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PodcastEmployee Advocacy

Manual Employee Advocacy to a Formal Program [Podcast]

By Emily Neal17/05/2023October 17th, 2023No Comments

[Episode Thirty of The Employee Advocacy and Influence Podcast] 🎧

In this episode, Bradley and Lewis discuss Stepping up from Manual Employee Advocacy to a Formal Program.

Organizations all over the world in every sector are driving strategic competitive advantage by scaling the impact of their employees’ voices… and now YOU can too! As we delve beyond the why and get straight to the how so that you can put employee-driven growth at the heart of your organization.

Welcome to the new and improved version of The Employee Advocacy and Influence Podcast. In this new format, CEO Bradley Keenan is joined by DSMN8’s very own Lewis Gray (Senior Marketing Manager) as a co-host.


BK: Welcome to The Employee Advocacy and Influence Podcast. My name is Bradley Keenan. I’m the founder and CEO of DSMN8, the employee advocacy platform. And with me, I have Lewis Gray, who is our senior marketing manager, which I’ve written down because we’ve re-recorded the podcast about three times now cause I kept giving him random promotions.

LG: I mean, I’ll take it. I’ll take a promotion live on the podcast.

BK: Senior marketing manager. It’s official. That is your current job title.

LG: That is my current job title, yeah. But if you want to go head of marketing, we can fire it up there. But cool. What we’re going to go through in today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the pitfalls of manually running an employee advocacy program.

And then, we’ll get into the differences between running a manual employee advocacy program and having a dedicated platform to manage it from. So let’s get into it.

LG: So just a bit of an explainer of how we came to decide to do an episode on this. So we are big advocates of just listening to your customers, listening to your clients, listening to what they have to say.

And full transparency, we use a tool called Gong. Many of you might be familiar with Gong, but essentially it’s just a, correct me if I’m wrong, Brad, I just call it a sales assistant tool.

BK: Customer, it’s a conversation intelligence platform is the name.

LG: Oh, that’s so much better than what I said.

BK: Yeah, I know.

LG: But yeah, we, so the sales teams can record calls, our customer success team can too. We can listen and take some inspiration from what they’ve said for content ideas.

And something that comes up quite often, especially on the sales calls, is this idea of, well, maybe not the idea of, but people will be running an employee advocacy program manually, and they want to know why they should use a dedicated platform.

Employee Advocacy: Manual vs Platforms

BK: Okay, so when you say manual, like in your mind, what does that mean?

LG: So the example that I’m referring to, it was somebody who was, every time they produced a piece of content, they wanted their employees to share. They would manually email a select group of employees who they thought would share it to social media.

So it doesn’t have to be email. It can be, you could literally ask somebody, you could be in the same office as somebody, send them a message on Slack and be like, “oh, can you just share this link?”

It’s any way that’s kind of without structure, without having a dedicated platform in place, without having a real strategy, just this is our latest piece of content. I’m going to send it to Helen, who works in sales, and ask her to share it because she’s got loads of followers.

BK: Got it. Okay, versus having a structured advocacy program platform.

LG: Exactly that!

BK: Yeah!

LG: I mean, you can get into organic as well, which is where it’s just happening without having to ask people, but yeah, that’s what we mean by manual employee advocacy.

BK: Yeah, absolutely. So I think for me, there’s obviously we’re biased on this. So we have to be very careful not to just sing the employee advocacy theme tune.

But ultimately, for me, what it comes down to is there’s two sides to it. There’s the process and doing it.

So if you’ve got, let’s say, you’ve got 20 people in your company, and your company culture is fantastic. People communicate really well, everyone’s bought into the mission.

Then having a email system where you email people and say “here’s content I would like you to share, please add your own point of view to it, here’s the social network I want you to share it to”. You could do that and actually see quite good results.

LG: You’re asking a lot.

BK: Sorry.

LG: It’s asking a lot, I think as well.

BK: It is asking a lot because you’re, actually, there was a chance that they’re even gonna open the internal email and not be too busy to do it. But you could actually get good results from it.

But even if you did it, you then don’t have the other piece to it, which is the data and the analytics to actually give you the positive affirmation to keep doing it, doing it again.

LG: Yeah, I think that’s fair. I would call it without sounding patronising… I’d say it’s a start. If you’re doing things manually, you’ve obviously recognised the potential of employee advocacy.

So, you know, the fact you’ve, if you’ve identified a group of employees in this instance, it was like 20 to 30 employees who were on an email list, who were being sent content regularly.

