As long as the war on talent rages on and technology advances, employee advocacy will remain a piping hot topic. Its level of maturity is growing every day. What is its current state, and how do you tap into the power of an engaged workforce on social media? To find out, I’ve had a chat with Ed Terpening of Altimeter Group who has recently completed extensive research in the employee advocacy space.

Listen to the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud or keep reading for a summary. This week’s big shout goes out to Link Humans’ new home work.life and our tip of the week is “A Kickstart Guide to Corporate Hashtags“, by Ben Donkor.

What results do brands expect when they invest in employee advocacy?

Basically the most popular was engaging customers. So 45% of brands said, “We’re doing this because we want our employees to engage with customers through further reach, through answering questions perhaps, by getting more brand page followers, by getting product ideas and feedback,” so that sort of thing. The other was engaging their own employees. If you look at the research on how engaged or disengaged employees are today, the numbers are pretty dismal. So there’s a very small percentage of employees that report that they’re truly engaged in their work. The third was a direct financial return. So this would include social selling for example, looking for an ROI in terms of campaigns and product offers that might go through employees, that sort of thing.

Would you say social selling is part of employee advocacy?

Yes, it is. It’s kind of a subset of it. And Charlene Li, our principal analyst, is looking at social selling as well because, especially on the B2B side, if you think about social, it’s all about relationship building. And that direct connection that a sales person can make to a possible client or a prospect is really important, and it’s shifting away from golf games to LinkedIn and other social and online platforms. So it is a subset of that. It’s a little different obviously but it is part of the mix.

How do employee posts compare to social advertising?

What we found was that the click through rates for example on social posts are extremely high, compared to ads. Now the question I’m concerned about as well long term is that if employee advocacy becomes very, very widespread, consumers might start to tune out these posts just as they do ads over time. So we’ll see, we’re early in the process, but so far the results that consumers have told us, that they like, share, that they click into the brand’s website are very, very encouraging.

How long it will take before platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn turn off APIs to employee advocacy platforms?

I wrote a blog post about this last month I believe saying that eventually, only about 3% of brand posts make it through the organic news feed today because they’re limiting those posts in order to prop up advertising. Over time if employee advocacy grows at the rate that we think it may, they’re going to have to take action because it’s going to start eating into their advertising revenue.

What motivates employees to advocate on social?

There are three things that we looked at. We looked at direct benefit to the employee themselves. We looked at what benefits the brand and then we look for shared benefits. And thankfully and I think good news for brands is that the shared benefits were the most popular motivators among employees. So for example the most important that came up in our research was, “I believe my employer’s mission and want to promote what they do.” So 57% of employees said that that’s why they share content. The second most popular was, “I believe in our products and want to share my experience.” And what’s interesting though too I have to say is that when we look at the research and who’s actually advocating, and 77% are manager and above.

How can you address concerns that some employees will have about sharing company updates to friends and family?

One of the interesting findings that we had was that those that are advocating are advocating on Facebook almost two and a half times more than they are LinkedIn. I think that means that there’s a challenge for LinkedIn, they have to somehow find a way to get more employees to talk about work and not just go to the site for job connections or news or that sort of thing.

What type of networks do you see brands using for internal/external social success?

The scenario that we see most often is using an internal social network like IBM Connections or Lithium or Jive. And so when I say internal social network, it’s almost a replacement for the intranets of the ’90s. So rather than having SharePoint and Outlook and that sort of thing, brands like TD Bank, and AT&T, and IBM, they really focus on the next generation of communications which is by using social tools.

Where do employees share employee advocacy updates? According to yours studies, Facebook is in the lead.

I think that reflects the fact that there’s still a pretty small percentage of employees who are using formalised sharing programs, who are using a tool that’s provided by their employer. So I can tell you for example, I’m using a tool like that, I’m using VoiceStorm, and I don’t even have an option to share something on Facebook. The options I have are LinkedIn and Twitter because they’re more business focused.

So I think when you look at the Facebook numbers which is 86% of employees said that they share there, I think that’s more of the organic sharing. So it’s sharing daily posts about work and what it’s like, what they’re doing it work, events, that sort of thing. So I think that’s probably why it’s so much higher. I think once more formalised tools are in place you may see a jump in LinkedIn as one of the platforms.

If we look at the profile of employee advocates, who are the leaders, who are the people who are on the leader boards?

What we found is that 77% are actually manager and above. Here’s my theory on that, for years we’ve been telling employees not to post on social. So if you look at the average or the template for the employee social media policy within companies, it almost always says, “Don’t tweet on behalf…” or, “Don’t post on behalf of the brand, leave it to the professionals.” So I think that individual contributors still have quite a bit of fear and angst about posting this way, but managers understand the shift in times.

How do social media users respond to employee advocacy updates turning up in their feeds?

Well first of all, the one very interesting finding was that the vast majority of consumers that saw these posts didn’t even think of them as employee advocacy posts. And that’s why I describe in the report that this is sort of the new native advertising of social if you will, because it’s a very natural looking. Now again a lot of these employees are posting outside of an official capacity. So that plays into it.

But we found that again, the response rate from consumers was pretty high. They find job postings useful, they find product promotions useful, they click through to these things, they find that they better understand the brand that their friend works for which is always good for brand health obviously. So the response is pretty good. I think the one area of caution was defriending, and we did find that 20% of consumers will unfriend a connection based on posts about work.

Should employee advocacy updates carry a specific label for transparency?

Yes, absolutely. In fact AT&T is a good example. Even when someone in PR tweets on behalf of the brand and they share information from the brand, they use #attemp; or #attemployee depending on how much room they have. And so what they’re trying to do is obviously be transparent in identifying the fact that they are an employee. And also they want to meet the regulatory requirements at least within the U.S. that requires that if you have a relationship with an employer or the employer is paying you in some way, that you have to disclose that.

Download the report, follow Ed on Twitter @EdTerpening and don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes.

Image: Shutterstock

About Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO at Link Humans, a social and digital marketing agency.

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