Beyond Engagement: Why People Follow the Leader


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Dear Business Leader:

employee advocacy and leadershipYour contribution to the success of employee advocacy in your organization is simple:

You have to believe in everything your program encompasses; and you must leave your people in no doubt that you believe.

That’s all. Sounds easy? If you say so…

Believing may be the easy part, once you understand what’s involved. But convincing your people? That isn’t just a matter of briefing your leadership team and expecting them to see the project through; it’s a whole-hearted – often 24/7 – commitment to the power of advocacy and all that it entails.

Are you ready? Let me remind you what to expect – or more importantly, what your people will expect of you:

Believe in the Power of Social Media

Whether you grew up with social media or whether you it crept up on you recently, it’s a fact of business life. A 21st-century business that doesn’t embrace social media is a business that’s out of touch. Understand what it can do for you and your business, use it personally and keep doing so.

As leader, your engagement with an advocacy program is critical to its success. Simply fulfilling the role of institutional CEO isn’t enough. While your employees don’t expect you to communicate as a peer, they do expect brand advocacy that’s consistent with the role – demonstrating shared identity and shared brand ownership.

A vital part of your personal contribution is endorsing the role of advocates – “advocating for advocacy” if you like. Giving recognition to individuals and validating the importance of their contributions is a must – sadly, something many leaders overlook. And don’t assume that once your program is running, you can back off – people will soon notice your absence from the front line.

CxO Social-Media Usage

Source: IBM Global C-Suite Study

Believe that Your People Will Use Social Media Wisely

Let go. Wash your hands of the fear that your employees will immediately broadcast content that reflects badly on your organization (or is simply inappropriate). Empowering them to join your corporate communication channels sends a strong message – that they have a vital part to play. Most people will repay that trust many times over.

You have another task to perform here too. Believe that the people you appointed to champion the program are up to the task – you chose individuals who are already ambassadors for your business and you trusted them to create, curate and distribute content for sharing. Let then use the tools you provided to do exactly that.

A word to the wise.

People will surprise you … right, they always do. Often, those you least expect to become full-blown evangelists for your business are those who step up to the plate. Don’t approach advocacy with a bunch of pre-conceived ideas – some things will work exceptionally well, others won’t. It’s the same with your people – just not always the way you expect – so give them room to experiment within the guidelines you set.

Believe that Advocacy is Right for Your Organization

In a recent – and eye-opening – study by Weber Shandwick, I read a list of reasons for CEOs NOT participating in social media. The most commonly quoted reason?

“It’s not typical for our region or industry.”

This was cited by more than one-third of respondents. Where are these businesses? What industries do they operate in? Which century are they in?

Social media, and its use for advocacy, is right for just about any organization you care to name. Yes, many of the high-profile examples are big-brand, consumer-focused programs, but that doesn’t prevent companies in some of the dry, unheralded business-to-business sectors from participating. Advocacy is not just for consumer-facing companies.

Some of the most effective B2B advocates I’ve encountered work in technical-support roles. These are people who, in years gone by, would spend most of their working lives dealing with customers by phone – one at a time. Although recognized as experts and sought-after accordingly, their expertise was available only on request. As advocates, encouraged to share their know-how and experience more widely, they are massively more effective – and head off many inbound calls by rendering them unnecessary.

Believe that There’s Life After ROI

Too many business leaders still use traditional tools when evaluating investment options – which goes some way to explaining the mind-set disconnect many C-level executives have with social media. Don’t be one of them.

I promised an article about social-media ROI, and there will be one. For now, accept that your hitherto unshakeable belief in a formal return-on-investment calculation needs re-evaluation. I know that CFOs everywhere as well as a good number of CEOs expect a like-for-like financial comparison when deciding which of Steve Jobs’ hypothetical 1,000 great ideas to ignore. Breaking news – that convenient comparison no longer exists.

Yes, you will get a welcome – and real – return from your investment in advocacy, but the chances are that you won’t be able to measure it in directly attributable revenue increases. You may, if you’re running a campaign solely on social media, demonstrate substantial cost savings compared with traditional channels. I’ve seen advocacy deliver successful recruitments at almost zero marginal cost; try persuading a head-hunter to waive the fee for finding you a new technical team …

Whatever else you do, don’t remain fixated on “ROI”. It’s no coincidence that it’s #2 on Weber Shandwick’s list of excuses.

Do You Believe?

If you’re a believer, then tell us about your experience of employee advocacy. Did you convert your people? Or did they convince you? Either way, share the secret with us – how did it happen? And, more importantly, what have you achieved? We’d love to know!

Image credits:

Column logo by Marie Otsuka

skyscrapers / shutterstock

CxO Social-Media Usage: IBM Institute for Business Value

Authored by:

Mike Bailey

Mike Bailey is a qualified engineer and freelance writer. During more than 30 years in industry he enjoyed regular, first-hand evidence of the impact of employee advocacy and is convinced of its power as a highly effective business practice.

Mike works one-to-one with a limited number of B2B clients, specializing in the small-business and start-up sectors. He also consults for SmarpShare, a …

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