Influencers: Internal advocacy
by Jason Stewart (@HaveYouHeard_SA) When it comes to word-of-mouth and advocacy marketing, are we forgetting to use one of the most powerful tools at our disposal? One that can be easily controlled and set to work at any time? And at very little cost?
Given what I see on a daily basis, the answer is “yes”. Employees make for very effective brand ambassadors and influencers, and the really good marketers know this and add their power to the brand-building mix.
Trust in traditional communication is dropping significantly, with Nielsen recently reporting that trust in personal recommendations is as high as 92%. However, additional research shows that the credibility of an employee is twice that of the CEO of the same company.
So, it makes sense that, within a world where consumers are inundated with advertising and messaging that they don’t trust, we marketers (and CEOs) should look to using our own personnel — those members of the public with existing and very individual networks where trust is already established.
Zappos (the online clothing and footwear store based in Las Vegas) is a prime example of a company that has based its business model on word-of-mouth referrals, because the cost is lower than other marketing tools, and used its employees as brand ambassadors.
Truly committed to creating the best possible experience for its customers, all decisions are evaluated in terms of how they will impact the customer’s relationship with Zappos. This ethos is extended to the company’s relationship with its staff members, because it knows a happy staff member creates a happy customer. As a result, there is no marketing budget — only customer and team experiences.
By involving your employees in generating brand advocacy, you empower them and make them equally accountable for the success of various business elements within your company. This sort of empowerment should naturally increase the quality of work and service produced, as employees feel responsible for the effect of their output.
Further, by allowing your employees to be active on social media, sharing their experiences as well as information from the company, the public sees a strong, positive company culture. Logically, potential customers are then most likely to share the same attitude towards your brand as your employees do.
An example of this level of employee advocacy can be found at Best Buy, an American chain selling predominantly electrical, electronic and related goods. It has allowed its retail staff to interact and engage with customer queries on Twitter. Consequently, customers are being attended to within minutes, as opposed to simply within the hour. In addition, call center and dedicated customer-service staff teams have been cut to a minimum.
An added benefit of encouraging employees to act as brand ambassadors is that they tend to ensure that management or leadership of the company truly becomes accountable, and doesn’t just pay lip-service to the word.
Keeping employees motivated, enthusiastic and happy is a never-ending challenge for businesses; a disgruntled employee always has the option of aggressively spreading negative word-of-mouth. But, when a company treats its team fairly, this scenario shouldn’t arise; and the benefits of having the majority of your team advocating your brand far outweigh the slight possibility of one bad-mouther.
Key steps to take when encouraging employee engagement include:
- Identify who are the influencers within your company.
- Identify who has the ability to spread the most word-of-mouth.
- Do not force advocacy; rather, make it fun and reward activity (not necessarily financially).
- Train and up skill your team — make it easy for them to be great.
- Develop guidelines of what can be said and what can’t be said; give them boundaries and references, outline clear expectations.
- Ask for input (areas of improvement, suggestions of ways of working, etc) [and implement where practical and possible— ed-at-large].
- Serve your team with content, experiences and information in a way that makes them want to share it. So, just as you develop content for your consumers, do the same for your team.
- Track and measure KPIs (sentiment, actions, leads, etc).
- Frequently follow up, adjusting measurement and goals as the programme develops.
Get your team more involved with company culture, decisions and content generation to ignite brand loyalty from within the company. Reward your employees for decisions they have made and seen through.
They’ll soon associate these positive outcomes with their efforts, and repeat the behavior to the benefit of your brand.
Jason Stewart is currently managing director of HaveYouHeard (@HaveYouHeard_SA), an innovative word-of-mouth and social media agency founded in Cape Town in 2008. A Red & Yellow School graduate, he joined the industry as a project manager at Draftfcb Cape Town before taking on business development responsibilities at Instant Grass, a position he held for three years. His monthly “Influencers” column on MarkLives focuses on word of mouth.
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