Internal Communications: The potential of “Employee Activation”

Internal Communications: The potential of “Employee Activation”
7. January 2019 Falk Rehkopf

Internal Communications:
The potential of “Employee Activation”

Employee Activation

We’ve all heard about employee advocacy, but how about employee activation? In a nutshell, employee activation refers to the practice of engaging and empowering your employees. The goal isn’t just to get them to become unofficial ambassadors of your company on social media; you’d ideally want to build trust with your employees, resulting in a nice boost in their job satisfaction and possibly performance as well.

According to the 2017 State of Employee Advocacy survey, 82% of participants now have an employee advocacy programme in place. While there aren’t any statistics available for employee activation programmes yet, it’s still safe to say that these are growing in popularity as well. In this article, we’ll walk you through the benefits of employee activation programmes and show you how to set up your very first employee activation programme.

Employee Activation vs. Employee Advocacy

Employee activation and employee advocacy sound pretty similar and some people do use the terms interchangeably – but they’re actually two different concepts.

The way we see it, employee advocacy programmes are pretty one-dimensional – these typically involve companies coming up with some sort of reward scheme to incentivise their employees to become brand advocates. Employee activation, on the other hand, goes beyond that. With employee activation, you’re encouraging your employees to share their expertise and pursue their career goals – and creating content to share online (and/or sharing content that the company has created online) is just a bonus side effect. When done right, employee activation will result in your employees feeling more valued at work and trusting upper management more. This, in turn, results in better job satisfaction and performance. It’s a win-win!

External benefits of employee activation

The external benefits of employee activation are pretty similar to that of employee advocacy. When you activate your employees and get them to generate and share content, this humanises your brand and makes your brand more “authentic” and relatable. Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer has shown that employees are perceived as a more trusted and credible source of information for buyers than for example the CEO or marketing activities of the company. 

Once you start activating your employees, you should see an uptick in engagement: employee content receives, on average, 8x more engagement than content shared by brands. If you’re wondering if all the likes, comments and shares you’ve generated drive actual traffic and leads, the answer is that it does. Studies have shown that companies with engaged employee advocates witness 5x more website traffic and 25% more leads. The icing on top of the cake? Salespeople are 7x more likely to close leads generated through programmes that activate employees.

Internal benefits of employee activation

External benefits aside, employee activation also brings about plenty of internal benefits. As you empower your employees and give them opportunities to grow, you’re essentially building trust – and for 93% of employees, trust plays a critical role in influencing work satisfaction. In turn, work satisfaction is linked to other factors such as job performance and employee retention. In fact, companies empowering their employees are 20% more likely to retain talent. It’s pretty straightforward – if you’ve got employees who trust their bosses and are happy with their work, they’re more likely to commit themselves and strive harder.

Internal versus external communications

Most companies understand that it’s important to get their external communication right. It’s crucial to strive for both quality and quantity here; that’s where employee activation comes in. Because employee activation results in key messages reaching more consumers and generating more engagement at the same time, it’s a huge asset in both aspects (quality and quantity).

On the flip side, companies are typically less invested in their internal communications. That said, it’s important to ensure that your team is equipped with the right systems and environment to communicate effectively. Environment-wise, work on building a good company culture, communicate openly and even consider implementing an open door policy so that employees are empowered to approach their supervisors and speak their minds. When it comes to systems, try implementing forums and anonymous feedback systems as well.

The internal brand experience

In order to have a successful employee activation programme in place, you need to walk the talk. This means showing your employees that you are committed to whatever principles and initiatives that you say you’re committed to. At the end of the day, your employee needs to see that whatever you’re communicating externally syncs up with your internal messaging and initiatives.

How do you have your employees experience your brand in such a way? Simple – organise activities and initiatives and allow your employees to get involved. If you run a food & beverage business, for example, and your mission is to help people live healthier lives through food, organise an internal CSR campaign to donate groceries; even better, set up a recurring workshop that teaches low-income families how to cook simple, healthy recipes with ingredients that don’t cost much. If you’re a technology provider that helps businesses to be more efficient, make sure that you’re employees have access to such technology as well.

Challenges of employee activation

While employee activation comes with plenty of benefits, there are several challenges associated with it as well. First and foremost, there’s always the danger that an employee might take it to the extreme and “overshare” about your company on social media. To prevent this from happening, make sure you have proper guidelines in place.

