Thoughts on employee advocacy at the SMiLE conference

About the author

Kevin is a co-founder of PR Academy and editor/co-author of Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge. Kevin leads the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course. PhD, MBA, BA Hons, PGCE, FCIPR, CMgr, MCMI.

I ran two table discussion sessions on employee advocacy at the Social Media inside Large Enterprises (SMiLE) conference yesterday and the key points that emerged are summarised here.

The background to the emergence of employee advocacy is the decline in trust in CEOs and the stronger level of trust in ‘people like me’ (e.g. employees) identified in the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Firstly, advocacy is associated with employee pride and a belief in what the organisation does. It is dependent on being well informed and feeling inspired. This is an important prerequisite; if employees are not engaged they are unlikely to be advocates. This may sound obvious, but it emphasises the point that organisations have to work hard to engage employees first – their advocacy cannot be taken for granted.

When it comes to advocacy, participants said the expected level of employee advocacy will depend on the topic. Employees are more likely to post comments on their personal social media about products and services and CSR than annual company results. So, advocacy might work better in some sectors than others, for example organisations with simple products such as drinks rather than complex services such as energy and insurance.

Sensitivities about internal communication practitioners ‘promoting’ advocacy also emerged. So, no scripting was mentioned by some, whereas others felt comfortable in providing employees with content to share, with the proviso that it was down to employee discretion as to whether it was shared or not. This is linked to authenticity and employee understanding about policies relating to what they can say about their organisation on social media.

Some Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) include the functionality to enable content to easily be shared on external social media. However, one participant said this was switched off in his organisation as they did not want internal CEO briefings to be shared externally. One solution suggested for this is to have a dedicated channel where it is made clear that content can be shared externally. This point is, of course, related to the suggested blurring of lines between internal and external communication.

It became clear from the discussion that guidelines for employees on social media use need to be fully understood. But more importantly it is essential not to preach to employees, the best advocacy is when it is done with no prompting as it will inevitably come across as more authentic.

This summary is based on the input of 11 participants.