From engagement to empowerment – employee advocacy in the social economy

Jason Frank (MSLGROUP UK, London, UK)

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 10 August 2015



Frank, J. (2015), "From engagement to empowerment – employee advocacy in the social economy", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 14 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

From engagement to empowerment – employee advocacy in the social economy

Article Type: Strategic commentary From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 14, Issue 4

Jason Frank is CEO at MSLGROUP UK, London, UK.

Just as free, ubiquitous technology has put the consumer more in charge and undermined the traditional gatekeepers of information and influence, it is having similar democratising and empowering effects for employees. Employees are becoming the ultimate reputation makers or breakers in a world, where every organisation sells experiences rather than products and where the truth is more accessible and shareable than ever – particularly by those on the “inside”.

With that in mind, here are our top five tips for empowering your employees as brand advocates.

1. Remember the foundation is “engagement”

Employees simply do not become reputation makers unless they reach a certain threshold of “engagement” (the propensity of an employee to strive beyond their job specification to help their employer succeed). It is about discretionary contribution rather than old-fashioned concepts, such as satisfaction and loyalty. So what makes an employee engaged? In truth it ’is a subtle, shifting algorithm of line management, leadership, culture, working environment, pay and career prospects. And depending on which survey you look at, anywhere from 50-75 per cent of employees are actively “disengaged”. This is why it is critical that you recognise and embrace the defining role you and your team have to play in shaping culture, relationships, employee perception and – ultimately – behaviour.

2. Get inside the millennial mind

The emotional contract between employee and employer has changed beyond recognition. Employers are primarily seen as “enablers” who can help an individual to get further, faster and make a bigger impact on the world. We summarise this attitude as “Up, On or Out” – the minute they stop moving on or up, they are potentially out. This means that communications with employees have to answer the question “What’s in it for me?” Most employees do not get out of bed to make corporate visions and strategies happen, not unless they can see the resulting personal and professional benefits for them. So make those benefits more explicit, link the vision to the specific value for the employee and ultimately how they will go further by embracing that new initiative, vision or strategy.

3. Embrace the role of employees at the heart of the shift to content-led communications

Another seismic shift is increasingly putting the employee at the heart of communications. To succeed in today’s dis-intermediated world, more and more organisations are actively seeking to engage employees in finding, telling, writing, filming, publishing and sharing their stories and opinions or those of the brand/organisation. Research from the Reputation Institute indicates only 15 per cent of people trust messages from companies compared to 84 per cent who trust recommendations from people they know. Again the foundation stone is a certain threshold level of engagement, but above all, it is about creating a process and culture that permits, educates, enables, rewards and recognises the principle of creating and sharing content with the outside world. Naturally, that means you need to explain what ’is in it for them – how they can build their own brands, networks and “market value”.

4. Make advocacy simple

On average, employees are connected to 10 times more people than their organisations’ official channels, and we have found that brand messages can actually be shared 24 times more frequently when distributed by employees, versus official brand channels alone. We need to make the tools and channels simple and available, if we are to turn engaged employees into regular, active advocates. New software platforms sit at the heart of this, making it easier for people to share content that is served up to them through the social networks of their choice. The employer is in control but, to give Gen Y a little more incentive, these systems have built-in “gamification” elements, such as league tables that quantify people’s contributions and make sharing content competitive and fun. Companies like Deloitte, SAP, O2 and Mars are already using such employee advocacy tools successfully.

5. Think empowerment rather than simply engagement

To truly and fully harness the reputational power of employees – to ensure they are “reputation makers” – we need to think beyond engagement to the more dynamic concept of empowerment. A scary shift for many organisations, but an important one to remain competitive in the social economy. Let us assume a certain level of engagement: what do you do with it? How do you turn it into positive reputational impact embodied in continuous participation, contribution, sharing and advocacy? The answer to building business and communications success from the inside out lies in allowing, educating and empowering employees to take a growing role in your communications. And this will only happen if you take it seriously, make it easy and even make it fun. You need to make it something that employees recognise as good for them and their careers, not just their employers. This is what will cultivate an informed, engaged, inspired and enabled workforce that willingly gives discretionary effort, based on shared interests, values and rewards.

Employee Impact is a new employee advocacy tool that helps companies use the social reach and influence of their own people in a secure and simple way.

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