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The Employee Advocacy Triad: Connecting Customers, Employees and The Brand

Ed Terpening

Last year, our 2015 State of Social Business research report showed a 191% increase in Employee Advocacy interest over the past two years, and our most recent research—to be published next week—shows that 90% of brands are either planning such programs or already active.   When I see growth numbers like that, the skeptic in me is stirred: is this the new “bright shiny object” of social media, that is, will the hype meet expectations?

To answer that question, I recognized that we needed to hear from three crucial participants:

  • Brands: What is driving their interest? What results do they expect? What challenges do they face? What’s their plan from pilots to full scale? What does a mature program look like?
  • Employees: What motivates them to share? How do they feel after sharing? What concerns do they have? What (and where) do they share organically today?
  • Consumers: How do they engage with these posts? What actions do they take? What type of information resonates with them?

To answer these questions, I interviewed 10 leading brands and 9 employee advocacy tool vendors, as well as fielding a global survey of brands, employees and consumers. The resulting research report will be published next week--and freely available, as open research. In our study, we found areas of significant opportunity for brands, as well as disconnects between brand ambitions and employee advocacy outcomes.

One way to think about employee advocacy is the native advertising of social media. Wikipedia defines native advertising as “…a type of advertising, usually online but feasibly elsewhere, that matches the form and function of the platform upon which it appears.” What’s more natural than a friend sharing their work life through social? Does that make it advertising? An important line is being blurred between the personal and private lives of employees. For years, brands have mandated through employee social media policy to basically “leave social media to the experts”, but I see a number of catalysts changing that stance:

  1. EMPLOYEES ARE THE BRAND. Employees are the most important assets most companies have, and yet they remain largely untapped on a platform where a vast majority of consumers communicate—social networks.
  2. SOCIAL’S SHIFT TO A PAID PLATFORM. Social media’s shift from organic to a paid model (social ads) has had an impact, as only 3% of a brand’s messages today reach consumers without the support of paid advertising on Facebook. A range of research shows that employees have far greater reach in aggregate than official brand pages in social. For example, one study by MSLGroup found that brand messages reached 561% further when shared by employees vs. branded channels.
  3. EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT. Employee engagement levels are largely stagnant, impacting business in many ways, but especially retention and productivity. Many brands are investing in Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) internally to connect employees to reach each other and company leaders to increase engagement. We found a correlation between using social tools internally and getting employees comfortable with advocacy.
  4. AVAILABILITY OF EMPLOYEE ADVOCACY TOOLS. To overcome questions of what is and is not appropriate to post, today’s advocacy tools provide employees a stream of approved content that both informs them about the brand’s business and gives them confidence to post to external social networks.

Is employee advocacy on your radar? Sign up for Altimeter’s newsletter to be notified when our Employee Advocacy report launches next week, or follow me on Twitter at @EdTerpening.


  1. Alexander Karaas says:

    Hi Ed

    I’m a Danish master student studying at Copenhagen Business School within Economics and Communications. At the moment, I’m writing my master thesis about Employee Advocacy in a Danish context. In Denmark, Employee Advocacy is a very new trend why only few companies are working strategic with it.

    Of course, I find many of your reports very interesting, but I haven’t been able to find your definition on “Employee Advocacy” and “Social Business”. Could you please help me with your definitions?

    Alexander Karaas

    • Ed Terpening says:

      Hi Alexander,

      Re definition of Employee Advocacy, we just keep it simple: Employee Advocacy is the use of employees to advocate or support the brand–this could be overall brand health, community involvement, recruiting, or thought leadership.

      Social Business is the deep integration of social technologies, methodologies, and values into the organization to drive business impact.

      Hope this helps!
      best, -Ed

  2. Sue Van Aalst says:

    Hi Ed, do you have any information or research on Enterprise Social Networks, and on the impact on employees with a Bring Your Own Device program?

    • Ed Terpening says:

      Hi Sue,

      We haven’t conducted in-depth research on ESN’s for a while, but in our 2015 Social Business Benchmark report we found adoption of ESNs surprisingly low. In interviewing brands, I know there are many barriers to implementing them, especially among a workforce stuck in traditional modes of communication, such as Outlook, Sharefile, etc.

      • Wayne Tarken says:

        Great article Ed. Regarding ESN, tremendous upside in engagement when used effectively. However you need a critical mass of employees using it to be effective. I’ve seen individual departments embracing tools like Slack. But it becomes more difficult to engage people when each group is using their own tool. Becomes more work. Need a strong change management strategy to tip the scales to widespread utilization.

        • Ed Terpening says:

          Wayne, that’s my experience too: use of ESNs in small teams and the critical mass needed to transition. Since so many businesses use Microsoft intranet infrastructure, my hope was that they would evolve that over time to make it more ESN-like. They’ve made some significant strides–like the acquisition of Yammer–but they’re just not there yet, at least I haven’t spoken to a brand yet that would say their Microsoft infrastructure has made their company more social.

          I think it’s time to conduct new research on ESNs. They seem to be a necessary requirement to organization’s meeting broader goals in social.

  3. Ed Terpening says:

    You can download the report now via this page:

  4. Jessica Longly says:

    Ed, as a Program Manager for my company’s Employee Advocacy program, I can’t wait to see what your report uncovers! Thank you!

  5. laurie says:

    Looking forward to your report!