Here’s a question I hear a lot these days: “How can we get employees to start sharing brand content on social media?”

Employee advocacy has finally bubbled up into the consciousness of senior marketers.

In theory, that’s a good thing. After all, if employees aren’t willing to stand behind what your company does, why should customers? And getting cube-mates to amplify brand content on social media is a great way to break through the noise in a more authentic and cost-effective manner than advertising.

So what’s the problem?

Employee advocacy is not a flip of the switch thing — it takes more than sending out a company-wide email asking everyone to tweet out the latest press release.

If you want real and consistent participation across the organization, then employee advocacy needs to become part of your company culture. Here’s eight steps to help make that happen:

1.  Put a social media policy in place

You’ll want a social media policy in place before asking employees to act on behalf of the company. This means aligning your executives and legal counsel on what’s “appropriate” behavior, and what the staff can and can’t talk about on social media. And make sure you keep it updated since how people communicate on social is always changing. Not sure where to start? Read this.

2.  Create employee-friendly guidelines

Translate your social media policy into employee-friendly guidelines that encourage and empower everyone, while reminding them to be good citizens on social. This also sends a strong signal that the organization encourages (versus frowns upon) employees being active on social media.

3.  Rollout social media training

The social media guidelines should lay the groundwork for making advocacy part of your company culture. Include the topic of social media in employee onboarding and ongoing training sessions. Keep the training focused on the benefits of building a personal brand and using social media for work, including sharing company content.

4.  Get executive buy-in

No surprises here: employee advocacy won’t take hold without reinforcement from the top. It starts with the CMO who must champion it to the C-Suite, and lead by example with the marketing department. It’s also important for the staff to see executives sharing brand content … since execs are employees, too.

5.  Make it easy and voluntary to participate

Create a simple process for employees to advocate brand content on social media. A good approach is to create a daily or weekly email that encourages everyone to help out and includes links to content already shared on the company’s brand handles. That way it’s as easy as opening an email, clicking a link and then sharing from a favorite social network.

Also, give everyone a heads-up when good news is on the way. This creates anticipation and excitement in advance of what you’d like them to share.

Just remember, no matter what the process, don’t mandate or browbeat your staff into helping out, as this will undermine your efforts at creating a true culture of advocacy.

6.  Offer quality content

Develop high-quality content that customers and employees will want to share. Plus consider how often and what types of brand content you ask people to promote. Don’t ask employees to share everything all the time, allow them to decide what and when to share.

Bonus tip: Social marketing strategist and good friend Ted Rubin (@TedRubin) recommends curating content that’s just for employees to share with their social networks, even if it’s not company content. This helps them build their own personal brand and social media audience.

7.  Acknowledge employee advocates

Give shout-outs to your top cheerleaders during company meetings, in email newsletters and at team meetings. This acknowledges their efforts and signals that participating in employee advocacy may offer a leg-up come performance review time.

And it never hurts to make things fun with contests and prizes as further recognition and incentive.

8.  Consider investing in an employee advocacy program

A number of solutions are available that can help automate employee advocacy processes. For example, vendors such as Dynamic Signal and GaggleAMP can send email and mobile alerts when there’s new content to share, track employee engagement and social media impact, and even provide gamification elements as further incentive for everyone to participate.

Just remember you don’t need everyone in the company to become an employee advocate. With large organizations, getting even five to ten percent of your workforce to share brand content on a regular basis will have a huge impact.

[Editor’s note: this article was first published on CMSWire]