-to-date on the latest content and product enhancements – can benefit existing customers as much as prospective clients.

The same cues that employees watch for with prospects can help them provide exceptional service to existing customers, including providing them with new tools for software adoption, adding a module to address a customer’s new business focus or even a hands-on refresher session on your product’s functionality.

The more employees know about the resources available to them, the better they can create a personalised and curated experience. This personalisation can, in turn, strengthen and increase the longevity of their customers’ brand relationship.

 

Best practice in launching an employee brand ambassador program

Although employee brand ambassadors can be a successful part of marketing, there needs to be some groundwork undertaken. Start with doing an employee engagement pulse-check. If your employees are unmotivated, a brand ambassador program is unlikely to take off. And with only 32% of US employees engaged in 2015, according to Gallup (a number that’s been flat since 2000), it’s likely that most companies’ uninspired workforce won’t support a brand advocacy effort. Disengaged employees are not optimal ambassadors for your brand’s story.

But, once you’ve identified a core group of engaged employees, a small pilot program with internal brand advocates can likely bring others on board. Pinpoint the natural leaders, regardless of title, who consistently drive collaboration on their teams. Reach out to them and gather input on what a compelling brand advocacy program would look like, then put their suggestions into action on a small scale.

For example, you can start with a weekly email highlighting a few key pieces of content and provide click-to-share links that can quickly populate a
message on the social channel of the employee’s choice. The easier you make it for employees to share content and engage with prospects, the more likely it is they will participate.

 

Pitfalls to avoid

You have an engaged employee base and an awesome product, so the employee ambassador program is guaranteed to be a raging success, right? That depends entirely on its execution.

Is there significant value in an entry-level customer support employee sharing your bottom of the funnel analyst report in their Facebook stream? Possibly, but it’s more likely that they’re annoying their friends with irrelevant content.

Instead of having an expectation that employees are sharing all of your content across their channels, ask them to share the content that most resonates with them. Some may choose to share projects on which they worked and are proud of while others may share job listings or the latest blog posts. Allow employees to take on only what feels like a natural fit.

Speaking of good fit, although employee advocacy platforms have the benefit of making it quick and easy for employees to share corporate content, they may also result in a deluge of status update spam. There’s nothing authentic or compelling about a prospect seeing four of your employees posting the same canned message and link in unison across social platforms. Or, even worse, a company leader whose ‘set and forget’ approach means they’ve shared the identical generic pitch for the annual customer conference every day for a month on their social channels.

There’s a fine line between automation being a helper and it hurting your brand. Whenever possible, make it easy for employees to customise their social messaging when sharing content, so you don’t fall into this trap.

And last, but not least, make sure there’s something in it for the employees for participating, above and beyond corporate profits. Award the most active employee champions of your brand with a symbolic award or even an invitation to your annual President’s Club event. Use a leaderboard to make each employee’s contribution transparent and encourage friendly competition. In these small ways, you can integrate brand ambassadorship into the company culture, and increase its effectiveness.

 

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Ambera Cruz looks after APAC marketing at Meltwater.

Meltwater is a Marketing content partner, a leading organisation with which we collaborate on content for the magazine and/or exclusive benefits for Marketing Pro Members. Visit marketingmag.com.au/pro.