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Employees can be your best brand advocatesOctober 18, 2020

Bhuvnesh Chawla, Chief Marketing & Growth Officer, Genesis BCW, talks about how to get an employee advocacy programme running in your organisation.

For most brands, marketing is about external stakeholders—consumers, partners, the government, and other key opinion leaders. In some cases, potential hires are also a target group. However, there is one stakeholder group that doesn’t get marketing attention—existing employees. Sure, they get addressed by internal communications, but what most marketers miss is how powerful employees can be in building a strong voice for a brand.

A company that has successfully managed to do that is Cairn Oil & Gas, Vedanta Ltd. Cairn is the largest oil and gas exploration and production company in India and accounts for a quarter of the country’s domestic crude oil production. But given the nature of the industry, the company is subject to a lot of regulatory and stakeholder scrutiny, and often faces unfavourable public opinions, especially on social media.

Since it is not a consumer brand, Cairn realized that it would benefit from fostering brand loyalty ownership and positive messaging from within – in order to develop positive perception towards the sector and company from the outside. With that in mind, they launched an integrated employee advocacy program.

To build an impactful and sustainable employee advocacy program, there are some steps you need to take:

Get the objective right

While the overall objective is to get employees to become your brand ambassadors, it is always good to specify a clear objective. In Cairn’s case, for instance, the objective was to use employees to counter instances of unfavourable public opinion on social media with positive stories from within: of the work that employees were doing, the community they were building, and the bond they had as an extended family.

Identify your brand squad

Ideally, you want every employee to be your brand advocate, but realistically, that is neither feasible nor necessary. You therefore, need to identify a set of people who have the following attributes:

  • They are loyal and passionate about their work
  • They are vocal on social media
  • They have a decent influence footprint To identify these people, consider running a survey—which is what Cairn did. Once you identify a smaller group, run a pilot with them.

Getting the squad up to speed

Your squad can’t just be let loose on the world at large. For Cairn’s program, more than 200 employees were given basic social media training on dos and don’ts, and were briefed about their role on social media as employees of Cairn:

  • Social media dos and don’ts: Posting as an individual and posting as a brand advocate are different activities. Employees need to be sensitized on issues such as what topics are a no-no, and what type of people or conversations to be wary of.
  • Messaging for the company: By the time they start posting, employees should know the answers to some key questions: What are some of the most critical topics to talk about? What is the brand’s narrative? What are some of the things you can’t talk about?

Turn employees into storytellers

Training employee advocates on what they can or can’t do is not enough. For them to really bring the proposition alive, the squad also needs to be shown how to weave a story together and build campaigns. In the case of Cairn, too, employees were encouraged to share their ideas for campaigns. The best content was picked up and amplified by Cairn’s social media team, which brought gratification to employees, and created a steady content stream for Cairn’s social handles. And best of all, this was all credible, relatable content.

In time, employee-sourced social media campaigns became one of the most vibrant streams of content for Cairn. Once the pandemic began, this content became even more impactful, showcasing how Cairn was focused on its people and community during this time. From CSR outreach, to videos by employees’ kids on safety norms, to increased engagement on the CEO’s social handle, the employee advocacy campaign really matured in this difficult period.

People connect with people, not with esoteric concepts. And nothing makes a brand more human than its employees. A well thought-through employee advocacy programme can really make a brand’s voice credible, strong, and unique.

Key Take-aways

  • Employees make a brand human. An employee advocacy program helps build a human and credible voice for a brand.
  • To build an impactful program, identify a core set of advocates through a survey.
  • Train the squad on the do’s and don’ts, as well as on the brand’s messages.
  • Help them in planning a campaign, and in executing it.

First published in the BrandZ Top 75 Most Valuable Indian Brands Report 2020. The report can be accessed here.