It is a start, and it’s not, I don’t want to essentially just come in and bash that whole idea. Because it’s great to take those first steps, but I think it’s then important to recognise that the only way to scale it, and like you’ve already acknowledged, Brad, is, to track it and measure the performance as well – you’re gonna need a dedicated tool.

When Do You Need an Advocacy Platform?

BK: I think there’s kind of an infliction point where it becomes just not possible to do it manually. My gut would say that you’d struggle to do it above 50 people manually, and 50 would be a lot because you might not be connected to all of those people yourself, so unless you manually go in and check their accounts to see whether they posted it, you’ve got no way of being alerted to whether they actually did.

So I think that’s part of it, but also you have to think about the effort, like you just said, the effort that you’re putting someone asking of them to go through and to manually create the content.

They might get it wrong. They might make a mistake.

So that task basically just means it’s less likely that someone will participate in it because the administration is just a little bit too high.

LG: Yeah, for sure. And in instances like that, where somebody said the wrong thing, potentially, obviously worst-case scenario, you won’t know about it straight away.

Like you said, unless you’re actually policing it, and these 30 to 50 people who you’ve sent this piece of content to you, having a unique list and you’ve got their LinkedIn URL, for example, and you go through and review all of these posts that have gone out.

I don’t think realistically that’s what people are going to be doing. So if somebody makes a mistake, you might not know about it for a couple of days until it makes it to your feed, if ever.

So worst-case scenario, that just goes completely under the radar. But yeah, like I said, most importantly, you don’t actually know that they have shared it. You can cross your fingers and hope, but you don’t know for sure that it’s been done.

Test It First

BK: I think it’s a really good test before; if you’re in the process of considering launching an employee advocacy program, there is an argument to say to do it manually with a few people to start with to learn.

I don’t think just throwing technology at problems is the right thing to do. Like, I guess that kind of is against what we should probably say.

But actually, when we bring a customer on, we don’t want someone to be a customer for a year. We want them to be a customer for three, four, five years. In fact, the worst thing is for somebody to join for a year.

So understanding what the appetite is for somebody sharing, and what that does when they share with two or three people in the company, you know, even three to ten shows you, well, there is an appetite for somebody to participate. And when they share, it has this impact.

And then you can use that as a case study to say, actually, what if we would do this for a hundred employees or a thousand employees?

LG: Yeah, you’re right. With regards to throwing technology at problems as well, there’s probably an important point to make here about having the right company culture too.

So you’ll quickly realise that if you know, you decide to go the manual route, to begin with, to see if there is appetite for employees to share and see whether they will take it on board.

I think that’s… You should have a good sense of your company culture anyway, but I think you’ll quickly realise if there’s problems there with employee engagement as well, if people are just, if they just disregard it completely.

BK: Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the things that we find interesting is we have a qualification model that we go through when we bring on new customers.

And typically, a qualification model, if you were prospecting somebody, would be, you know, company size, things like that. For us, a lot of it’s things like what are their Glassdoor reviews? What’s the current engagement on their content at the moment?

Because if somebody has a one-star on Glassdoor, thousands of terrible reviews about what bad company they are to work for, all their content is pretty crap, just talks about themselves, and you know, it’s really kind of self-serving content.

Those two things would highlight that amplifying that actually won’t work, because all you’re going to be amplifying is bad content with people who don’t want to share it.

So what you want to see is, okay, as companies scale, it’s very difficult to have, you know, four and a half, five stars on Glassdoor because there’s always going to be people that are disgruntled or whatever. But if your Glassdoor review is below a two and a half, I would say that there’s work to be done there before you think about running an employee advocacy program.

LG: Yeah, definitely something to pay attention to for sure. I think it’s something people just maybe don’t disregard, but it’s something that people just don’t consider.

They get this idea in their head; they’re gonna launch an employee advocacy program. They find a tool, but they haven’t taken a step back to be like, okay, will people actually wanna take part in this?

But just out of curiosity, Brad, I don’t mean to put you on the spot here, but would you? What do you think would be ideal for somebody if they had like 20 to 30 people they thought might want to, who might be up for becoming employee advocates and sharing content?

Would you encourage them to go the manual route first, or would you say, look at a tool, just go through like an initial, almost like soft launch and see how it goes? Like what do you think would be the best way to go about it?

BK: It would depend, like many answers, it would depend.

So one of the issues is if you choose 20 people and you cherry pick them, so let’s say, for instance, I’m a marketing manager of a company that’s got 3000 employees, and I want to launch an employee advocacy program.

