How to Develop a Successful Social Media Advocacy Program That Will Increase Brand Awareness

Social media employee advocacy.

It’s a buzzword that has been floating around marketing teams for the past couple of years.

While these types programs can be dramatically effective for a plethora of different reasons, including…

…teams are still hesitant to adapt them because…

  • There is risk of posting inappropriate content
  • They are afraid the team won’t want to participate
  • They already have enough work on their plate

Whether you’ve started a program with your team and it’s turned into a chaotic mess, or you’re simply not sure how to start, you’ll learn about the resources and tools you need to turn your own employees into your biggest brand advocates.

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First Things First: Get Your Free Social Media Employee Advocacy Startup Package

Before we start, make sure you download our Social Media Employee Advocacy Startup Package. When you download it, you’ll get:

  • An pre-set email template to help you ask your co-workers to join the program
  • A PowerPoint deck to help introduce and train your new employee advocates
  • A brainstorming worksheet that advocates can use to determine their online voice
  • A worksheet that your employees can use to remind themselves of when they need to send social messages

That’s right, we did all the work for you.

You’re welcome.


What Is Social Media Employee Advocacy?

A social media employee advocacy program allows you to use your employee’s vast social networks to help promote your company or brand. These employees are called “social employees” or “employee advocates.”

There are a lot of definitions of social employees, but the definition that captures it best is from The Social Employee by Mark and Cheryl Burgess:

“Social Employees can utilize social media tools to act as authentic brand ambassadors in order to cultivate unique relationships with individuals where the end goal isn’t simply a purchase action but a dynamic exchange of ideas.”

It’s a long definition, I know.

But, the definition above captures both what a social employee is, and their purpose within your organization.

It’s also important to note before we continue that when we refer to social media employee advocacy platforms, we’re talking about Twitter and LinkedIn.

Let’s continue, shall we?

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10 Steps To Starting Your Own Employee Advocacy Program

Now that you know what an employee advocacy program is we’re going to move on to how to start your own program. The following steps will walk you through how to convince your team to join you, and the process you need to follow in order to get your program off on the right foot.

Step 1: Identify Strong Candidates for Your Employee Advocacy Program

Whether you’ve started your program and it flopped, or you’re just trying to get your feet off the ground, having the right people on your team is crucial to the initial success of your program.

Therefore, check off the following before you start:

  1. Pick a group of 10 people who you think would be good initial adopters of the program
  2. Narrow that list down to five
  3. Send the introductory email to those five people

Depending on the size of your organization, the number of your initial adoptors may vary.

We would recommend starting off with five, and growing the program from there. Five may seem like a small number, but there’s a lot of work that goes into setting up this program. Start small, you can always grow. Not to mention, you could run into a too many cooks in the kitchen type of problem. Don’t create that problem for yourself, trust me on this one.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. What qualities should I be looking for the initial adopters of my employee advocacy social media program?

A potential employee advocate should check off at least three of the following:

  1. Eager to learn
  2. Social media savvy
  3. Passionate about their job
  4. Great writing skills
  5. Has a wide knowledge base about the company
  6. Is already active on LinkedIn, Twitter, or both
  7. Is actually excited about the program and the potential it can bring to their department

Blog-Breonna-SocialMeidaAdvocacy-1

These are just a few of the qualities you will want to look for in your new social media employee advocacy program participants. Remember, you want to narrow it down to the best of the best so your program has a great jumping off point.

A quick warning before you start your list.

Do not, under any circumstances, force an employee to be a part of your employee advocacy program.

No one likes being forced to do anything.

It’s like forcing a 4 year old to eat anything that’s green.

It’s not gonna happen.

No one likes being forced to do anything. It's like forcing a 4 year old to eat anything that's green.

If you force your employees to become your brand advocates, your program becomes in-genuine, and your potential consumers will see that coming from a mile away.

So how do you approach your employees so that’ll they come and hear you out?

Grab your free email template that complements this post to customize and send to potential employee advocates. Feel free to personalize it to each person you’re sending it too. It may take a bit more time, but the personal touch really helps.

