What Benefits and Challenges Do Brands See With Employee Advocacy Programs?

AltimeterGroup-Biz-Drivers-Employee-Advocacy-Programs-Mar2016Employee advocacy is one of the fastest growing social business programs, per a report last year from the Altimeter Group. A new study from Altimeter [download page] delves further into social media employee advocacy, finding that for brands, increasing awareness and brand health are the top business drivers for investing in such a program.

Among the 164 respondents to the study, each of whom are from companies with more than 250 employees, the top business drivers cited for investing in an employee advocacy program were:

  • Increasing the reach of messages in social networks (awareness) – 54%;
  • Driving increased understanding and brand health of the organization – 47%;
  • Engaging employees more deeply in the company mission and their work – 43%; and
  • Providing customers a better experience with the brand – 43%.

Some of those drivers are likely to be met with more success than others, per results from the report, which also surveyed more than 2,000 consumers.

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For example, consumers seem to better understand companies after reading posts from their friends, and many find job postings and product promotions useful. These and other results suggest that consumers will respond to key program drivers such as promoting brand understanding, improving recruiting and increasing revenues.

Still, the study finds some misalignment in brand intent and consumer response. Whereas increasing social reach and awareness was the top-cited brand driver for employee engagement investments, just 8% of consumers reported having shared employee-generated content.

Interestingly, while 55% of employees surveyed report having posted information about work on their own or as part of a company endorsed program, only 15% of consumers say that anyone they’re connected to on social sites has posted content about work. The analysts believe “this indicates friends’ posts about work are largely seen as a natural part of their life, and not brand messages.” That makes some sense, given that posts about daily workplace life are the most commonly shared by employees, along with job postings.

For their part, the top motivations employees gave for sharing information about their employer on social media accounts were:

  • Believing in their employer’s mission and wanting to promote what they do (57%);
  • Believing in their company’s products and wanting to share the employee’s experience (46%);
  • Helping recruit new employees (42%); and
  • Wanting their friends to understand them better (42%).

Overall, employees appear to be motivated by a shared benefit for themselves and their brands. Employees surveyed said that their most common reaction to sharing employer’s content is to feel more connected and enthusiastic about the company they work for.

Previous research on this topic has found various perceived benefits to employee engagement in advocacy programs, with an expanded professional network and the ability to keep up with industry trends as the most commonly cited.

To encourage sharing of work-related information, almost half of employees said that leaders share, setting a good example (48%), while close to 4 in 10 indicated that their employer has given them feedback about their posts, or that they have written guidelines.

Notably, while companies have long been aware of the risk of employees posting content on social sites that could damage their reputation, few brands surveyed by Altimeter say that employees sharing inappropriate content is a challenge that they have faced with advocacy programs. Instead, content challenges (53%) are the top-cited challenge, followed by difficulty keeping employees motivated (49%), low adoption rate of the program by employees (47%) and leadership commitment and alignment (44%).

In terms of low adoption, the most common reason why employees have decided not to share employer content even after being asked is due to a preference for keeping their professional and personal life separate (33%). Far fewer (5%) were worried that it may turn off their friends and followers, although this may be a fairly significant program, given that results from the consumer survey indicate that 20% have ever blocked, unfollowed, or unfriended someone because of their posts about work.

Overall, employees who don’t share content are fairly evenly split in attributing their decision to a lack of value for them or for their company.

For brands, the primary driver of the employee advocacy program is to engage customers (45%), but close behind, 40% say that engaging employees is the their top driver. Just 15% see financial return as the top motivation, although presumably this is a benefit of greater customer engagement.

About the Data: The Altimeter Group report describes its methodology as follows:

“Altimeter conducted both qualitative and quantitative research for this report, using brand interviews, vendor briefings and 3 global surveys: Consumers (their perception of posts about work by others); Brands (their goals, challenges and current state); and Employees (to understand what motivates them to engage in employee advocacy programs). This research includes North America and Europe. Research began with interviews in Q4 2015 and ended with surveys for each of the three key stakeholder groups in Q1 2016. In our Consumers and Employees research, North America includes the United States and Canada, and for Europe, Germany, France and the United Kingdom are included.”

Most (not all) results are based on the following sample sizes: 2,285 consumers; 185 employees; and 164 brands.