In part 2 of our series looking at how to strengthen your employer brand by showcasing the people behind your products, we’re hearing from Ally Brown, RallyFwd presenter and Employer Brand Manager at VCA Animal Hospitals, a national leader in veterinary care with 35,000 associates across over 1,000 hospitals.
Providing world-class medicine to more than 4 million pets per year, VCA’s strong corporate brand presented a perfect opportunity for Ally and her team to begin building an employee advocacy program.
This experience, combined with many others in her over-a-decade-long marketing and employer brand career, helped Ally develop a proven blueprint for building a successful employee advocacy program at any company — and served as the basis of her session at May’s RallyFwd Virtual Conference.
Based on her session, we’re focusing on the most common obstacles to building a thriving employee advocacy program, and how Ally recommends overcoming each and every one of them.
P.S. As an added bonus, Ally was kind enough to follow up with us after RallyFwd with even more secrets for successful employee advocacy, only covered here.
Let’s jump in!
Rally note: If you missed the first part of this series, featuring Edoardo Ambrosi and his experience refreshing ABB’s employer brand to focus on the people behind the company’s industry-leading technology, read it here!
“I don’t know how to start”
As Ally has observed over the course of her career, launching an employee advocacy program comes with its fair share of challenges, starting with getting it off the ground in the first place.
To avoid this, she recommends having your employer brand and employee value proposition (EVP) firmly in place before you start building your program. This helps you understand what to ask of your employees, and, consequently, it gives employees the direction and permission they need to talk about your company freely.
With your employer brand and EVP in place, your launch can begin as small or large as you like — whatever is most likely to actually gain traction and not overwhelm you or your advocates. It can be as simple as hosting a quick class or providing employees with simple talking points to share at networking events or conferences, or it can be as big as taking the time to develop a multi-month rollout strategy and a hub of content for employees to pull from and share with their networks.
For example, at Continental, Ally’s previous employer, she and her team rolled out the employee advocacy training a bit differently in every market. In the U.S., her team started offering social media training to groups either by business area or diversity resource groups. In India, they rolled it out by location. Both ways were successful, it just depends on what works best for your company or market.
During this training, they explained why employee advocacy was important, touched on their social media policy and gave simple do’s and don’ts and then gave a tour of their intranet advocacy hub (more on this below) and encouraged people to explore on their own and watch their quick instructive videos called “learning bites.”
Also, when presenting to large numbers of employees like this, people are at different stages of social media use. For people new to social media, this might mean teaching them to first like posts, then begin commenting, then share, all the way to eventually creating and posting their own content.
“I’m getting pushback from my stakeholders”
However you go about your employee advocacy program, Ally cautions to be ready for pushback from your legal or communications department, especially if you’re giving employees full agency to speak about your company and you don’t have an established social media policy.
This is where starting small can help. In Ally’s experience, once employees start to post content, however small in scale, the concerns of those pushing back tend to subside — or at least the feedback becomes more specific, giving you clear areas to work on. This aligns with another RallyFwd speaker, Jonna Sjövall, and her “crash a small car” recommendation of starting small to minimize possible damage, reduce paralysis by analysis and gain data to get buy-in for larger projects down the road.
Plus, to both help you gain (and maintain) buy-in from stakeholders and guide the direction of your employee advocacy program, you need a way to measure and report on its progress. For this, Ally recommends using a framework like OGSM, which stands for:
- Objective: Why are you doing this? Is it because you want to build more brand trust, more authenticity or you don’t have the budget and earned media is your only option?
- Goals: Are you trying to increase awareness, change brand perception or is it directly tied to hires?
- Strategies: How will your advocates reach your audiences, and how will you get your employees to be advocates? What will your program include? What’s in scope, what’s out of scope?
- Measures: How will you measure your progress? What does success look like? How does it tie back to your goals and objectives?
Rally note: For everything you need to plan, measure, analyze, benchmark and report on a winning Recruitment Marketing strategy, download our free Recruitment Marketing Measurement Kit.
“I can’t get my employees to participate”
Have you done enough to truly educate your workforce on what your employee advocacy program is and why they should be a part of it?
At Continental, the team had an advocacy launch video made to accomplish this. The video was sent out company-wide and served as a promo for their advocacy hub, a hub built on the company’s intranet where employees could come to learn about Continental’s employee advocacy program, why they should be advocates and learn all the ways they can support.
The hub also contained the company’s social media policies, best practices for content sharing, what hashtags to use, information about their referral program, shareable social media assets and templates, video call backgrounds and even desktop wallpapers!
Headed by the tagline, “Share your stories. Spread our culture”, this hub made crystal clear to employees the value of becoming an advocate, explaining their pivotal role in shaping Continental’s employer brand and getting it out into the world.
