Soften your focus to measure the full impact of employee advocacy

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Glenn is the founder and CEO of GaggleAMPa social media advocacy and management platform.

The idea that every aspect of marketing should be measured down to the last detail has done companies a disservice. It’s partly because CMOs are feeling pressure from CEOs and board members to quantify their efforts and improve return on investment (ROI). With the average CMO tenure holding steady at 40 months, the lowest level in more than a decade, marketers must use data-driven strategies to drive the business forward. But focusing too much on measurement can cause marketers to miss the bigger picture.

Employee advocacy – the marketing initiative through which companies provide employees with the training and tools to digitally engage prospects and customers – delivers both tangible and intangible benefits to the company. If you focus too much on the tangibles — the things you can measure quite easily — you could be overlooking important factors, many of which contribute to one of the most important data points of all: sales growth.

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What are the tangible and not-so-tangible benefits of employee advocacy, and how are they measured?

Companies invest in employee advocacy and other social media-based marketing efforts to increase brand awareness, deepen customer relationships, improve brand reputation, and build trust and loyalty.

One way to measure the impact of employee advocacy is to calculate the earned media value of employee social media reach and compare that to other marketing and public relations programs. Another metric is the engagement rate of the content your employees are sharing; many are also looking at how this metric compares to messages from the brand. A 2018 study found that brand messages shared by employees have a 561% greater reach and eight times more engagement than messages shared on the brands’ social media channels.

In addition to engaging the market, employee advocacy and social media in general contribute to lead attribution in ways that are difficult to fully capture. The goal of employee advocacy is to build trust and engage the market by sharing helpful advice and information, as opposed to sharing sales plugs or coupon codes that lead to immediate purchases. This long-term approach is more difficult to quantify than, say, a performance marketing campaign.

A simple lead attribution strategy is to ask customers how they found you. But their answer can only explain part of the story: their most recent point of contact or influence. For example, you know that a lead comes from a Google search. But you don’t know all the other bits of information that influenced the prospect before that query, such as conversations on dark social channels like direct messages or groups.

This was shown in a 2019 survey of 100 customers 77.5% of shared content took place on dark social channels that cannot be measured, such as email, messenger apps and SMS. If you used social media shares as your sole measure of success, you could falsely call a campaign or content item a failure and shut down an initiative that actually benefited your business.

Success leaves clues.

The more people in the marketplace that can validate a customer’s purchasing decision, humanize your brand, and engage the market, the better. But fully measuring the impact of your employees’ digital efforts can be tricky. For example, brand reputation, trust and loyalty do not correspond to a single data point. And if you try to pretend that you are, you risk making wrong decisions about your digital marketing.

Instead of just focusing on what’s easy to measure, try softening your focus and considering all the information available. At the end of the day, success leaves clues. Look beyond spreadsheets and reports and pay attention to the positive conversations happening on social media and other digital “hangouts” or the prospects who say they’ve heard about you on LinkedIn or from existing customers.

Let’s take a look at the brand reputation. How do you measure that? You can invest in focus groups and analyze surveys and social media mentions. But how do you analyze the myriad factors that contribute to customer sentiment? Marketing, PR, corporate culture and your products all affect reputation. So also employees.

If people have a terrible experience with your support team or sales reps, they will think negatively about your company, even if you have the best product in the world. Employee advocacy can have a huge impact on reputation by connecting prospects and customers to multiple employees in your organization. The respect these prospects and customers feel for your employees because your employees have fostered engaging and trustworthy digital presences will extend to your brand.

Take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

We cannot let campaign measurement and attribution take precedence over general business objectives such as customer retention and revenue. Do these KPIs increase as your employee advocacy program takes off? That’s worth noting, even though they are influenced by multiple factors.

Often a company invests in employee advocacy to achieve a particular outcome, such as increasing share of voice. Six months later they realize, wow, employee advocacy affects other things toosuch as employee engagement. Increasing engagement has a reinforcing effect because it can contribute to sales and employee retention. Research shows that “highly engaged business units have a 81% difference in absenteeism.” Moreover: “In organizations with high turnover, highly engaged business units achieve an 18% difference in turnover. In organizations with low turnover, the benefits are even more dramatic: highly engaged business units achieve a revenue gap of 43%.”

Plus, when employees feel valued and part of the bigger picture, recruiting is often easier as employees like to promote their company as a great place to work and share job opportunities with their audience on social media.

This shows that if you are myopically focused on a limited set of metrics, you could miss out on other use cases and opportunities. Instead, let’s broaden our focus, even if it means taking into account elements that are more difficult to measure, and try to understand the wide-ranging benefits of mobilizing your workforce to enter the market digitally.


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