Or you could just copy and paste the email from the social media employee advocacy kit.

To Do:

  1. Make a list ten employees who you believe would be a good fit for your program
  2. Narrow the list down to five
  3. Send initial introduction email (Grab it from the kit that complements this post)

Step 2: Introduce The Employee Advocacy Program To Your Team

Why do you need to introduce the program to your employees?

Well, first of all, you need to ask them if they want to participate. Check out that email template from above to help get your started.

Secondly, think about their schedule. They’re probably already swamped with a giant list of things to do. Imagine if your boss came to you and said, “Hey, I need you to spend about 3 hours a week tweeting about our company.”

You’d probably say no. Who wants extra work? No one.

Being an employee advocate is not an easy task. It’s one that requires dedication and time. Most importantly, it’s a task that needs to be taken on voluntarily.

So how do you convince your employees to take on extra work?

Incentivize it.

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I’m gonna get personal here for a second. When someone puts a competitive twist on things I’m immediately hooked. I have to win. I want to come out on top.

Obviously, I’m pretty competitive person.

Competitive Wii tennis

Maybe your employees are the same way, and if so you can capitalize on that. Whether it’s a bonus, fun retreats, or even company swag, having a way for your employees to get rewarded will help them be more open to the possibility of participating in the program.

So you’ve got everyone in the room.

Now what?

A presentation, maybe?

You don’t have time to create that.

Don’t worry, we did that for you. Download it here.

Step 3: Determine The Voice Of The Employees Who Will Be Participating In The Program

If your employee advocates sound like a corporate robot, that’s what your consumer/customer fan base is going to think of them as.

That’s not a good thing.

Your employees need to bring their unique voice and perspective in order to breathe fresh life into your content.

So how do you do this?

Bring your employees to the table.

Schedule a short meeting, 15 minutes maximum to brainstorm and finalize an employee voice. You could even just swing by their desk when they have a minute or two to spare.

Remember you want these meetings to be effortless and easy. The less this program interferes with their daily schedule the better.

Once you’re in your meeting ask the following two questions and have them record their answers on the one-pager that is in the attached kit.

  1. What are five personality traits that make you great at your job?
  2. What are five personality traits that are not you?

Once they have those written down have them pick their top three. Those become the voice of the employee online.

An example is below.

For a sales manager (let’s call him Bill), his list could look like:

  • Confident but not arrogant
  • Silly but not unprofessional
  • Informative but not pushy

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Still stuck?

Let me use myself as an example.

I created my professional Twitter profile during my senior year of college because I wanted my potential new employers to know that:

  1. I was knowledgeable about social media and knew how to use it.
  2. I wanted to stand out among other applicants and find additional ways to showcase my personality.

So when it came to creating my voice I had to answer the following three questions:

  1. Who am I and what is my personality like?
  2. Am I passive in my opinions or unafraid to state them clearly?
  3. If a potential employer or professional took thirty seconds to look at my profile what would they think about me?

Blog-Breonna-SocialMeidaAdvocacy-3

Have your employees try and think along the same mindset.

Remember, don’t give them the answers. This is all about them.

Have them fill out the worksheet in the kit that complements this blog post, and attach it to a desk, cubicle wall, or wherever they will see it often. This will act as a gentle reminder in case they get stuck on what to post.

To Do:

  1. Print out voice brainstorming worksheet from kit
  2. Schedule a short meeting with participating employees or drop by there desk
  3. Brainstorm what their voice will be
  4. Finalize voice structure and record on worksheet

Step 4: Create A Username Convention

When most companies start their social media employee advocacy program, they’ll usually identify their employees with a naming convention. Usually this means incorporating the company name into the Twitter handle somehow.

It is important to note that once you pick a naming convention, you stick with it.

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For example, our friends at Onsharp, a digital marketing and website development company in our home state of North Dakota, has an active social employee program. The handles for each of their employees is @Onsharpname.