Next, it’s important to understand all the ways in which your employees can advocate on your behalf and figure out which employees are most suitable and comfortable with which ways.
For example, for employees interested in thought leadership, you could give them a story prompt or template to help them write a story to be shared with their personal network. Or, if you’re a company that gives candidates tours of your facilities, whether virtually or in person, find employees who are passionate presenters to act as tour guides. Other ways to participate could be referring jobs, attending networking events and conferences and leaving employer reviews on sites like Glassdoor.
Also, remember that while some things may seem obvious (follow our company’s social media profile, for example), they’re often not. If you don’t make your requests and asks clear, you risk having your advocates not know what’s expected of them.
But only make one “ask” of your advocates at a time. For example, after conducting some focus groups for VCA’s EVP research, Ally immediately followed up with employees who had volunteered to be there asking them for testimonials. She saw an opportunity where employees were interested (they’d volunteered) and asked them to participate in a way that made sense based on the situation (they were willing to talk about their employee experience already).
Underlying all of this is giving value to your advocates; it needs to be clear why you need them and what value they derive from being advocates.
“My employee advocacy program isn’t growing as fast as I’d like”
Advocacy takes time to build. When starting small, celebrate every time someone shares your posts! Share it with leadership, like it and comment on it; the more you share and the more engagement it gets, the more validated employees will feel (especially if support is coming from their leaders.)
From a technical standpoint, more engagement also means a farther reach for your content, which helps both attract more talent and recruit more employee advocates, sparking thoughts like “Wow! My coworker’s post got 30 shares and a comment from our CEO… maybe I should post about my work too!”
You also want to prioritize finding the multipliers in your company. These are the people who love sharing online about their experiences, who people admire and generally have a natural ability to rally people. For every multiplier you recruit, you can expect more to follow as a result of their influence.
Here are Ally’s three steps for finding these people:
- Search: Search hashtags on your internal and external social media channels – Who is active? Who has the largest networks? Who is engaging with your company posts?
- Ask around: Validate your search and ask HR, communications, peers, and leaders – Who in the company is well-networked? Who are our active spokespeople? Who participates in recruiting events? Are these the same people who appeared in your search?
- Stay curious: Once you are actively looking, you’ll find these multipliers everywhere in the same way as when you are buying a new car and you see that car all over the road.
There are also plenty of traditional incentives you can use to stoke your employee advocacy fire. For example, Ally has provided employees (and recruiters) in the past with kits containing branded materials and helpful info to assist them in their roles as advocates.
Beyond these kits, Ally also uses giveaways to incentivize participation and provide employees with topics to talk about in their content. She also uses exclusivity to entice employees to want to join. For example, she organized a virtual roundtable with advocates and executives. It was a win-win for both parties, as advocates had the chance to speak with and learn from higher-ups and the executives were able to get feedback from employees they didn’t normally interact with.
“I don’t know what technology or tools to use”
Technology can not only help you more easily build an employee advocacy program at scale, but it can also make the process easier for your advocates., which can help with participation.
Ally recommends these 4 steps to find the right tech to support your employee advocacy program:
- Define your audience: Who are you trying to reach? Which talent personas, and what kind of content will best resonate with them on which channels? For example, their recent focus groups revealed that their student vet techs liked being on TikTok, which came with its fair share of legal challenges for the company to pos ont. An easy way to avoid these could be for your advocates to share from their personal channels, that way you can still have a presence on TikTok without having a corporate channel.
- Survey your advocates: How will they support you? Are your advocates tech-savvy? Will they be able to use an app, or would they prefer to work through email? Will they be advocating through in-person events, social media, or penning thought leadership pieces?
- Review existing tools and technology: Leverage existing contracts. For example, at Continental they used Hootsuite for all social media management, so Hootsuite Amplify was a natural add-on for social sharing among advocates.
- Determine your budget: If budget is an issue, think about tools that might benefit other areas of the business, or other groups. See if other departments are willing to contribute. Alternatively, explore the options below.
Here are some examples of tech Ally has used, both with and without a budget:
For no-budget options for content creation, Ally recommends leveraging Google Forms to make it easy for people to submit stories and content around a specific topic. It’s also easier to answer a bunch of survey questions than to write something from scratch.
For no-budget options for social sharing, you can mass email advocates content to share, send it to them via Slack or Teams or take advantage of things like LinkedIn content recommendations. You can find this under the content section in your LinkedIn profile, and use it as a repository for different content for employees to read through and potentially share with their networks.
Hopefully, you can use Ally’s responses to these common obstacles to strengthen your employer brand through employee advocacy and bring the amazing people behind your products to the forefront.
For a comprehensive look into Ally’s blueprint for successful employee advocacy, watch her full session from RallyFwd on-demand, A Proven Blueprint for a Successful Employee Advocacy Program.