The launch of an employee advocacy program is a big occasion. Time, technology and budget have been allocated to this program and now it is time to launch! As they say, you never get a second chance at a first impression so how you position and showcase this program is how employees will perceive it from then on. Positioning during an employee advocacy launch is critical to ensuring high adoption and early success. An interactive and informative launch helps employees understand what the program is meant to accomplish, and how it’s going to help them.
In this blog, we sit down with two members of the PostBeyond team to discuss everything you need to know when launching new an employee advocacy program. Mark Sonnbichler is our Sr. Sales Director, who is also an equity shareholder in PostBeyond since late 2015. Mark has been responsible for driving strategic enterprise client acquisition and retention over the past 4 years. And Mitch Kaster, one of PostBeyond’s Customer Success Managers. Mitch has worked on expanding PostBeyond’s large enterprise accounts by sharing his expertise in strategy, communications, and best practices. Mitch and Mark have spent 3 years working collaboratively to deliver value and success to key strategic accounts.
Now the introductions are out of the way, let’s dive in …
What 5 keys factors make for a strong launch?
1. Define program goals and matching KPIs: There needs to be clear business goals and ways to measure the impact of the program. These goals are often increasing brand awareness, generating leads and/or improving employee engagement.
2. Develop a content strategy: employee advocacy without enough content in the platform is like a car without fuel. If you want employees to share you need to give them content to share, not only that but content they feel comfortable associating with their personal brand.
3. Gain leadership buy-in: As leaders, employees look to them for guidance – they lead the charge. Because of this, making an executive the face of a program instantly adds credibility and get employees to sit up and listen. Make sure to show them an actionable plan for long-term program success. Executive participation in the advocacy program is the first “wave” of implementation and drives a “trickle-down” effect. Exec buy-in also helps to “build a culture of content” which can be a very powerful way to help build stronger and more enthusiastic thought leaders throughout various divisions of the organization.
4. Onboard executives first: Having proper support plays a major role in early adoption and success. PostBeyond can help by delivering custom-tailored executive training to ensure that your senior leaders are onboarded properly and clearly understand the “What’s in it for ME?” value proposition. Once your executive team is onboarded, it is much more appetizing for your end-users to engage. I mean, who doesn’t want to pass their VP on the leaderboard?!
After your Execs have been successfully on-boarded, identify strong initial advocates. Look for those in customer-facing roles that understand the importance of building a personal brand as well as those who are socially savvy. If employees are already bought into brand-building on social media then the process of getting them up and running on an employee advocacy program will be a smoother process.
A sizeable segment of employees – 21% – are taking positive actions on behalf of their employer and nearly no negative actions. For a workforce of 5,000, this means that approximately 1,000 employees are enthusiastically letting others know they stand behind their employer. – Weber Shandwick & KRC Research
5. A clear explanation of employee benefits: What’s in it for me? Each employee depending on department and seniority will have different motivations and willingness to share. It is important to not only understand this but address it. Showcase to employees the benefits they can gain as well as develop content that will help employees achieve these goals. This is a critical aspect of the program as we’ve seen the programs that flourish have introduced advocacy as a solution to become more productive and successful. We have had past executives be skeptical of the advocacy program but after our customer success team trains and implements the program, these “late adopter” executives often become the biggest program champions. They see that PostBeyond can help streamline their social media thought leadership to the point they start productive conversations which can translate into real business outcomes.
In addition to what makes a strong launch, what are things to avoid?
Not securing any executive buy-in is a major issue. If employees don’t feel that the organization is strongly in support of this initiative then they won’t be as inclined to invest their time into seeing its success. It’s not only executive buy-in that is important – it is also critical to have real participation in the advocacy program by executive stakeholders. They need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Employee advocacy is no longer considered a nice to have program delegated to a summer intern – it is now being managed by experienced social media, digital and HR professionals running programs as a strategic initiative. One that can drive the share of voice, drive awareness, lead generation, website traffic, and helps position the organization as a vendor and employer of choice.
What are the different types of launches we see customer use?
Choosing a small number of ideal advocates and using them to run a smaller version of employee advocacy. Rather than trying to secure all stakeholders from every functional area of the business to add budget into the advocacy program – we oftentimes purposely help one department roll out the advocacy program on a smaller scale with a smaller paid pilot program for the purposes of establishing a proof of concept. Once the rest of the organization can see analytics and business results other business units often put their hand up and ask if they can participate in a larger rollout of the advocacy program. In fact, we can model out and project what the increased earned media value and additional awareness will occur if the existing small-scale advocacy program expands to the rest of the organization.
Pros: can act as a testing ground to see what works and what doesn’t.
Cons: takes longer to see results as the pool sharing is smaller.
Employee Advocacy Launch Tied to Company Event
Often companies will build their advocacy program around a big company event such as a rebrand or big start of year sales kickoff. This ties the advocacy program to an event that already has buy-in and excitement.
