How to Build an Employee Advocate Program

For Healthcare Organizations

How to Build an Employee Advocate Program

In the last few years, several major shifts have occurred in consumer behavior. By 2014, more than 72% of consumers were already using social media to find health-related information.

In the past, healthcare companies and organizations were the sole authority and educators on healthcare related information.

Today, while institutions and providers are still seen as topic experts, the rise of social media has meant that individuals turn to their own personal networks as a trusted, credible source of information almost as often as they do a healthcare provider.

They tend to trust the information from people more than institutions because they are familiar to them. They believe that others in their network don’t have a hidden motive and that they have their best interests at heart. In fact, people generally view regular employees and in-house technical experts as more credible than most CEOs.

Most employees are already on social media. They have trusted relationships with their families, friends and colleagues. They are already using social networks to share stories and advocate on behalf of issues they care about.

Employees also tend to have a greater social media reach than the organization they work for. According to LinkedIn, most people have a social following that is 10 times greater than their employers’. And while only two percent of employees currently share their company’s content, they drive 20 percent of the traffic those posts receive.

Healthcare organizations can significantly increase their reach and visibility within their communities by making it easier for employees to advocate on their behalf with relevant, approved company-related stories.

This means that employees and healthcare professionals in healthcare organizations have the potential to wield great influence in their social networks on behalf of their organization.

In a regulated environment, a formalized employee advocacy program provides the structure and tools necessary to ensure that employees can safely share information while retaining the benefits of expanded exposure and reach for the organization.

What is an Employee Advocate Program

An Employee Advocate Program is a structured effort by an organization to empower its employees to share relevant, approved company messages and information through their personal social networks.

An Employee Advocate Program has three components:

  1. People
  2. Processes
  3. Tools

People includes those who are responsible for delivering relevant, approved content such as content developers and social media practitioners. It also includes people who are sharing that content, the employees.

Processes include program setup, launch, workflows, approvals, operations, training, risk management, analytics and reporting.

Tools include the platforms required to receive, store and distribute content to employees that can then be shared to their social networks.

An Employee Advocate program can be a highly cost-effective social media marketing tactic for your organization, because it leverages and empowers one of your most powerful assets: your employees.

employee advocate program - mobile app screenshot

Without an Employee Advocate program and guidelines on what’s ok to be shared, content that’s shared by employees on their social networks may be sporadic and ad-hoc. This means that the organization’s brand can show up inconsistently and out-of-sync.

Other issues can also arise, including:

  1. Lack of alignment with the organization’s objectives can lead to wasted opportunities to reach various audiences.
  2. Increased risks – employees are untrained and may be unaware of legal or other risks when sharing content about the organization.
  3. Poor insights – the organization lacks insight and metrics into successful content, positive or negative sentiment and engagement, missing opportunities to amplify or manage content well, reach other audiences and engage with its constituents.

How does an Employee Advocate program work?

An Employee Advocate program works by providing employees with simple tools to make it easy to share relevant, approved company content on their personal networks.

Employees want to use the same tools, platforms and channels they use in their personal lives.  Organizations should align with employees’ expectations so it’s easy, convenient, relevant and productive for them to share company stories.

Most employee advocacy tools are mobile apps. Relevant, approved content is placed into the app platform by the organization’s departments. Employees access this content through the app and can then share that content on their personal social networks, all within the app.

Benefits of an Employee Advocate Program

Activating employees as advocates offers significant benefits and opportunities:

  1. Increased reach and awareness of programs and services.
  2. Cost savings – savings from earned media impressions, clicks, views
  3. Increased employee engagement – engaged employees contribute to the overall success of an organization.
  4. Message consistency and measurability – shared content is on brand and results are measurable
  5. Remaining visible despite social platform feature and algorithm changes

Benefit #1: Reach and Awareness:

Employees have a built-in reach that is usually a much larger audience than an organization’s reach in social media.

For example: the combined reach of just 200 employees with an average of 500 connections each (100 Twitter followers, 200 Facebook friends, and 200 LinkedIn connections) on social media adds up to 100,000 people.

What would it take for your organization to accumulate that kind of audience?

Even large companies with big budgets and large social followings see the benefits of activating their employees’ social networks.

In the first half of 2014, one of the largest consumer banks in the world used a leading employee advocacy platform, Dynamic Signal, to activate 50 employee advocates to create and share relevant, branded content.

Within 5 months of the program’s launch, these 50 employee advocates had shared enough content that they outperformed the bank’s owned Twitter and Facebook pages.

The content they shared drove reach and engagement by more than 13x.

An added benefit of this type of reach is the ability to reach audiences that may not normally be accessible through other channels.

Benefit #2: Cost Savings – Financial Benefits

Employee advocacy can yield significant financial benefits in the form of cost savings. Employees who share content are generating “earned media”. Earned media is content and messages that are shared between people, at no additional cost to the organization. With paid media (advertising), it would cost the organization some amount to generate those impressions, shares and clicks.

Earned media therefore has a financial value that can be quantified in comparison to paid media, and this is the cost savings to the organization.

In the consumer bank example above, the content reach, engagement and clicks that were generated from the 50 employee advocates would have otherwise cost the bank over $1,000,000 to generate via paid media.

This calculation is based on the cost per click and cost per impression the bank was paying at the time to advertise on those social networks.

The return on investment on employee advocacy can therefore be measured based on similar metrics. Conversions and other metrics can also be measured using available tracking tools within each social network.

Benefit #3: Increased Employee Engagement

Another benefit of employee advocacy is to increase employee engagement and satisfaction. Employees can be powerful advocates for their employer because:

  • They’re knowledgeable about the company.
  • They’re passionate about its success.
  • They like to be seen as experts.
  • They want to feel engaged in their workplace.

