High-profile influencers on social media platforms have continued to grab the headlines in 2017, but a different kind of influencer tribe has been steadily getting more brand traction: employee advocates.

Brand messages are re-shared 24 times more frequently when distributed by employees instead of the brand says MSLGroup, while leads developed through employee social marketing convert 7x more frequently than other leads according to IBM.

Influencer marketing has taken off partly as brands fight declining ROI in areas such as paid media and traditional advertising to increase brand reach, but what kind of influencers should be used: top tier, influencer groups, or micro influencers?

Employees have a high degree of trust in their individual networks – 77% of consumers are likely to make a purchase after hearing about it from someone they trust according to Nielsen.

Employee advocates offer brands the ability to work with hundreds and thousands of their colleagues. Individually they may not be as big as a famous YouTuber, but they are trusted by family, friends and peers and they can be scaled en masse using the new wave of technology platforms to generate huge reach and engagement.

Here are five brands using effective employee advocate strategies:

1. Philips Lighting switches on it employee advocates 

Philips Lighting has quadrupled its employee sharing by engaging its staff as advocates. McKinsey suggests that “word of mouth influences 20-50% purchasing decisions”, meaning Philips's employee advocates could have a significant business impact.

"We have been so surprised in terms of engagement and downstream outcomes,” says Dana Hyland George, senior manager of employer brand & recruitment marketing at Philips Lighting. “We saw a gap where we could use an employee advocacy platform to help us amplify our story at scale… We wanted to humanise our brand, tell the world who we are and what differentiates us from others.

The results are:

  • 2x increase in company page views and 26% increase in company page followers;
  • over 10m people reached;
  • and a large % of all new hires through the employee platform content.

2. HomeServe builds from the inside out with employee advocates and reaps the benefits

There’s a communication gap in many UK businesses reflected in a Gallup poll which found “74% of employees feel that they’re missing out on company information and news.” HomeServe is an example of a company bucking this trend having worked diligently on its employer branding by actively engaging with its employees.

HomeServe CMO Greg Reed has been working hard at “building our brand from the inside” by more effective two-way communication with employees. This approach has resulted in HomeServe being one of Glassdoor’s top three places to work in the UK and its CEO rated by HR Magazine as “Most people-focused CEO of the year”’.

It’s clear this has been a significant transformational journey for HomeServe aimed at putting employees first and working with them as brand ambassadors. Reed explains he wants to “give them a sense of belief and purpose through trust, transparency and empowerment.”

At the start of this year, the Institute of Customer Service rated HomeServe as the most improved company in the UK for customer satisfaction… We have also seen our business grow, in terms of new customers and in terms of turnover.

3. L'Oréal innovates with employer advocacy and talent acquisition 

L'Oréal may be known for its ‘beauty squad’ of eight YouTubers, but it has also been pioneering one of the most innovative employee advocate programmes since 2005. 

With more than 89,000 employees worldwide, the cosmetics giant – home to brands such as Garnier, Maybelline and Lancôme – ensures its new staff onboarding process is comprehensive with inductions, field visits and discovery courses. This helps increase engagement and give an overview of the entire product range to encourage advocacy.

Creating different platforms to incite advocacy has helped L'Oréal get employees to share content, stories and word-of-mouth recommendations with hashtags such as #LifeAtLoreal to their networks in huge numbers, and retain its best talent. At its huge, new 10-floor US offices at Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side, employees benefit from informal workspaces, can test products before they hit the market and get 50% of products in the in-office store. 

4. Icelandair takes employee advocacy to new heights

Employee engagement and advocacy is about helping staff be their best selves, creating a collaborative and supportive atmosphere, which includes finding your colleagues’ particular skill set and passion. Icelandair is empowering its employees to become brand advocates by creating a much richer customer experience.

Icelandair already has a buddy system, which matches customers with an employee in destination to show them the best of the island, but its new, free ‘Stopover Pass’ for customers goes a stage further. The new scheme is built around a selection of the airline’s staff that have been enrolled in stage school to improve their existing performance skills. Passengers with a Stopover Pass can now get immersive, inflight performances from staff as a three-act play on a flight from London to New York via Iceland.

5. GE employee advocacy makes all of its friends electric

“The impact of social media on buying decisions is greater than previously estimated and the pool of the most effective influencers is largely untapped,” according to McKinsey.

Many brands already encourage ad-hoc individual social sharing of brand content but employees may sometimes be worried if the business has ‘signed it off’ and results are hard to judge. This situation has led many companies including General Electric (GE) to formalise an advocacy programme to derive ROI.

GE began with an advocacy pilot of 500 employees who were already engaged on social media, hoping their enthusiasm would spread to their colleagues organically.

Steven Pepe, global leader of commercial marketing at GE said:

Nothing beats the power of GE salespeople for delivering brand messages. They know our customers the best, are the most connected, and have the most external networks. Even if we buy TV ads during Sunday night football, it still wouldn’t be as authentic as our own sales force sharing news about our innovative products and technologies.

Employees' increase in sharing has generated 2x more views of GE’s LinkedIn Company Page and its job postings on LinkedIn. 

For more on this topic, see:

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Published 19 October, 2017 by Andrew Seel

Andrew Seel is founder of WAVE 2017: The Influencer Marketing Summit. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

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