They cover a wide variety of topics, and are also able to show off their company culture. This not only helps increase their overall credibility, but if you have a potential employee looking into the company, they have a chance to see genuine interactions that happen within the team.

But it’s not just small businesses using username conventions.

Discovery Benefits is making a huge mark on the insurance industry. We recently interviewed their marketing manager, Abby Boggs-Johnson, for our Actionable Marketing Podcast. In it, Abby mentions how her sales team has started a series of social media employee advocacy profiles that are helping them connect to their customer base.

Podcast episode header

By creating these unique connections between the sales team and their customers, Discovery Benefits is able to showcase genuine interactions which can allow people to build trust in the company. Like Onsharp, Discovery Benefits has a naming convention @DBIname.

It would be easy to say, “Well, these are smaller companies.” What about big Fortune 500s? Have they tried a social media employee advocacy program? Actually, some Fortune 500s were a few of the earliest adopters. One of them was Adobe.

Adobe’s program still exists but unlike Discovery Benefits and Onsharp, Adobe doesn’t have a naming convention. Most of their employees have the @Adobe programming they work for listed in their handle.

Why would Adobe forgo a naming convention? The company is huge, and because there are so many different official Adobe product accounts, it would be impossible to keep one single convention among all the different products.

So if you’re a smaller company with one main Twitter account, you should have a naming convention. But if you’re marketing for a major corporation with multiple official Twitter accounts, use your bio to identify which major company profile you are associated with.

But Breonna, how do I create my naming convention?

Don’t worry, I have you covered.

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Below is a list of ten naming conventions. Pick one that you think will work best for your company. Some names will be too long. Remember, Twitter has a character limit for it’s usernames, so don’t be afraid if you have to use initials or abbreviations.

  1. @CompanyName
  2. @Company_Name
  3. @CompanyAcroynmName
  4. @CompanyInitialsName
  5. @Name_CompanyName
  6. @NameCompanyName
  7. @NameAtCompany
  8. @NameFromCompany
  9. @NameFrom_Company
  10. Company handle in bio

To Do:

  1. Go through naming convention list
  2. Choose a convention and make sure it fits under Twitter’s 15 character handles

Step 5: Create Consistent Profile and Cover Photo Images

One of the great ways that you can help distinguish your social media employee advocates is to have a matching profile style image and cover photo.

Not only does this help distinguish your actual social employees online, it gives it a nice, clean, polished and professional look to your social accounts.

Profile images should be:

  • Headshot style—shoulders and above
  • Contain the same background
  • Any editing style applied to the headshot photo should be the same throughout

Here are a couple examples from our team. This is Chris St. Amant, UI/UX Desginer:

ChrisStAmant@2x

And Tyler Brazier, Software Engineer:

TylerBrazier@2x

Like the profile images, cover photos should be:

  • Clean and informative
  • Inviting
  • The same throughout all profiles

They should look like this:

Example of a cover photo

Or this:

Another example of a cover photo

Everything is clean and consistent.

Just the way we like it.

It’s important to note that once the standard is set for the profiles, it needs to be followed throughout every single one of them.

Why is this consistency important?

It helps users and your customers find your profiles. It also acts as a minor defense system against people who may try to impersonate the account.

Once you’ve got your headshots and cover images created, you can move on to account set up.

To Do:

  1. Meet with graphic designer and document headshot and cover photo requirements
  2. Schedule time for employees to have headshots taken
  3. Review headshots and cover photos for final approval

Step 6: Set Up Your Social Accounts

Now that you’ve got your team on board and their voice has been determined, you’re ready for the fun part. Setting up your profiles.

Whether your team is working with Twitter, LinkedIn or both, how you set up the accounts is incredibly important. For some people, this will be the first interaction they ever have with one of your employees.

You want your bios to be short and sweet, as well as original. Everyone talks about how they love coffee and traveling. Challenge your employee advocates to think outside the box with another brainstorm session.

Have them write down or think about the following:

  • What does their online voice sound like? How can their bio reflect that?
  • They may love coffee and traveling but what is something unique about them?
  • What position do they hold within the company?
  • Do they have a hobby, favorite book series etc, that they will sometimes tweet about?

