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Small-business owners already have the most effective tool to increase brand awareness and drive sales at the their fingertips: their employees

 

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  • Employee advocacy has been shown to boost trust between brands and their customers more than ads.
  • Small business owners say employee ambassador programs can effectively turn them into influencers for a company.
  • Three social media experts share how small-business owners can build an employee ambassador program.
  • This article is part of “Marketing for Small Business,” a series exploring the basics of marketing strategy for SBOs to earn new customers and grow their business.

When employment platform Oyster raised $150 million in series C funding last year, it activated its employee advocates, known as Oyster Ambassadors, to help spread the news. 

Oyster shared a LinkedIn post announcing the fundraising on its internal Slack channel and encouraged employees to post about it on their personal social media accounts. 

Kristopher Martin headshotKristopher Martinez, internal communications and events manager at Oyster

Kristopher Martin

While Oyster doesn’t set engagement quotas or require employees to share details about the company on social media, by sharing this particular post, the ambassadors helped the company generate nearly 130,000 impressions, about 2,500 clicks, and more than 750 reactions. Kristopher Martinez, Oyster’s internal communications and events manager, told Insider that this was one of the company’s biggest posts linked to the ambassador program. And it happened organically. 

Employee advocacy programs, like the Oyster Ambassadors, encourage employees to share their company’s content — including job posts, blogs, news, and announcements — on their personal social media pages. The structure for these programs can vary from company to company. Some programs offer incentives to employees for posting about the company, while others keep it casual by just providing assets, like content and images, and leave it up to the employees to share at their leisure.

It can effectively turn employees into influencers for a business. Major brands, like Walmart, Starbucks, and Zappos, use employee advocacy programs, and Martinez thinks small businesses should lean into the tactic, too. 

“The saying goes, ‘Your most important asset and resource are your people,'” he said. “What better way to show the world what kind of company you are, what you stand for, what you celebrate, than allowing your most important people to tell the story for you.” 

While it’s common for employees to organically post messages, images, or videos about their employers without any encouragement, industry experts have found that employees are more inclined to post when they have specific content to reference.

“We give employees the resources, the assets, and the suggested guidelines on how they can share, but we really try to encourage people to tap into their personal stories and share in a manner that reflects their personal brand and how they like to engage on social,” Martinez said. 

What consumers think about employees’ social media posts

Recent studies have shown that employee advocacy programs can increase brand awareness and positive perceptions about a company, drive sales, and improve employee recruitment and retention. 

David Kristal headshotDavid Kristal, founder and CEO of Augeo

David Kristal

“It’s a very powerful means for small businesses to more effectively compete and market themselves,” David Kristal, founder, and CEO of Augeo, a loyalty and engagement services firm, told Insider. “It activates a voice that’s a very authentic voice.” 

More studies show that consumers perceive social media posts from employees to be authentic and tend to be most trusting of information from people they know more than from other forms of advertising.

Small businesses can get started quickly and at little to no cost.

Establish and communicate clear goals for the program 

Employee advocacy programs work best when businesses have goals in mind and communicate them clearly to their employees, Jamie Whalen, director of social strategy at software company Ivanti, told Insider. 

Jamie Whalen headshotJamie Whalen, director of social strategy at software company Ivanti

Jamie Whalen

Ivanti launched its advocacy brand ambassador program last year using Sprout Social. The goal was to increase brand awareness and promote its expertise to attract business. In 2022, the company’s social media reach hit 81 million with an earned media value of $2.5 million, Whalen said.

Data shows that employee advocacy programs can also help boost sales. According to LinkedIn, companies that encourage sales teams to share content on social media generate more leads and are more likely to exceed their sales quotas. 

Many organizations also use the programs for recruiting. Companies with employees who are highly engaged on social media are 58% more likely to attract top talent and 20% more likely to retain employees, according to LinkedIn

Martinez said Oyster’s employee advocacy goals shift throughout the year, depending on their hiring goals or whether they are showcasing a new product. “We tap into our ambassadors to help us tell that story from an authentic, genuine place.”

Make it easy for employees to participate 

Oyster created a Slack channel as a “one-stop shop” for its ambassadors to keep up with company news and access assets, like messaging and images. 

“We really wanted to make sure that folks could come engage with it, add their perspective, and share it how they see fit,” Martinez said, adding that the company doesn’t require or incentivize employees to participate. “You have to remove the friction for people to receive the news and be able to share it.” 

Along with providing company-centric content to employees, Ivanti has also worked to encourage more employees to participate in its advocacy program by creating educational videos explaining the program and offering gift cards and other incentives. Ivanti has about 3,000 employees, and about 2,250 have adopted the advocacy program, Whalen said. 

“We knew our strongest ambassadors were right inside our walls, and we needed to enable them to feel empowered by sharing and creating top content for them to share on their social channels,” she added. 

Businesses should also set guidelines (and offer training) for what content is and isn’t “brand safe” to protect a company’s image, Kristal said.

Get employees involved authentically 

While it’s understandable that businesses want control over the company-centric content that’s posted on social media, Martinez said it’s crucial to give employees some ownership. 

He suggests surveying or talking to employees about the social conversations they’re most interested in having about the company. 

“What kinds of stories are gonna get your people fired up and engaged?” he said. “What you don’t want is for this to seem inauthentic and folks thinking you’re forcing them to tell a story about the organization or get out there and be salespeople or marketers.” 

The “magic happens” when businesses create a space, provide resources, and make it easy for their people to post about the business, Martinez noted. 

“Folks are keen to champion things that they believe in,” he said. “If you give people the freedom and flexibility to find their voice within the story that you’re trying to share, it yields a more authentic, engaging experience.”

Read the original article on Business Insider
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