And I want to do it because I believe in employee advocacy. There’s the temptation that I might go and cherry-pick 20 people who I know have great audiences and I know have an appetite for it. So. I’ve cherry-picked them, so straight away, the test isn’t really as valid as it would be had it been more random. And then, I ask them to share something, and it gets great engagement.

And then when I go to the CFO and say hey, I’ve done this test, and everything works out really well, they would say how did you come up with that group of people? And I’d say, well, I’d selected them based on that they’re already active on social.

So that would kind of, it would spoil the test, really. You’d have to be careful about who you chose. But let’s say I chose 20 salespeople who had never shared any content before. I would want to do it in a controlled way.

So either, let’s say there was a sales kickoff and it was actually a physical event, or there was going to be a Zoom call where everyone was going to be on.

I would try and do it actually on the call there, rather than do it as an email that I sent out to say, “hey, here’s the image”. Because when you do that, people, there’s friction, like I said before, and people just go, “this is just too much work”.

So that would then also become a self-fulfilling prophecy because I would feel like there wasn’t the appetite to do it. So yes, I would test it first, but I would definitely do it in a controlled way.

LG: Yeah, yeah, I think with, if you were to go the platform route to kind of do an initial trial, I think it would almost be worth inviting people who were less engaged initially.

I think this is maybe a bit of a not controversial point, but this is slightly against the grain, just because you’ll know if it works with a platform if you’ve invited a bunch of people who generally don’t share to social media. Then when you do roll it out to the people that you might have cherry-picked as being the ideal candidates, then you know, you’re gonna have a better chance of seeing better adoption rates, essentially.

BK: Yeah, absolutely. We have this concept we’ve kind of started using more recently.

The Ideal Advocate Profile

I might have mentioned it on the podcast a week or so ago. This idea of having like an ideal advocate profile, which is the person in the company that “A” benefits the most from sharing on social.

So they, they have an invested interest, but also they align with the strategy. So creating that profile first and then going after those people.

But actually, now what we’re thinking about is who is the gatekeeper to that group of individuals? And who influences them? So let’s say, for instance, like a notorious one is engineers, right?

So we work with a lot of tech companies, and especially when it’s employer branding, their dream scenario is that engineers will share thought leadership content on LinkedIn to attract more engineers, because obviously there’s a skill shortage and engineers know engineers.

One of the mistakes that I think have been made in the past, but now we’re seeing good results from people doing this in a different way, is; engaging with the Head of Engineering first, and making them the champion for that group of people becoming active on social.

So what happens is the employer branding person almost cuts that out, that head of engineering goes straight to the engineers and says, hey, can you start sharing our social?

And they’re like, well, we’re busy coding, and we don’t want to do that. And that’s kind of becomes the end of the conversation.

But when the conversation comes from the Head of Engineering, and it’s pitched as we want to attract more engineers so we can hire more people to make our sprints quicker, have less dependency on you to do more work and extra hours, and all that kind of stuff… That value proposition shifts, and actually, they start to go, “oh, I see why we would want to do this now”. But sometimes, people just skip that stage out, which I think is a mistake.

Leadership is Essential

LG: So you’re saying start from the top, kind of work your way down.

BK: Well, I think it’s, again, I would be a politician on this one, but I think it’s both.

So I think you can go ground up, but also top down is really important. So if your CEO isn’t on board and thinks social is a waste of time, then employee advocacy program isn’t going to work, because people will always do the thing that is valued more by the people that essentially pay their salaries, or do their performance reviews.

So if social is seen as like… this thing people scoff at, and actually it’s a waste of time, then you know you’re probably not going to get an employee advocacy program off the ground. So getting the senior executives posting first is a great way because it gives permission to everyone else to join in.

LG: Yeah, I was going to use salespeople as the example for that because that’s spot on. And this isn’t bashing salespeople. I’ve started out in sales; obviously, Brad, you come from a sales background too.

Salespeople are probably the; I’d say that’s the time when you want to start from the top down because salespeople are some of the busiest people in the company. Like notoriously time-poor because they’re on calls, prospecting whatever it is.

Generally speaking, they are the most time-poor, some of the most time-poor people in the company, so if you’re then asking them to participate if I can get my words out.

BK: Participate I think is what you was gonna say.

LG: I’m gonna write it down; participate is was tryna say. If you’re asking them to participate in your program, their answer is always gonna be, why should I? Like I don’t have the time to do it.

Obviously, you can communicate the benefits for them, but they don’t have the time. If you went to the Head of Sales and communicated the benefits to them and they started doing it first, especially if they then start seeing results, then it’s going to be so much easier to get the rest of the salespeople on board.

