Beyond Engagement: How to Gauge the Ideal Content Mix for Employee Advocacy


The question was simple enough.

“How,” asked Gary Hyman of Social Media Visionaries, “do you determine the [ideal] mix of content for employees to distribute?”

But the answer? It’s a can of worms – or it could be if you get it wrong.

Gary tweeted me during Pilot to Deployed, an SMT webinar on scaling social via employee advocacy. I had just advised strongly against unleashing a torrent of business-related content on people – an approach that typically appeals to shortsighted leaders who see advocacy only as an extension of their marketing teams. Most people are savvy enough to recognize when their employer is set on manipulation, and they vote with their feet.

Since no two organizations are identical, the easy answer to Gary’s tweet is: “It depends;” however, this key question deserves better than that. Let’s take a look at a framework that is a great starting point for curating high-quality shareworthy content.

People Only Share What They Want to Share

Participation in an advocacy program has to be voluntary; whoever wrote that “one volunteer is worth ten pressed men” knew what he was talking about. If you’re serious about driving engagement, your content must appeal not only to your employees, but also to their social connections, or it will remain unloved, unshared and unread. 

Don’t forget the groundwork either. In a typical company, most people won’t already be using social media for business purposes so you need to train them. Getting that hurdle out of the way – and for further reading on training in advocacy, see my earlier article featuring IBM – allows you to focus on finding great content. Here’s where the “It depends” comes in.

What comes across as a topical article of general interest in a B2B service company may well present as a full-blown business piece in a consumer-facing environment. What matters is the perception of the individuals who have to decide whether or not to share it; how you dress content up or categorize it isn’t the deciding factor. Unless you have a clear picture of your audience personas – both your employees and their connections – you’ll likely get it wrong.

The bottom line? Time spent understanding your audience and targeting your content accordingly is a hugely valuable investment.

It’s All in the Mix

The 4-1-1 rule, originally coined for best-practice sharing on Twitter, provides a solid baseline. It takes a little tweaking to fit different organizations, but it’s a great rule-of-thumb for content curators needing guidance. In the advocacy arena, the rule plays out a little differently, but the same principles hold good.

With your audience personas firmly in mind, allocate your content to one of three categories:

  • “Hard” promotional:- content related to a specific product or service with a clear call-to-action
  • “Soft” promotional:- content that provides background or context to the products or services your organization offers or the sectors in which it operates
  • Topical general-interest items:- other professional content, often third-party authored, that will likely appeal to both your employees and their social networks

Alongside every one piece of hard-promotional content that you make available for sharing, add no more than one soft-promotional item and at least four topical items. You can pretty much guarantee that your people won’t share them in this exact ratio, but you won’t end up with a content hub that’s wall-to-wall with business-related items; once you have a better idea of your employees’ sharing patterns, you can adjust your feed accordingly.

Let Your People Have Their Say

Whatever employee-advocacy platform you’re using, your people should have the option to put forward content for addition to the hub. Whether you appoint gatekeepers to review and approve these suggestions or simply allow them all, pay serious attention to the items your people submit. They are pure gold …

… because?


  • you can now paint an accurate picture of the things your employees consider shareworthy; use this to reinforce or modify your content personas and to refine the content you curate – making it more likely to be shared;
  • it allows you to understand your employees’ sharing patterns and to adjust your 4 1 1 ratio more swiftly than would otherwise be possible;
  • it saves time – probably your time – searching for content that meets your criteria for uploading to your platform. Curating sufficient content to satisfy the needs of even a mid-sized advocacy program isn’t a trivial task, so grasp anything that makes it easier;
  • you can target specific subject areas that are of demonstrable interest to your employees as well as being in line with your business objectives; remember – people only share what they want to share, so make it easy for them;
  • identifying regional preferences becomes easier to manage; highlighting content that appeals to specific territories or functions makes it harder for your people to miss.

On top of all that, it’s a great way to build and sustain momentum. Knowing that “their” content has been approved for sharing more widely – and seeing it shared by others – is a great motivator for people. If you’re lucky, your biggest problem may be deciding which pieces to approve …

The Bottom Line

Focus your efforts on driving engagement and sustaining momentum; these two factors are crucial to your program’s success; success here gives your content time to find its place. As I also reminded the webinar audience:

In advocacy, you can mold content around engagement, but without engagement your content is worthless.

Do share your experience of curating great content for your people. If you have any tips that would help make the task easier for others, we’re all ears!

Beyond Engagement is an exclusive Social Media Today column published every other Thursday.

Image credits:

Column logo by Marie Otsuka
Valuable Original Content by Search Engine People Blog

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