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Employee advocacy: It’s more than just a communication buzz-word – any business worth its salt wants its employees to be believers in what they do.

It is very easy to remind your staff what NOT to say in public. It is less acceptable (and immediately counter-effective) however, to ask employees outright to big you up on their personal platforms. Of course it is necessary, particularly since the advent of social media, to have a formal comprehensive agreement to not discuss details of contracts, clients etc that could damage relationships and feed the competition. Yet turning employees into active advocates of your brand takes a little more work.

Employee advocacy is a two way street, it’s not something you should be thinking of with solely the benefits of the brand reputation in mind - you need to start with happy staff. There is no point in seeking out pricey employee advocacy software packages etc. if you haven’t got this all important foundation in place.

While there may be no valuable way of strategizing advocacy itself, you can encourage it indirectly. There are many engagement strategies you can employ to ensure your staff are engaged, have a voice and feel valued – all essential to help inspire employee advocacy.

For some inspiration let’s look at a couple of Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies To Work For.

Meetings of minds

If your weekly/monthly/quarterly meetings are fast becoming employee nap times, it’s time to rethink your approach. Focus on two-way communications. A great example of this is NetApp, who have been in the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work Forconsistently for the past 12 years.

A corporate culture based on two-way communication was a primary element of the business plan upon which NetApp was founded. Part of this is the “All Hands” meetings, which take a forward-looking approach with inspiring remarks and a call to action, and even feature additional speakers, such as customers and other special guests. The meetings are also streamed via live video to the company’s offices around the world.

Keep the conversation two-way in meetings, by offering different perspectives on the facts, and ensure that each employee comes with their own feedback. A way to do this is via a regular award, such as ‘success story of the week’, encouraging attendees to nominate a colleague or share something they are personally proud of. This make the meeting more of a collaborative effort, and naturally, they will want to share the fact they won the award with others, most likely on social media.

Make it multi-channel

Cisco Systems drive messaging with infographics, social media, webinars and video. They put the control in their employees’ hands, allowing them to access information relevant to them in their medium of choice. The core aspect of Cisco’s internal communications is video, and again this is two-way: they present short and punchy 3-4 minute videos with a feedback forum for people to give input.

Maintaining a continuous conversation with your employees – via video, newsletters, blogs, podcasts, radio programs, employee surveys and intranet postings – is more likely to make them want to keep the conversation going outside of the workplace.

Measurable mouthpieces

Of course, while all this conversation and engagement makes for a happy environment, you still want to be able to measure the success of your efforts, and find out whether the advocacy you encourage is providing a return on investment. This can be done simply. By establishing a unique company hashtag and encouraging employees to use it, for example, you have a way of keeping track of what is being said on social media, and how far it is reaching.

Efforts to encourage employee advocacy are proven provide real returns. Gallup research shows that organizations in the top decile of engagement outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share, and have 90 percent better growth trend than their competition.

A recent case study by AT&T goes a step further, breaking down the numbers of its social advocacy program:

2300 members> 28,381 actions> 546,475 audience engagements = $1,379,110 value

So what does employee advocacy mean to you now? Rather a lot, we hope! Approaching your internal communications as a two-way deal, providing stimulation and value for your employees, gives them something good to talk about – providing you with an even better ROI.

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