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What is employee advocacy, and how can it help you win?

Let's say you found a new café that served the best coffee you'd ever had. You'd tell your friends about it, go there on dates, or use it for schmoozing clients right? 

This is an example of consumer/brand advocacy, which is the practice of supporting and expressing confidence in specific products and services. At its peak, high brand advocacy essentially means becoming a household name, like Netflix subscriptions or Apple products. You might even have found this article after one of your co-workers said "˜just Google it.' 

But advocacy isn't just for consumers. A business's employees actually have the potential to be some of its biggest, most informed advocates, telling all who listen how great a place they work and how good a product/service/solution they offer.

So today, we're asking, what is employee advocacy, and how can it benefit your business?

What do we mean by employee advocacy?

Employee advocacy is when your people willingly and organically promote your organisation. 

While social media is undeniably a huge part of modern marketing and brand representation, employee advocacy is about a lot more than ordering your staff to like all of the business's online posts. 

Genuine employee advocacy stems from someone's intrinsic emotional attachment to their work. This comes from a two-way relationship between employer and employee build up around a few central pillars: trust, development  and pride, all helping to build better engagement in work.

As a result, highly engaged employees who are strongly aligned with the goals of the business are more likely to be advocates. Employees are also more likely to advocate for workplaces that support their wellbeing and provide them with a strong social connection with their colleagues.

One reason why you can't really fake employee advocacy is that it isn't purely an active process. Advocacy is also informed by our language choices, the experiences we share, and our general outlook on work as a whole. These are hard to police 24/7, so even if press-ganged into singing our praises, employees will show their true colours at some stage if not being authentic.  

If employees seem invested in and passionate about their work, it reflects well on whatever service they're providing.

What is employee advocacy: socialisation plays a big role in building emotional commitment make advocacy more likely.

What are the benefits of employee advocacy?

Beyond simply "˜feeling good' to hear your staff sing your praises, building up strong employee advocacy can benefit organisations in several ways:

  • Workplace culture: There's a mutually beneficial overlap between employee advocacy and good workplace culture. Paying attention to the needs of your staff and providing emotional support can drive productivity and help build a brand that employees want to advocate for. When an employee strongly supports the goals of their organisation, it gives them a stake in the company's success. This sense of shared ownership can push people to do their best work and grow stronger emotional ties to a business.
  • Talent acquisition: Whether you're advocating for your organisation's brand or not, you're always giving some sort of impression of it to the people around you. If they dislike their job or their place of work, it's going to give a negative impression to potential applicants.

Employees are seen as being able to speak authentically about a company's practices due to personal experience. In fact, staff members have been found more trustworthy than corporations according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. So having a high level of employee advocacy means that they can positively endorse the company as an employer to future applicants.

Also, if you employees are advocating for your company, it may well be they help you land great candidates simply by sharing vacancies with their friends and family. Who knows, their old friend from school may be the perfect person for that role in accounting. 

  • Quality of service: An employee Net Promoter Score (or eNPS) is a metric used that can be to assess employee experience and advocacy. As a result, it can also impact the more traditional Net Promoter Scores that are used to track customer sentiment, with Forbes highlighting a direct link between employee experience and customer satisfaction

Employees who advocate for an organisation tend to be more strongly aligned with its goals, and driven to provide an excellent service. While engagement and experience aren't actually the same thing, overall experience can significantly impact an employee's ability to engage with their role. 

Forbes' research shows that employees at companies with great customer service were 1.5 times more engaged than those at companies with lower rates of customer satisfaction. Companies with said engaged employees were able to outperform competitors by 147%.

  • Long-term loyalty: What is employee advocacy, if not a form of employee loyalty? If your staff members have high eNPS scores, it's a good indicator that they're fairly loyal to the organisation. 

Aside from heartily recommending it to other people, employees who are advocates for your business are likely to be especially invested in their roles. According to Forbes, more than three times as many recruits who were hired after employee referrals were still at their jobs three years later than those who came from job boards.

  • Improved engagement: One answer to the question, "œwhat is employee advocacy?" is that it's something we talked a bit about in our recent piece on the benefits of employee engagement. If you want to learn more, we'd recommend giving it a look. But basically, the sense of ownership and involvement they derive from advocating for the business drives employees to be more engaged in their role. For example, Altimeter found that when they surveyed how employees felt after sharing work-related content on social media, the most commonly selected response was "˜I feel more connected and enthusiastic about the company I work for.' 
What is employee advocacy: Creating an environment where employees can learn, develop, share and have some control are all key.

How do you improve employee advocacy?

Here's the real question, because like we said, trying to force employees to advocate isn't very effective. It's more about creating the kind of workplace that employees want to advocate for. Employees who have a sense of autonomy and self-control are more likely to be engaged in their work.

In the world of psychology, the defining theorem on motivation, Self-Determination Theory (SDT) suggests people have three intrinsic needs driving them to change:

  • Competence
  • Relatedness
  • Autonomy

Competence is fairly easy to understand. People feel the need to learn and master different skills to achieve their goals and access new opportunities. SDT suggests that this is what causes people to become invested in work that challenges them, because it gives them the feeling of room to grow.

Relatedness is an important aspect of both wellbeing and our workplace experience. Employees who are highly connected to their co-workers are more likely to advocate for the organisation. If they recommend it to a friend, they're not just suggesting a satisfactory employer, they're inviting someone to join their other social group.

Creating a workplace culture that targets both competency motivators (through L&D opportunities for example) and relatedness (a fun, open environment with social elements), are therefore important. 

But autonomy might be the most relevant aspect for us to talk about. 

We've touched on the sense of ownership that employee advocacy can create. When employees have the sense that they're in control of their work, it can really drive them to get emotionally invested in it. So if you really want employees to advocate for the brand, giving them a sense of personal responsibility and for and control over their own tasks and goals can go a long way.

If you want your employees to have sense of autonomy, then having good communication and feedback is absolutely essential. It's hard to expect employees to have a sense of control over their work if they can't raise issues with their manager and don't see outcomes from them sharing their experiences.

It's not enough to have the occasional one-to-one meeting. You need to check in with your employees regularly to solve the problems impeding their engagement and help them to establish personal goals in alignment with the brand's objectives. Supporting personal growth through regular feedback can not only boost advocacy, but also reduce turnover for your organisation.

We hope we've been able to shed some light on why employees can make for a business's most reliable advocates. For more on employee engagement, and regular communication and feedback can help your business grow, why not visit the Weekly10 blog?

Want to turn your people into proud and loud employee advocates? See how a focus on continuous feedback and performance management can help.