If you have a rewards programme set up, there’s also the possibility that your employees might feel like you’re trying to “buy” their engagement which could cause disenchantment and resentment. To avoid this, ensure that you aren’t just focused on getting your team to share externally – also focus on engaging your team initially and building up a great internal brand experience (like how we’ve just discussed).

Brands successfully using employee activation

There are many brands who have created and implemented successful employee activation programmes, with two most notable examples being Dell and Adobe.

Dell: 150,000 shares and 45,000 clicks generated

First up – Dell, which has driven 150,000+ shares and 45,000+ clicks to their website and increased their profits by over $ 14 million all through their employee advocacy programme. Their secret sauce? The tech conglomerate doesn’t restrict their employees to posting solely to promote the company (ie: posting for the sake of posting). Instead, employees are encouraged to share other content that they find online, as long as it’s about topics that are informative, helpful and relevant to Dell’s customers. As a general rule of thumb, employees try and post 20% about Dell and 80% about other topics.

Employee advocacy aside, Dell also makes it a priority to engage their employees internally; they even created an internal platform – called EmployeeStorm – to help them do this. EmployeeStorm was extremely well-received by Dell’s team: Dell employees collectively generated 3,000+ ideas through the platform within the first 60 days of its launch and an impressive 45% of Dell employees participate in discussions taking place on EmployeeStorm on any given day.

Adobe: 30% of employees are social media trained

Then there’s Adobe, which is well-known for empowering and training its employees to speak up on social media via its Social Shift Programme. 30% of Adobe’s employees have undergone the Social Shift Programme to date; in this programme, they learn about their company’s social media guidelines, best practices for social sharing and more. All the resources that Adobe is investing in its training programme is clearly paying off: according to employee social research group SociaLook, Adobe’s employees are the most social group of employees among all technology companies.

The company’s employee activation efforts don’t stop there – once employees finish up the programme, they’re given opportunities to become brand champions and tell the company’s story. For instance, employees may contribute to the Adobe blog and share a behind-the-scenes view of how their workday looks like. The Adobe blog draws 10,000+ views per month and frequently publishes employee blog posts, employee interviews and more.

Adobe Life Blog

Lauren Friedman, Head of Social Media Enablement & Innovation for Adobe, says about their employee activation efforts: “We believe that people trust people. People buy from people. Relationships fuel our overall success.” She also emphasises how important it is that employees can be authentic and themselves: “We don’t want to create an army of Adobe-bots!“.

How to get started with employee activation

New to employee activation? Here’s a step-by-step action plan to get you started:

1. Develop a plan

Come up with a structured programme with goals and expectations. Talk to your employees and get their buy-in. You should encourage them to participate in the programme by emphasising the benefits of such programmes for them. You may or may not want to incentivise your programme and offer perks such as gift cards, time off or flexible working arrangements.

2. Work on your internal brand experience

Foster an internal community and create an overall company culture where employee activation can flourish. It is important that your employees feel trusted and are free to choose whether they want to participate in the employee activation programme. According to a study, 46% of employees say that the corporate culture influences their engagement and motivation to get active.

3. Provide high-quality content

Make sure to provide content that employees would want to share. Encourage your employees to create their own content and create more content featuring your employees. Champion your team and share their stories.

4. Offer training, guidance & tools

Provide employees with sufficient onboarding, conduct training sessions if necessary and provide resources and tools that your employees can use. You can provide guidance for your employees’ activities by setting up guidelines and do’s & don’ts. Nevertheless, to truly empower your employees, allow a variation in behaviour in terms of channels or activity levels.

5. Test, modify & optimise

Monitor and track your progress and allow your team to provide feedback and inputs. Based on that, you can make adjustments over time.

Measuring employee activation success

If you’re using an employee activation/advocacy tool such as Bambu or EveryoneSocial, these come integrated with analytics features that you can use to measure the impact of your activation programme.

If not, you’ll want to keep track of key metrics, so that you can chart your performance. These key metrics include:

  • Number of active sharers
  • Reach generated via employee activation
  • Traffic generated via employee activation
  • Leads generated via employee activation
  • Conversions generated via employee activation
  • Content driving the most shares (ie: what are your employees sharing?)

Outlook: employee activation in 2019

We’ve previously discussed how 82% of businesses currently have an employee advocacy programme in place. Out of the 18% that don’t, 26% are planning to launch such a programme within the next year. In a world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to reach and capture the attention of various stakeholder groups, from sales prospects, partners to new recruits, employee activation is evolving to be a huge asset. Make sure you tap on that asset; don’t let it go wasted!

Chief Marketing Officer