Corporate leaders are increasingly turning to employees to help reach their stakeholders; after all, trust in institutions has been steadily declining, employees are often seen as the most trusted spokespeople for organizations, and they have more platforms at their disposal to share their message than ever before. The catch? Employees have the power to be a company’s best supporters or its worst detractors. You’ve likely read positive posts from employees on LinkedIn celebrating their company’s values, commitment to D&I, or other business successes – and you’ve surely noticed when employees share negative reviews and experiences on sites like Glassdoor and social media, or when a damaging internal email is forwarded to members of the media.
Facing this environment, employees are an essential component of any marketing and communication strategy. Corporate leaders engage employees in a variety of ways, from creating formal employee advocacy programs to providing broad guidelines for employees to follow when sharing anything related to their organization. These programs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they share a common goal: equipping employees to serve as an extension of marketing and communication efforts and leveraging their unique perspective within the organization to more effectively engage target audiences.
One of the most common and well-known “use cases” of employees as communicators is the brand ambassador, or social media ambassador. These employees are carefully identified and called upon to serve as communicators to external audiences. They post company news or announcements on LinkedIn, direct their networks to recruiting opportunities and events that are featured online, or even respond to customer feedback on different platforms or review sites.
With these programs, marketing leaders need to balance providing employees with autonomy to use their authentic voice when sharing information and ensuring that their communications fall within brand guidelines. For this reason, many organizations keep this group of ambassadors small in number, so they can more effectively monitor conversations online without providing all employees with stale talking points that come off as inauthentic and generic. A host of technology platforms are available to help manage this type of brand ambassador program.
Another growing trend in employee ambassador programs is positioning employees to serve as an extension of an organization’s internal communications efforts. These programs may take the form of “change champions” or “culture ambassadors” to help organizational initiatives come alive for their fellow employees. Alternatively, workers who are part of employee resource groups could serve a similar role by amplifying messages from the corporate level or leading other colleagues in discussions and activities around diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Whatever form these internal employee ambassador programs might take, marketing and communication leaders should be investigating ways to equip employees to activate their own networks with peer-to-peer communication.
“Reverse Employee Ambassadors”
A third way that leaders engage employees as ambassadors is to equip employees to serve as their “eyes and ears” and gather feedback from stakeholders. These so-called “reverse employee ambassadors” may take the form of a panel of employees who provide regular feedback during focus groups, or they may provide informal feedback from peers around major initiatives such as the return to office campaign. These colleagues become an invaluable source of qualitative feedback, complementing or potentially taking the place of sending another all-employee survey.
Keeping Ambassadors Engaged
Clients often tell us that after the initial launch of an ambassador program, they struggle to keep employees interested and engaged. To avoid this fate, leaders should clarify both the expectations of employees and the benefits they will receive by participating. By being upfront about the commitment of time and energy required of them, leaders can help employees integrate their involvement as ambassadors into their day-to-day job responsibilities. At the same time, employees will be more likely to stay engaged if they are aware of the potential benefits of participation, such as access to senior leadership, monetary compensation, or leadership development opportunities.
However you engage your employees in your marketing and communication strategy, our Gartner experts stand ready to partner with you, and we encourage you to reach out to your account executive to set up a time to connect.