So in that instance, I think it if you were like an SDR, for example, and you were trying to explain to your Head of Sales why you were posting on social and not spending time on the phones or whatever it might be, I think that would be a very difficult conversation to have.

BK: Yeah, absolutely. And that really comes down to the point of having a platform or program that’s kind of official means that you can be strategic. So you can engage your C-Suite. So the reality is, some people are lucky enough to have a CEO that posts by themselves on social. Most people aren’t.

So you might have to have a strategy where your employee advocacy program is more one-to-one. So one-to-one meaning, let’s say you’re, let’s use a CMO and the CEO, and the COO. They’re so busy; they’re just not going to do social.

So the marketing team may take over their account. There’s risks involved in doing that if you don’t do it in a platform.

Right, so if you do it, that is something that’s very common, for the CEO to give somebody else and their company access to their LinkedIn account. Right, huge security risk. Huge.

I can’t believe people do it.

Because what’s stopping that marketing executive leaking the details, somebody then messaging on behalf of the CEO to a journalist or whatever? There’s so much could go wrong with that.

So having a program where they can basically post on their behalf first, it essentially locks in senior leadership are engaged in this without senior leadership really needing to do anything.

So then you can pass it down through the platform and get analytics, get more buy-in because you actually have the data to back it up. But if you just said to salespeople, your CRO says post on social, so you should; they will just say that they did it, even if they didn’t. So you kind of have to have the analytics to say whether they did or did not.

LG: Yeah, it gives it visibility, doesn’t it? Like you’re saying, if you have that example where you’ve got a marketing exec posting on behalf of the CRO.

If within your platform you’ve got things like even leaderboards for like people who have shared the most that month or generated the most clicks. Just having that visibility of them, even if they’re not featured in a leaderboard, just them being in the platform, and you’re able to see what they’ve shared and that kind of thing. Again, it just validates the fact that they’re doing it.

So having that centralised activity, you know, you could, you could argue you can do the same with LinkedIn. You know, you can jump on LinkedIn, you can see if somebody’s posting, but the LinkedIn feed is just so cluttered.

Like how often are you gonna see your colleagues in there? Maybe more, I know obviously every feed will be different, but you’re more likely to see a junior salesperson, an SDR, is more likely to see their CRO and the rest of the senior sales team sharing if it’s all in one centralised place. And they can see the impact of that activity too.

Key Reasons to Use a Platform

BK: Okay, so let’s summarise: what are the key reasons that somebody would use an advocacy platform or a tool rather than do something manually?

So I have four, and the first for me is just time. So time meaning for the person running the program.

It would be insanity to try and put a weekly email or a daily email together, even just to format it to get the correct links. That in itself would be a huge task for a single person.

But for the people sharing content, nobody wants to be copying and pasting links, and choosing images. It’s just too confusing.

The second is accountability. So there’s an old phrase that people say that people do what managers watch, meaning if something’s being tracked, you’re more likely to do it. So if we know that sharing on social is a strategic decision made by the company, and somebody is accountable to it, the probability that it’s going to happen is far greater.

And then I said four; it’s actually three because I just put two together. But the final one is ROI and data. So at some point, even if you’re running a manual employee advocacy program, even if that’s taking your time, that time is money.

And at some point, you’re going to need to say to the CFO that you want more money to do more activity that you think is working. Now, as much as CFOs are lovely people, typically, they work very much on data and analytics. So if you’re able to say, “we did this activity, we spent X dollars on it, but we got Y dollars in value”, it’s a lot easier to ask for more money going forward and to scale a program out even further. If you’re doing it manually, that would be a very difficult thing to do.

LG: Definitely. Yeah. Analytics, for me, as somebody running an employee advocacy platform, hands down the most important thing for me, because it just validates that what you’re doing is what you should be doing. And obviously, you can see the impact that, you know, all of this activity is having.

So appreciate that, Brad. We’ll wrap it up there, then. So thank you very much, everybody, for listening to the podcast this week.

We do actually have a blog post on this topic that goes into a little bit more detail.

If you prefer a written format, we’ll pop that in the show notes below. But as always, you can reach out to myself or Brad if you want to get in contact. But yeah, thank you very much for listening, and we’ll catch you next week.

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Emily Neal

SEO and Content Specialist at DSMN8. Emily has 10 years experience blogging, and is a pro at Pinterest Marketing, reaching 1 million monthly views. She’s all about empowering employees to grow their personal brands and become influencers.