Word of mouth – it’s the best form of advertising you can have. Do you think about the potential word of mouth you have with your staff? Businesses spend so many resources in the hope that customers will be advocates for their products and services. Yet the same businesses often fail to see that the best customers they have are sitting in their building and come to them every day – to work.

From a staff of 5, 15 or 15,000, imagine if every one of your employees spoke of one positive aspect about your business every day. In a year alone, that amounts to 1,825, 5,475 or 5,475,000 free messages a year! Now imagine if they were to speak of two, three or four positive aspects. The opportunity is right there, now it’s time to use it.

Think of how many interactions your staff have with people outside the business each and every day – neighbours, friends, family, shop assistants, clients, and even strangers. Add their social media contacts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and you’ll soon realise that there is a gold mine sitting within the four walls of your office.

A recent Gallup poll showed that, worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged with the business. That’s 87% of your employees who aren’t passionate about your products or services. Companies with highly engaged employees outperform companies with disengaged employees by 200%. Remember, people are more likely to share with others a bad experience they’ve had rather than a good one. This goes for your staff too.

Here are some tips to encourage employees to advocate your business. If the majority of employees are disengaged, there is a lot to do in terms of engaging them and allowing them to become active evangelists for your business.

What’s in it for me?

It’s easy to identify the benefits of a company with employees who actively engage in promoting the business. Having said that, it is critical to treat this like any other marketing tactic – plan, set targets, measure, and determine a breakeven ROI. Are you wanting to shift attitudes or create real behaviour change? What is the focus of your message and how do you want it to go out? Every employee is now, in effect, a salesperson for your business.

What’s in it for the employee?

Asking employees to become advocates, and expecting that they will, can change the nature of the employer/employee relationship. You are now wanting the employee to use their personal sphere to your benefit. Such a request must be treated respectfully, or the backlash may damage the relationship between yourself and your employees.
Studies in behavioural economics show that the move from a social force to a market force can permanently damage a work relationship, and it may never recover. Trust can be broken. In asking your employees to use their social sphere as a marketing force, you are potentially putting their social engagements at risk. Strategic planning of this dynamic must be well thought out before you even begin.

The relationship between a business and its employees has traditionally been transactional. The business pays for the services completed during an employee’s time at work. Let’s be honest, most businesses do not care or want to understand the personal world of their employees.

There must be a truly valuable offer on hand for the staff – what reward will they receive for this engagement? This could be simply a bonus if they are able to bring in a lead that develops into new business. Develop a reward and recognition plan and recognise your business advocates.

Creating motivated employee advocates

The best way to get staff naturally engaged and keen to advocate their employer to relationships they have outside the office, is if an employee actually believes in your company. That is, they see the truth worth in your products or services, and how they can benefit customers. Yet you can take this even further by having staff invested in what your business stands for – your company “why”. Simon Sinek talked about the importance of your organisation’s why in this well-known TED Talk. If you have employees who care about and are invested in why your company does what it does, you’ve then got naturally motivated advocates.

Hiring employee advocates

Whenever you are looking to hire a new staff member, take into account how passionate a candidate is about your company. Someone who is just looking for better pay or a more senior position may have a great resume, but in the long term they won’t be the best investment. This is both in that their loyalty to your organisation won’t be as strong, and they are less likely to be naturally engaged to want to talk about how awesome your brand is compared to someone who already believes this!

Communication training

Your accountant isn’t a salesperson and neither is your secretary. In recognising this fact, it’s worth developing a training and development program for staff so they know how to best communicate what your company does and why. To create natural employee advocates who can effectively share the benefits of your business to those in their non-work spheres, you want to equip them with the skills and resources to best do this. A communication program should highlight in simple language your organisation’s why and industry points of difference at the very least.

If strategically thought through, engaging employees can be the cheapest marketing tactic you will ever implement. In these times of financial change and driving efficiencies, it’s definitely worth adding internal engagement and advocacy strategies into your mix.

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