Have them think about some of these questions so they can incorporate them to make a unique bio for their profiles.

For example, my professional Twitter bio looks like this:

Example of a professional Twitter bio

In it, I talk about my field of experience, my passion for theatre, my current position, my alma mater and for good measure I throw in a bit about my Harry Potter obsession.

This simple bio does a few things:

  1. It establishes my area of expertise and the repertoire I tweet about.
  2. It adds personality. Not only do you know that I’m a Content Writer for CoSchedule, you also know that I love theatre and Harry Potter, among other things. This can help establish a connection to a potential client or customer.
  3. It makes me approachable. You know, without a doubt, there is a real human behind that profile. This can make approaching me with a question about our product easier than approaching a company account.

Some of you may have noticed there’s something missing in my bio.

Can you see it yet?

I don’t have a disclaimer in my online bio. Many people will tell you that your professional social accounts need a disclaimer that runs something along the lines of:

  • Opinions are my own
  • Retweet does not = endorsement

Many people will add these disclaimers to their social bios in order to protect themselves and the company they work for.

It seemed like a simple solution that would protect the employee in case they tweeted something that their employer disagreed with. It’s also thought that adding this disclaimer would protect the employer from public backlash if an employee tweeted something inappropriate.

I’m sorry to say that these phrases will rarely protect either the employee or their employer from backlash if something inappropriate is posted on social media.

What can protect me, you might be thinking to yourself? Honestly, nothing but solid common sense.

And on that happy note, we’ll continue into step 7.

To Do:

  1. Brainstorm traits for your employee bios
  2. Edit and finalize bios.
  3. Add to social profile

Step 7: Determine Your Posting Rules

If I had to tell you to take away one vitally important piece of information away from this blog post, it would be that if you decide to develop your own social media employee advocacy program, determine your posting rules before you start.

It may seem like a nonsense task. Why would I have the team take time to write everything down?

Because, while great, social media can turn on you within seconds if you or a team member sends the wrong tweet or message. It doesn’t take much to remember some of the biggest blunders that a company has made on social media. United, Cracker Barrel, or Pepsi ringing a bell at all? The internet can be a merciless place, and will never forget anything you posted.

Yes, even if you delete it.

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Having established rules in place can help you avoid those costly mishaps and give you the peace of mind that content being sent by your team is appropriate, timely and most importantly, connects with your customer base in ways your normal advertising won’t.

With that in mind here is an example list of posting do’s that your team can start with and expand on:

  • Post about company milestones
  • Post/Retweet great reviews from other customers
  • Have a blog? Have your employees tweet links back to new content
  • Hosting an event? Have your advocates help promote it?
  • The same goes when you’re attending an event or conference. Make your presence known by tweeting about it
  • If you have fun office traditions, like our #BratwurstBlowout, tweet about it to show off your culture
  • Hiring? Having your advocates post about new positions is a great way to help recruit people to your team
  • Launching a new product or have some big news coming out? Extend the reach of your launch by having employees tweet to
  • If your company is industry specific, have employees share new news or industry trends

This is just a starting list. As your program continues to grow, your list will change and grow as your employees find their niche.

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When there is a do list, there’s also a don’t list. This list is not extensive and what you add to it will depend on your company’s social media policy. This list should help your get started determining what inappropriate content will mean for your company.

Don’t post:

  • Anything related to politics (unless your company is politically related)
  • Anything that could be misconstrued as racist, offensive or rude
  • Crude language like, swear words, racial slurs etc
  • Gif’s, videos or pictures that contain graphic or disturbing content
  • Any company information that has not been dedicated for public distribution
  • Client or other sensitive information
  • Work gossip

I always ask myself the following before I post:

  • If I randomly stumbled onto this tweet, could I take offense to it?
  • Is this the type of message that I want to showcase my company with?
  • Would my supervisor be happy seeing this on a social network?
  • Would my grandma be happy seeing me saying something like this?