At work, employees want to feel engaged and connected. Disconnected employees are less engaged and less productive. Connected and informed employees are more productive and more likely to be advocates for your organization. Engaged employees are proven to help make companies successful.

Benefit #4: Messaging Consistency and Measurability

Additional benefits of an employee advocacy program are:

  1. Consistency of content and messaging that can be shared by employees which helps to ensure communications and content are on brand.
  2. Better selection of approved content for employees which improves confidence that employees are sharing content that’s been vetted.
  3. Reliability of available content and therefore better frequency that employees can share content.
  4. Measurability of content to see which content performs better, which employees are more engaged, and overall performance in alignment with business objectives.

Benefit #5: Keeping Organization Visible in spite of Platform Changes

Announced in January 2018, Facebook’s recent algorithm changes to the News Feed will emphasize content that is shared between family and friends and demote content from companies and organizations. This means that organizations will have a more difficult time getting their content seen by their target audiences unless they use tactics which reach individuals and their social networks.

Given these algorithm changes, if an organization’s audience is on Facebook, employee advocacy will be one of the most effective ways for organizations to get their messaging seen by the audiences they want to reach.

What are the risks of an Employee Advocacy Program?

When employees are added to the “voice” of the organization, in addition to executives and communications experts, some risks can arise:

  1. Employees may inappropriately engage with people who see the content they share. This can be mitigated with training and clear guidelines.
  2. An employee advocate could be seen as an expert in the public’s eye and therefore “poachable” by other companies.
  3. Advocates may gain “too much” influence and leave to pursue other opportunities.
  4. Employee advocacy can create consumer backlash. If the organization’s content strategy is out of alignment with the public’s interests, the employee may face loss of influence in their social network. An organization can avoid these types of situations by creating a content plan that aligns with the community’s interests and continuously monitoring feedback between employee posting and audience reactions.

The risks of an employee advocacy program are far outweighed by the benefits. However, it needs to be supported by the organization to succeed. A successful employee advocacy program needs:

  1. Employees who are engaged in the mission of the organization and who are kept informed
  2. A culture of sharing and social collaboration
  3. A variety of interesting content that meets the needs of different employees – employees want to be seen as thought leaders and recognized for sharing.
  4. A sufficient number of active employee advocates who share content.
  5. Executive support to fund and resource the effort.

Employee Advocate Program Case Studies

Many companies have already recognized the benefits of employee advocacy programs and have launched programs that have yielded significant results. The following are case studies of regulated companies using employee advocacy programs and platforms for employees to share content:

Case Study #1: Aetna

Total # of employees: 49,500

Platform: SocialChorus

Launched: May 2015

# of employee advocates: 48,000 (97% of all employees are certified as advocates)

Aetna – Managed Healthcare Insurance

Aetna has been engaging employees to amplify social content since 2015. The company took a year and a half to put a foundation in place to support all employees in becoming certified as advocates.

Aetna’s program objectives are:

  1. Marketing: Increase awareness
  2. Communications: Engage employees
  3. Human Resources: Attract top talent
  4. Sales Professionals: Drive leads

Case Study #2: Sutter Health

Total # of employees: 53,000

Platform: Dynamic Signal

Launched: June 2017

Adoption: 36 percent of workforce in first four months

# of employee advocates: ~19,000 to date

Employee Content Sharing: 5 million social media impressions

Sutter HealthNon-profit Health System

Sutter Health needed a way to help employees spread the Sutter Health story. “This is the first tool where they have a voice,” says Michelle Grant, Internal Communications Director. “Our employees love sharing snippets of their day. We’ve seen people taking pictures with their managers. If we’re sponsoring a 5K in the community, they’re taking pictures. There’s a lot of pride in where they work.”Communications and legal teams at Sutter Health worked together to craft policies that allowed employees to share their daily work lives while also maintaining the appropriate level of confidentiality.  Once we explained what we wanted to do, legal said: ‘It’s about time,’” Grant recalls. “They realized that we’re all communicating this way outside of work. They were telling us that it’s about time to adopt an experience that we’re all familiar with.”

Case Study #3: Humana

Total # of employees: 52,000+

PlatformDynamic Signal

Launched: June 2015

Adoption: 500 in the first 6 months, since expanded

Humana – Health Insurance Company

Humana had a challenge getting the attention of consumers and promoting their brand effectively. They strive for people to be healthier and to live a lifestyle focused on well-being. They needed to build trust with consumers and create conversations. They also needed to work within FTC regulations, ensure healthcare-related compliance and mitigate any risks that employees might encounter while using social media to share content.

Employee Content Sharing:

  • 32k shares, 15 million social media impressions within 6 months of launch, with 500 employees.
  • 320k shares, 560k clicks, 165k reactions and 125 million impressions/reach to date.

Case Study #4: Major U.S. Bank

Total # of employees: 243,000+

Platform: Dynamic Signal

Launched: June 2014

Adoption: 152 employees within 6 months

Results: 176k content clicks, 88 million impressions

Major US Bank – Financial Services

In the first half of 2014, a major US bank established a Social Influence program, training and activating 50 employee advocates to create and share relevant branded content. The program offered mobile content and login integration, simplifying content access and distribution for employees.

Within 5 months, these 50 advocates had outperformed the bank’s owned Twitter and Facebook pages in driving reach and engagement by more than 13x. The value of the earned content reach, engagement and clicks that were generated from these advocates has been calculated at over $1,000,000 if generated via paid media.

Results: The bank then increased the number of employee advocates and saw a substantial increase in shares and impressions. With 152 users on-boarded in the next 30-day phase, the company achieved a total of ~176,000 content clicks and ~88 million impressions across four social networks.

Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about employee advocacy or if you’d like to launch an Employee Advocate program in your organization.