What you need to know about advocacy marketing in B2B

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Traditional B2B marketing shows signs of ineffectiveness. Case studies and white papers do not have the same impact anymore. However, a new form of B2B marketing has begun taking shape: advocacy marketing. Currently, different sub-genres compete to show which is most effective. An early contender appears to be employee advocacy. Top tech marketers already pursue it.

For example, at Dell, provider of laptops and other technology solutions, marketing leader Bryan Jones has been spearheading employee advocacy. Under Jones, Dell has implemented its Social Media and Communities (SMaC) program that enables employees to represent Dell on social. According to Dell, Jones has pushed to have everyone on a 300-strong marketing team become “SMaC certified” to advocate for Dell on social. With SMaC training, Dell employees enable the computer maker to effectively promote it messages as well as employ subject matter experts in verticals such as healthcare to engage customers.

‘It is the best marketing’

Statistically, employee advocacy is a potent marketing technique. According to a Social Chorus webcast, B2B marketing content shared personally by employees delivers eight times more customer engagement than brand-shared content. The theory is that the more engaged the employee, the more engaged the customer, the more revenue potential. Overall, 92 percent of customers trust employee “word of mouth” over branded content, according to Nielsen.

Anecdotally, employee advocacy has not only proven itself at large enterprises like Dell but also at startups such as Recruiter.com, a job search platform. “Just as ‘word of mouth’ marketing is one of the most effective, natural marketing methods, (so is) employee representation of your brand,” says Anne St. Hilaire, spokesperson, Recruiter.com. “It allows those not involved with the company to get real, personal insight on what we do and how our services can benefit your life.”

Fixated on helping individuals advance their careers, Recruiter.com encourages employees to share its brand. “By focusing on strong company culture, employee advocacy works wonders to bring in new clients, new users and new employees,” St. Hilaire says. “It is the best marketing.”

Organized vs. organic advocacy

While employee advocacy has supporters, a divide exists when about how organized employee messaging should be. Companies including Mitel, a global business communications solutions provider, take a structured approach. In July 2014, Mitel created an advocate marketing program for worldwide launch of its new brand. Mitel started inside, introducing the program to employees first. To accomplish this, Liz Pedro, Mitel’s director of customer success marketing, used Influitive’s AdvocateHub software to educate, engage and mobilize more than 3500 employees before, during and after relaunch.

Effectively, it turned every Mitel employee into a new brand expert, according to Influitive. In the first weeks of the Mitel Champions program employees generated more than 2500 social shares, including over 1000 LinkedIn posts. Previously, only 30 employees promoted Mitel on social media. Today, more than 1500 do.

Other companies take a moderate approach to employee advocacy. Coalfire Systems, a cyber security firm, employs this type of marketing. “Because cyber security is hot and there are many solutions, we focus candid people to reflect our brand,” says Carlos Peláez, director and national practice leader, Coalfire. For example, all Peláez’s employees keep their LinkedIn profiles updated, and some blog weekly about personal interests on LinkedIn.

“We have parameters around content and schedule ideas months in advance,” Peláez says. “We also broadcast webinars on Facebook and Twitter because social media platforms are best. Even if nobody ‘likes’ or signs up, it is viewed by second or third degree contacts.”

At the other extreme, some firms keep hands off employee advocacy. “We use employee advocacy all the time in online marketing,” says Jennifer Roberts, marketing and integrations manager, Hubstaff, a time and productivity tracking solutions company. “We don’t use preapproved marketing assets because when employees phrase solutions themselves, they learn to listen to customers and educate them.”

Employees might use the blog but many prefer interacting with customers on Facebook, Twitter and Quora in their own words, Roberts says. “We don’t sell—only share our experience and company information. We’ve seen a huge increase in traffic and sales from employees helping people.”

By not overtly attempting to make sales and only serving as an information clearinghouse, Hubstaff’s employee advocacy program is in step with content marketing best practices, experts observe. Hubstaff customers can complete their purchase research and when time comes to buy, expectation is they will remember Hubstaff as an honest broker and perceive a halo effect that the same is true of its offerings.

Honesty and empowerment

Enabling honest employee advocacy rewards companies and their personnel, experts say. “Key to successful advocacy is balance between staying true to the brand while empowering employees to be effective advocates,” says Mia Dand, CEO of Lighthouse3, a digital and social media consulting agency. She says Lighthouse3 clients have had success following a three-pronged strategy based on planning, empowering and implementing.

Prefabricated messages do not come across as authentic when employees follow a corporate script. However, a looser content plan revolving around key themes and topics can serve a first step, especially for larger companies, according to Dand.

Once messaging and content are established, next step is to empower employees with curated content related to those themes and topics via infographics, blogs and more, she says. “They are also encouraged to join the company’s advocacy program, where they are given resources, content and training.” This “guided” empowerment brings order to typical social media chaos of large companies, Dand says.

Lastly, an employee advocacy program must be implemented with technology. “We’ve looked at advocacy platforms, but one stood out: Everyone Social. It offers curated brand content from third-party and own sources that employees can share. It’s great for non-social media savvy employees.”

Photo of Anne St. Hilaire, spokesperson, Recruiter.com, used by permission

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).
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