If any of those can be answered no, or even if I hesitate in the answer, I don’t post it. It takes an extra minute or two to think about. Is it a pain in the butt? Kind of. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

To Do:

  1. Brainstorm or expand the list of posting do’s and don’ts
  2. Set up a meeting with your social employees to review them
  3. Save our infographic or have a copy of posting rules posted in employee work stations

Step 8: Set Up A Consistent Posting Schedule

So, you have your advocates, you have the accounts set up, the rules are listed and you have content waiting in your backlog to be posted.

You can start posting now right?

Hold your horses, we’re just about there.

There is one last step you need to take before you unleash your employees onto the internet.

Determine your posting schedule. Having your employees post consistently helps with three things:

  1. It helps establish a routine. You’re advocates are less likely to forget to post if they have a consistent schedule. A regular to-do task eventually turns into a habit.
  2. Consistent posting helps maintain your presence on a social network. Gathering a following can be difficult in and of itself. If your posts are sporadic or few and far between you have a smaller chance of developing a dedicated following.
  3. It helps keep your content timely. News is constantly changing and having a regular posting schedule helps maintain an accurate and updated timeline on your profile. If you’re tweeting about a product launch for the first time and it actually launched three weeks ago, you run the risk of looking unaware and out of touch.

Thankfully, we did the heavy lifting for you.

Here are the best times to post on Twitter.

  1. You should be posting 15 times a day
  2. AM times: 2am, 3am, 6am, 7am, 9am, 10am, 11am
  3. PM times: 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 5pm, 6pm, 9pm, 10pm

Times, days, frequencies for posting on Twitter

And the best times to post on LinkedIn:

  • 1 post per day
  • Post between 10am and 11am

Best times to post on LinkedIn

No, you don’t need to be up at 2am to post to Twitter every morning. That’s what social media scheduling in CoSchedule is for. :)

To Do:

  1. Work with your employees to determine a reasonable posting schedule
  2. Don’t plan on tweeting 25 times a day right off the bat. Work your way up to it
  3. Write down the posting schedule on the attached one pager from the complementary kit

Step 9: Setting Up Unique Hashtags

Now that you have your advocates out sharing information across their social networks, you need a way to track those conversations and interactions.

How?

Simple. One or two company specific hashtags.

By creating company specific hashtags you are able to track conversations, mentions and potential leads all in one spot. As a bonus, when your fans want to connect with you they know the perfect hashtag to use to connect with you.

Some examples:

At CoSchedule we use #OverheardatCoSchedule to talk about what’s going on in the office, from industry conversations to hilarious quotes from our fellow co-workers.

Onsharp uses #TeamOnsharp to showcase their culture across their social employee profiles. Whether they’re celebrating #NationalMargarita day or a co-worker’s birthday, Onsharp does a great job of capturing the extra perks of joining their team.

They may be new to the social media employee advocacy world but Discovery Benefit’s #DBICulture is helping showcase why Discovery Benefits is a great place to work. Showcasing their culture allows Discovery Benefits to not only establish their presence as an industry leader but also humanize their brand.

How you create your hashtags will be up to you, but we suggest following these guidelines:

  • The shorter you can keep your hashtag the better
  • Incorporate a company name into your hashtag if you can
  • Make sure potential hashtags are not already in use.
  • Always double check that your hashtag doesn’t spell out anything weird by accident
  • Once you pick a hashtag, stick to it. This includes capitalization, spelling etc.

To Do:

  1. Brainstorm ten different hashtags that your team could use
  2. Pick your top 2 to 3
  3. Start incorporating those hashtags into your social post

Step 10: Set Up A Trial Period And ReGroup

Your employees are posting, you’re gathering your data, and your program is running smoothly. You’re done now right?

Not quite. Although, I promise we’re just about done.

It’s important to set a trial period so you can see and evaluate the successes and failures of the program.

We suggest that you run the program for at least 30 days, so you have enough time to gather data.

