In recent years there has been growing interest on the part of business owners and consultants in how to build brand visibility and value beyond the traditional channels of PR, advertising, and other conventional marketing channels. Surprisingly, the answer lay in an underutilized and – dare we say it? – often undervalued resource: employees.

This quest for gaining greater value in the eyes of both potential customers and employee prospects led to something called employee advocacy – the concept of using employees to actively promote the business or organization, primarily through social media, as a part of their jobs. Problem was, few companies knew how to go about it in a disciplined, organized, and effective manner. What they lacked was a formal employee advocacy program.

Recently, Hinge Research Institute teamed with Social Media Today to study the employee advocacy issue. Together, we conducted a comprehensive online survey of 588 professionals who use social media for business purposes. Most (83%) were operating in the business-to-business (B2B) space. The objective was to explore the potential of employee advocacy so companies could make well-informed decisions about how to harness employee expertise and credibility and put them to work.

The power of employee advocacy lies in the human connection it makes. In a society that is continuing to undergo digital transformation, people still instinctively seek out and value human contact. In business, that means clients and prospects trust a face more than a logo. They’re looking for businesses and people they can trust, with the expertise and thought leadership they’re seeking.

So how are these prospects finding and researching organizations these days? Through social media. And, fortunately for marketers, social media is the perfect medium for promotion. It enables companies and their employees to effectively demonstrate expertise and even company culture.

Wait a minute – why is being able to demonstrate company culture important? Because our research has shown that finding and keeping good people is the number two priority for most organizations and being able to determine if a company looks like a good place to work, along with being an industry leader (there’s that expertise thing again) are key for attracting valuable employees.

If you’re ready to implement an employee advocacy program, do not assume that your employees know how to use social media in a business environment. In our Employee Advocacy research, nearly ¾ of respondents said that they had not received any training on how to engage professionally on social networks. On the other hand, more than half of firms with formal employee advocacy programs, those most likely to be successful, provide social media training.

When asked to identify what training would be most beneficial, using social media to create engagement topped the list. Other leading educational topics on the wish-list included social media training for specific social channels, content marketing strategy, and generating and nurturing leads.

A few tips for more effective employee advocacy

It should be stressed that using social media properly in an employee advocacy program goes far beyond merely opening LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts and creating a profile page for each. Every social media channel serves a specific audience and purpose –they are not one-size-fits-all. To provide some examples, let’s take a brief look at two of the most popular platforms:

LinkedIn: By and far the most popular social media outlet for business professionals, LinkedIn is an ideal place to demonstrate thought leadership. To do that, it’s important to identify and join key groups. Do this for every expert in your organization, based on their individual expertise and topics relevant to them and with which your firm wants to be associated. Then post appropriate content of value to those groups on a regular basis to build credibility.

Facebook: Forget animal videos and food porn – Facebook is an ideal platform to demonstrate company culture and reveal the fun, even quirky, side of your organization. This is not the place for serious issue discussions. Keep it interesting and lively and you’ll quickly gather friends and followers.

Respondents also wanted training on how to motivate employees to become brand advocates on social media. So how should you do that? Firm associates believe that communicating the importance of social media provides the biggest incentive to participate. After all, employees want to know their efforts will pay off.

The key to an effective employee advocacy social media campaign is to have a content strategy and stick to it. Develop a balanced blend of self-promotional and objective, thought-leadership pieces. Promote other companies’ relevant posts and they, in turn, will promote yours. Keep a consistent, steady flow of high-value content flowing from your employee experts.

Setting up an employee advocacy program is hard work, but remember – the benefits for your firm and employees are well worth it. It will pay off in the end. You will have a happy, engaged workforce that’s respected as thought leaders within your industry and your bottom line will benefit.