PR role important in harnessing the power of employee advocacy.

PR role important in harnessing the power of employee advocacy

Public relations techniques have developed significantly with the growth of the digital landscape. One of the strategies many businesses are using is employee advocacy, which can make a big difference. The PR role is important in harnessing the power of employee advocacy programs because communication can make program outcomes much more successful. For instance, a 2022 employee advocacy case study demonstrated that Sprout Social was able to generate $450,000 in earned media value through their program.

In essence, employee advocacy is where employees independently promote their employer’s brand.  While there may be occasional rewards as a result of this, employees aren’t directly compensated for advocacy and it isn’t part of their core duties.

This can be a powerful PR resource because it extends the reach of brand messaging. Most importantly, employee advocacy gives the public invaluable positive insights into the company’s culture. This can strengthen connections between a brand and its internal and external stakeholders.

Encourage employee involvement

Effective and consistent ambassadors tend to be those who are fully and authentically engaged with the business. Employees aren’t just clocking in and doing the work, but are genuinely committed to the business and its goals. When they forge a connection with the business, employees may be more likely to promote it  – and they may see benefits if they do. In fact, a study by Hinge Marketing found that 86% of employees said that participating in an employee advocacy program positively impacted their careers. This is why it’s so important for professional communicators to get actively involved with these programs in conjunction with the HR and marketing functions.

This begins with open communication from leaders. Streamlining the lines of contact is key to a genuinely positive and productive relationship that boosts workplace bonds. Unfortunately, a recent study found that 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees in general. This aversion leads directly to a disengaged workforce. Although it may feel uncomfortable to do so, managers and business leaders can keep their employees engaged by regularly providing feedback and coaching. First though, they should listen to employees about their concerns, their successes, and everything in between. Being present and responsive is also vital, as it shows leaders care enough to make themselves available to employees. A helpful 2023 Ragan Consulting white paper outlines the steps you can take to improve the communication of managers in your organization. (You will need to provide your details to download the guide.)

Another key contributor to involvement is identifying and addressing causes of low morale within teams. When morale is high, teams are often more efficient, and they also tend to be happier and more engaged with the organization. It’s important to reach out to employees — either directly or through surveys — to understand what their pain points are. Alongside directly addressing these factors, employers should initiate measures that boost morale, such as keeping everyone meaningfully involved with the business and checking in with workers regularly.

Boosting the workplace environment

It’s not unusual for brands to try to gain advocacy for PR purposes by offering material incentives. While these can be helpful, it’s important not to rely on them. A foundation of authenticity is far more valuable for genuine advocacy. This is because workers can trust and believe in the brand they’re advocating for. An important part of this is building a workplace culture that prioritizes how employees are treated on a daily basis. Not a simple overnight step, regrettably.

Minimize stress

Some elements of employee welfare that may influence brand advocacy include minimizing stress. Workplace stress affects not only productivity but also employees’ wider wellness and personal lives. Indeed, anxieties at work can result can disrupt sleep quality, often resulting in mental and physical health challenges. Coping mechanisms, such as relaxation techniques and self-care are useful.

However, mitigating the root cause of workplace stress is far more important. This includes ensuring workloads are manageable and that employees who are struggling feel they can approach their manager. This not only bolsters wellness but also tends to improve engagement.

Communication initiatives would be important to widely reach employees and motivate them to follow up with their boss about steps that can be taken to improve their welfare.

Create more employee recognition

One of the often overlooked aspects of employee well-being is to recognize the value of employees. After all, employees commit a great deal of their time, energy, skills, and perspectives to the organization. They need to know their efforts are respected and appreciated.

The employer’s response here should certainly include paths to progression and promotion based on their team member’s commitment. There must also be praise from their bosses and executive leaders. This informs workers’ sense of belonging in the business, which in turn boosts their potential interest in advocacy. Communication is a key part of employee recognition, so you would need to actively participate with HR staff to maximize the effectiveness of employee recognition programs.

Employers can also improve benefits and healthcare to boost employee welfare. However, these should already be basic forms of compensation; they’re not examples of the brand going above and beyond to prioritize worker well-being. Offering these elements in exchange for advocacy can make it feel transactional, and therefore not authentic. Aim to carefully develop a culture in which workers feel cared for, resulting in them actually wanting to be advocates.