Pros: Generates a lot of buzz and excitement as it builds off the credibility of another better known internal/external event and leverages the voice of executives.
Cons: without the right follow-up, the event could overshadow the program and it could get lost in the shuffle of employees day to day routine. Be wary if an event is too far in the future. If building a social media presence is a key issue now then it would be smarter to launch the program well in advance as a soft-launch (often a pilot program) and then hosting a larger reveal tied into the big company event that is 6-12 months out.
Creating a contest around the program and launch is a great way to generate excitement. Examples include: giving shout-outs to your top brand advocates during town-hall and team meetings, VIP luncheons, gift cards and sharing leaderboard status on social media and intranet.
Pros: People like to win, people are competitive and people like free stuff. Tying a program to fun is a great way to generate buzz and start getting employees on the right track in terms of sharing. Employee Advocacy tools should have built-in gamification features to recognize individual and efforts.
Cons: employees could become solely focused on winning prizes and lose sight of the intrinsic motivation for sharing.
Tips if you have to launch remotely
Know your audience. Launching to a remote workforce in different geographic areas is no easy feat. If another technology was launched in the past few years to this remote group, then learn what worked from those program admins so that you can onboard employee advocacy efficiently. Make use of existing communication methods that these employees prefer.
For example, team huddles, intranet landing pages, weekly status reports. Use these tried-and-true mediums to start introducing the program. Host an online Lunch & Learn with the program manager and your Customer Success rep. End the training call with actionable next steps: sign up, browse content, connect your networks, and share your first post. Be sure that you keep in training guides or materials on hand for future use.
Host social media workshops, such as:
- How to build an effective LinkedIn profile
- Key differences between social networks
- Set up a photo booth that lets employees take new headshots for their LinkedIn profile.
- Create a one-page handout with basic details of your employee advocacy platform and how to access it so the team can bring it back to their desk with them.
- Mobile-first launches are ideal for teams who are regularly out of the office, such as frontline staff at retail locations, or sales reps who are on the road.
How do you know what type of launch is best for you?
There really is no right or wrong answer to this question; in large part, the answer is tied to company culture. This is also where the expert PostBeyond Customer Success team member can help you determine what would work best for your organization based on our hundreds of advocacy program launches over the past 5 years.
What should you expect from your employee advocacy vendor?
Your Customer Success Manager (CSM) should be your biggest ally when planning your launch! Think of your CSM as a close friend – when you need to lean on someone for help, advice, strategy, that person should be there for you. Your CSM is going to be instrumental in ensuring that your launch is smooth, timely, effective, and engaging. Expect constant communication (via email and scheduled calls), strategic planning sessions, and ultimately amazing training sessions. Your CSM should be willing and able to lead a webinar-style training session, attend an in-person launch, and even host Q&As for your end-users. It won’t end with the launch, either. Your CSM should be there every step of the way post-launch to deliver Quarterly Business Reviews, ongoing adoption strategy, gamification planning, and everything in between to make sure you and your team are getting the most value and success out of your program.
The biggest piece of advice when it comes to launches
Make it fun, make it valuable – building a strong launch is all about showcasing the value employees can gain from advocacy as well as generating enough buzz that they are excited to give it a shot. Successful programs need to feature great, insightful content that will help your employees be more productive and successful. There also needs to be a constant flow of new content added to the program in a timely manner. If this program is to be successful, the program administrator(s) must be proactive and thoughtful around developing and executing an employee-first content strategy for the participating employees. In the most recent two years, we have really noticed that executives are recognizing that advocacy programs are a strategic initiative that can help them have a “leg-up” on their competition.
A success story of one customer’s launch
One example is Turbonmic who tied their social selling initiative and launch of PostBeyond to their huge sales kickoff. Why did it work? Employees could feel the excitement and see the executive buy-in. After launching Turbonomic’s employee advocacy program, they were able to onboard their entire organization. Within 90 days, they exceeded their goal of users sharing by 80%. As a result, they generated over 5,600 total shares with almost 5X the engagement per post.
“We strive to have an active social media presence during our trade shows. At one event, we shared 16 different posts across all of our corporate social channels that reached 15,000 impressions. By enabling our team with 3 posts through employee advocacy, we reached 56,000 impressions. It was an impactful 4X difference in our brand awareness.” Megan Gay – Marketing Program Manager
In a nutshell, launching an Employee Advocacy program is a program that requires thoughtfulness and effort; however, if you invest the time and resources in implementing and executing a thoughtful program the benefits can be significant and can drive real business outcomes. Starting the program off on the right foot is a key step to ensuring the program successfully attains its goals and choosing the proper launch strategy will effectively, on-board, nurture and engage your potential employee brand advocates.
Not sure where to start? Watch Episode 1 of our Launch to Scale series with Mitch: