Brands' Most Untapped Social Resource: Employees

By Greg Tirico, Sprout Social

Everyone has heard, and hopefully experienced, the benefits of having a strong, engaged social media presence: expanded reach, increased trust, deeper loyalty and improved brand recognition.

A truly engaged social community is gold for brands and many have spent years trying to identify and engage with their audience. However, as social networks evolve, algorithms change and the volume of inbound messages grows, brands are looking for new ways to adapt to the dynamic social landscape. Enter one, mostly untapped, social resource: employees. 

Employees have, on average, 846 connections on social media (source: 2015, Statista & DMR). When it comes to building trust among consumers, employees are the most valuable asset brands have. An effective employee advocacy program won't replace existing social marketing efforts, but it has the potential to powerfully complement a brand's social media strategy. Encouraging employees to speak publicly about the brand-while providing them with strategies, example messages and social media best practices-will open the door to their networks, creating personalized interactions between a brand and their audience.

Organizations that allow employees to easily share brand messaging on social are able to achieve the following:

- Amplify the reach of branded content

- Increase social selling

- Demonstrate thought leadership

- Drive interest in career opportunities and improve hiring

- Foster employee engagement

Given the state of more traditional social media marketing strategies, how can employee advocacy help businesses reach and exceed these objectives?

Amplify the Reach of Branded Content

Identifying and reaching a brand's ideal audience on social media is a common challenge among marketers. Employees have the power to help brands reach a broader audience. While the content that the average consumer posts about a brand is beyond its control, providing brand employees with suggested messaging and brand education acts as content insurance. 

Take note, however, that brands should be careful not to regulate what employees post too closely. Brands should provide employees with the creative freedom to start authentic conversations about a brand, rather than restricting them to sharing stock messages word-for-word. 

Activate Potential for Social Selling

It should come as no surprise that consumers generally trust the opinions of other consumers over the words of brands themselves. According to Nielsen, 84 percent of people worldwide said that recommendations from people they know are more effective than any other form of advertising. While a brand's social media handles may have a certain official gravitas, in many cases, brand messaging is stronger when it comes from individual employees. Supplemented with traditional digital advertising and marketing efforts, the efforts of employee advocates on social media can have a profound effect on the number of potential customers brands are able to reach organically. 

Demonstrate Thought Leadership & Foster Thoughtful Discussion 

Acting as a brand advocate on social media benefits employees as well as organizations because by sharing content related to industry news, market trends and company product or service development, employees can cultivate their reputation as thought leaders and sources of important information. Sharing branded content along with their own comments allows employees to spark conversations and potentially find even more social connections.

Drive Interest in Career Opportunities & Improve Hiring

Happy employees are vocal employees, online and off, and employee advocates can help brands increase the volume and quality of applicants. Their excitement, when paired with up-to-date information on open positions, will help businesses find and hire the right people. Employees who come to companies through employee referrals are often a better fit for the organizations and stay longer than employees who find companies through other means. In fact, referrals account for just 7 percent of job applicants but 40 percent of hires according to 2014 Jobvite info.

Foster Employee Engagement

Information fosters engagement, which subsequently fosters happiness. Employees of socially engaged compares are 27 percent more likely to be optimistic about their company's future according to a Social Media Today post. When employees read and share articles about their company, they are educating themselves about both the company brand and industry. The more they know, the more confident they will feel in their careers, and they will become more passionate about their jobs and about advocating the brand to others. 

Motivating employees to act as advocates on behalf of brands on social media can have lasting effects beyond the social sphere - like brand awareness, more loyal customers and better hires over time.

Greg Tirico is Senior Manager of Advocacy Solutions and Services at Bambu by Sprout Social. He has spent the majority of his career leading digital marketing initiatives in Fortune 500 organizations.