It used to be the case that most people would go to work, do their job, and never talk in detail to the outside world about what they were up to. That was for the bosses to worry about.
Well, not any more. The new trend is for employee advocates, where champions from inside a business are encouraged into direct contact with customers to win influence.
Turning employees into trusted brand ambassadors is increasingly seen by firms as a great opportunity, with some even claiming that content shared by staff gets significantly more engagement and is more shared than if it comes through more official channels.
In one of Edelman’s regular Trust Barometer reports, the PR company observed that almost half of the general population believe a firm’s staff are to be trusted more than the chief executive, a founder, or the public relations department. It also found that as many as half of all employees already share content about their company through social media.
Noting this trend, Forbes contributor Jeanne Meister highlighted employee brand advocacy as one of the ten key trends that was likely to change working practices throughout 2016.
Meister highlights research that claims that use of employee advocacy programmes – which encourage staff to share updates on their business through personal social media accounts – has grown by 191% since 2013 and is due to continue increasing throughout this year.
But what has brought about this great change, where the people in all parts of the business are trusted and respected to talk on its behalf? Developments of social technology may have empowered the process but they aren’t necessarily the source.
Edelman have published their Trust Barometer reports for a number of years, measuring levels of trust in key institutions – NGOs, Media, Business, and Government. According to the 2016 Barometer, of those four categories, ‘Business’ registered the largest increase in trust in the last year amongst both the informed public and the larger general population, but the traditional pyramid of influence – with elites on top – has now been turned on its head. Today, it says, influence rests in the hands of the mass population.
“The net result is a new phenomenon where the most influential segment of the population – or 85 percent of the population – is at the same time the least trusting,” says the Barometer.
“This reality stems from the fact that ‘a person like yourself,’ or an average employee, is far more trusted than a CEO or government official.”
With that in mind, employee advocacy starts to make a great deal more sense. In fact, so useful is this kind of advocacy programme, technology is even emerging to help firms introduce and control such schemes.
Hootsuite, the social media management platform, recently announced the launch of Hootsuite Amplify, an ‘employee advocacy solution’ to help firms ‘leverage their most dedicated advocates – their employees – to help promote the company’s brand’.
“Employees want to actively contribute to an organisation’s success,” said Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite. “Amplify makes it easy for employees to share approved content with their own social networks, empowering them to be advocates who are engaged and connected with their company.”
The key word from Holmes might be ‘approved’. One has to ask, if a company is applying oversight, will people still respect and widely share information from employees in the way they currently seem to? Or is there a danger of it becoming another, semi-official PR and Marketing channel?