You may wonder, what types of data should I be tracking? We would suggest tracking the following:

  1. Change in followers (track weekly, and monthly)
  2. Number of tweets sent per account (weekly, and monthly)
  3. Use mention to track the number of times your hashtag is used
  4. Track interactions on the company social account (weekly and monthly)
  5. Track mentions for each of the social accounts (weekly and monthly)
  6. Top performing and lowest performing posts (weekly and monthly)

We recommend tracking these six metrics

By regrouping the team and tracking your data you can establish a baseline. From that baseline you can determine a variety of things including:

  • What types of content work best for your audience
  • What’s working for the team and what isn’t
  • The overall growth of the program

You can also use that time to determine what’s working for your team and what isn’t. Ask questions like:

  • Are they posting too often?
  • Are they not posting enough?
  • What routine works for them?
  • What types of content do they want to share more of?
  • What have they found works best for them?
  • What doesn’t work for them?
  • Does the program need to be bigger?
  • Can we grow the program?
  • Is this something we should continue?

To Do:

  1. Determine which metrics you need to track to determine whether or not your program was successful
  2. Create a tracking spreadsheet
  3. Record your weekly statistics
  4. Set up meeting to review with team
  5. Find what works and what doesn’t work. Adjust accordingly.

Excellently Executed Examples

So what does a great social media employee advocacy program look like? Here are some examples that will hopefully inspire some tweets of your own.

Onsharp

One of the great ways that Onsharp is able to increase its content reach is through shares from their employees. Whether it’s a simple retweet like the one below, or a completely separate post with the link back to the content, these actions can help extend the life of your content.

Another thing that Onsharp does really well is showcase their company culture through the eyes of their employees. Why is this important? You can talk about your culture all you want but showcasing it through the eyes of your employees makes it genuine.

 

Discovery Benefits

Why do we love this tweet? We love this tweet because Justin found a way to connect information his clients may need to an emotional aspect of their lives. Kids and child care expenses are a huge part of a family’s life. From this one tweet, Justin is able to empathize with his target audience and showcase how he can help.

This tweet from Ashley is a great example of how your social media employee advocates can help build the credibility of your company. It’s one thing for a company account to tweet about its accomplishments but it’s another thing entirely if an employee does it. It adds that extra amount of credibility and doesn’t come across too braggy (as long as it’s phrased right).

CoSchedule

For our final example, we’re showcasing our own social media employee advocacy program. Our program isn’t as formalized as some of the others, but there are some great examples of the tactics that we’ve mentioned throughout this blog post.

And I didn’t even tell them beforehand!

We’re a little silly here at CoSchedule sometimes and that translates into how we tweet about our day. This tweet from our blog manager Ben captured some of the fun we have here in the office.

CoSchedule is relatively young, especially when you compare us to some of the bigger platforms that have been around for awhile. What sets us apart is our story, which our co-founder Garrett got to talk about just a few weeks ago. By tweeting and showcasing what sets us apart from our competitors we begin to stand out among the crowd and in people’s memories.

So Now What Do You Do?

That’s it! We’re done!

You have all the tools you need to start your own social media employee advocacy program.

And now you’re looking at your giant to-do list and back at this blog.

Am I going to give you more advice or is that it?

What if I told you there was a way to drastically shorten that to-do list, optimize your content and make sure that every single one of your social employee’s posts are optimized and following company standards?

Oh and I could cut out the constant email chain that is likely going to fill your inbox after the start of the program.

Enter CoSchedule.

Our calendar will let you:

  • Set tasks to remind your advocates when to tweet
  • Set up social posts to go out the same time as your blog content
  • Optimize your posting times per channel
  • Allow you to prescreen tweets before they are even sent
  • Let you cut your content creation time in half with requeued content
  • Keep your team on time and on track
  • Track all the analytics so you don’t have to

And that’s the short list.

From ReQueue to task lists, CoSchedule will help get your social media employee advocacy program off the ground in half the time.

See what we can do for your team, and schedule your demo today.

Sign up for a Team Pro demo with CoSchedule