Prioritize the natural ambassadors

Not every employee is a natural advocate. Authentic leaders shouldn’t try to persuade workers to act in ways they wouldn’t usually. This would certainly not be in the interests of the organization or its PR efforts. Instead, it’s often far more useful to prioritize the natural ambassadors. This starts with identifying them. Look for employees who already openly talk about the positive elements of the company. Look for those active on social media channels, too, as this will usually be the main form of advocacy communication.

From here, it’s important to give natural ambassadors the tools and the training to become better advocates. This might involve providing employee advocacy training. In essence, this is largely about communication – showing them how to recognize solid opportunities to talk about positive aspects of  their workplace. Encourage them to form an advocacy team with a suitable name and leader. Guide them in recognizing examples of potential employee advocacy, too, This includes:

  • Sharing images on social media. This could include photos of interesting projects they’re working on, team members collaborating with one another, or celebratory events to recognize workers.
  • Reposting brand online content. This isn’t just about reposting content on its own, without providing context. Reposts tend to be more effective if ambassadors couple them with text about the genuine reasons why they think this content is interesting, helpful, or otherwise valuable.
  • Teaching them how to build their personal brand on their social media channels. Guiding them to become better storytellers through online platforms and creativity. Google’s employee advocacy strategy has done this well by offering resources for workers to create and share their own content. This is empowering for workers as well as good for the brand.

Steps to create an effective employee advocacy program

You can create a framework for all employees who may be interested in participating in an employee ambassador/advocacy program. A strong framework would need to account of these important actions to steer your advocacy program to stable growth:

  1. Prepare a presentation to gain senior leaders’ approval and support from the start. When leader support is clearly visible, employees are more likely to be motivated to participate. Demonstrating the impact of employee advocacy from case studies, as well as maintaining KPIs of how the program is making a difference, can go a long way in gaining continued top-level support.
  2. Do your homework on current advocacy programs in your industry. Also, check successful and unsuccessful programs in other industries, and learn well from their results. Several software platforms cater to employee advocacy programs. You can learn a lot by investigating the range of tools in a Google search on terms like “employee advocacy tools” and “employee advocacy platforms,” and then follow up by discussing with vendors.
  3. Set your program goals, SMART objectives and content strategy. The top shared functions to actively support an employee advocacy program are usually accepted as being the marketing, sales and HR (recruitment) functions. However, communication is actually the key element in all of these inputs. Various important aspects of communication are essential for a successful program, so therefore the communication/PR function is a vital contributor at every step.
  4. Identify your potential participants. For a start, focus on the employees who are already active on social media. Also, ask them who their most frequent internal contacts are – who could be future participants. As the program develops, they can teach others how to do it.
  5. Provide opportunities for employees to take temporary or rotating leadership roles – and spread the load. Being an employee advocate on top of other job duties can feel overwhelming. Emphasizing that the duties are temporary and voluntary can help with this. Also, appoint a volunteer to coordinate the overall program – preferably with delegation experience in volunteer organizations, and who has  enthusiasm and energy.
  6. Provide fresh content and make it easy to share for employees who may have difficulty creating content, or want to get involved and don’t know where to start. (Also, refer “Prioritize the natural ambassadors” section above.) Providing pre-made content and directions can help make this process easier, especially for new participants. Set up a page on the organizational website to support the potential hiring of recruits and for other external stakeholders to access. Provide senior executives and managers with content to share with their team members. The PR team would manage this.
  7. Ensure accuracy and fact-checking of content. It is essential to maintain an acceptable quality of written content and images – even to have employee advocacy content policy and guidelines provided to all participants. Content should be checked for accuracy, and sources should be verified before sharing content. This confirms a commitment to ethical online interaction. Such safeguards maintain your organization’s reputation and strengthen trust among stakeholders inside and outside your organization.
  8. Demonstrate the benefits to employees. Explain to participants what’s in it for them when they start sharing content regularly. Show them examples from other organizations. Essentially participating in an advocacy program helps to build their professional reputation and their contacts. Also, the employer benefits from greater stakeholder awareness of the organization’s brand, from potential increased sales and future employee recruitment.
  9. Keep participants committed. Keep the momentum up. PR can promote the successes internally and in the web page. Encourage use of mobile phones for the program. Regularly review your content analytics so you can adjust content progressively.
  10. Measure your results. Review goals and objectives set at the start of the program, and compare against results. Track the number of active users, share rates, and engagement by content type.

Employee advocacy, when performed authentically, can be a powerful PR tool. It’s important to use advocacy as a strategy, rather than simply trying to use it as a tactic. When employees feel supported in a positive environment, they already have the foundation to be ambassadors and advocates.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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