Turning Employees Into
Brand Evangelists

Your own staff can be one of the most valuable resources when it comes to growing your brand. This white paper explores why employee evangelism is essential for growing awareness and trust in your brand; and it provides actionable tips to effectively engage your workforce and empower them to share your brand’s messages.

INDEX

1. What Is Brand Evangelism?
2. The Difference Between Employee Brand Evangelists and Influencers
3. Why It’s Crucial to Leverage Brand Evangelists
4. The Role of Social Media and Content Marketing in Brand Evangelism Online
5. Company Reviews as a High Impact Tactic
6. How to Create a Successful Employee Brand Evangelism Program
7. Incentivising your Employee Evangelists
8. Summary

1. What Is Brand Evangelism?

Brand evangelism is the practice of turning individuals into “superfans” who will buy into, and propagate, your brand values.

Currently, many brands are struggling to prevent “authenticity” being perceived as “non-authenticity” due to overuse and focussing on buzzwords/easy fixes instead of identifying solid brand values and principles that are as authentic as they purport to be.

Research indicates, more than 70% of consumers usually buy new products via recommendations, which is a lot of potential revenue that no serious business would leave on the table.

Generally, the most effective and loyal brand evangelists are a business’ own employees. These are called Employee Evangelists. Extremely engaged employees connect with your audience and promote the brand and its values in an informed and holistic way.

Employee Evangelists can work across many communication channels, but the vast majority of their evangelism will happen in cooperation with your content marketing team on social media. They’ll educate brand audiences in on-brand conversations or promote the brand by posting and sharing content created by the content team, themselves, or other fans.

Social media and the web are the current spaces most suited to employee evangelism, and so any business wishing to leverage employee evangelism must align their Evangelism Program with social media content marketing department and PR team.

It’s vital that workflows and posting approvals are set to ensure everyone knows their roles and there are procedures in place and when writing web reviews,

Brand Evangelism isn’t utterly dissimilar to Influencer Marketing but there are a few key differences.

2. The Differences Between Evangelists and Influencers

On the simplest level, Brand Evangelists spread brand awareness and grow new audiences through their natural enthusiasm for a product or service and generally they are either  ‘superfans’ or employees of the brand. Influencers require payment to amplify your messaging.

Influencers do not work internally for organisations but are generally hired for specific advertising campaigns, drives or objectives, and are paid fees. Influencers make a living from endorsing products and services, and have their own audiences, so brands can leverage influencers’ integrity with those audiences to  grow their customer bases and raise brand awareness.

Something that can be learned from Influencer Marketing is the need for measurable objectives, processes and incentives for evangelism to work.

However, both Evangelists and Influencers co-exist on the same sphere: the internet, and perhaps more specifically, social media.

3. Why It’s Crucial to Leverage Brand Evangelists

As far back as 2016, it was revealed that employees with some level of social media training were three times more likely to start sharing brand content via an employee advocacy tool than those not trained. They share, on average, double the amount of content than those not trained, earn three times as many impressions on the content they shared compared those not trained and generate 50% more clicks than those not trained.

The average consumer reads 10 online reviews before making a purchase decision, with 88% of consumers trusting user reviews as much as personal recommendations, so it’s clear the power that evangelism has.

Employees tend to be most familiar with the brand, its products and services. In addition, they are extremely sensitive to company culture, and values, and are able to articulate those very well and with enthusiasm (if brand values and culture are aligned.)

It’s important to consider doing a competitor analysis to ascertain if anyone in your industry or region has already implemented an employee evangelism scheme and how it has performed to date.

Indeed, a core motivator for creating an Employee Evangelism Program is that if you’re not implementing such a scheme, your competitors are.

Share of voice is becoming more and more critical for brands. For the past few decades, many companies have been investing millions of dollars in external teams to win the hearts and wallets of targeted consumers. There is no doubt that the workforce in most organisations can be their strongest voices in increasing brand awareness.

Below are four considerations to take into account when growing your potential customer base and increasing brand awareness.

Employees are the living embodiment of your company culture and values, both of which are key pillars in your messaging.

Evangelists have a vested interest in promoting you to their networks. With influencers, you are trying to give them something, usually cash or a gift, in an effort to convince them to promote you to the network that they have influence over.  Evangelists are already interested in promoting you to their networks.  When humans have high affinity for a product, and consistently purchase it, they tell others about that product.

Evangelists help you reach your target market. And are your best salesforce.  They know your target audience better than you because they are highly attuned to the target audience and, in addition, are extremely familiar with your brand values and product.

Evangelists will notify you when something’s wrong, then help you to fix it. Criticism around brands is on the rise, especially on Social Media. Brands are one misstep away from a Social Media Crisis at any moment, and Evangelists can be the first line of defence, or perform the “canary in the mine” role. Working on the customer/brand interface, Evangelists will have a very good idea of the sentiment around the brand and quick to notice rising negative sentiment.

4. The Role of Social Media and Content Marketing in Employee Evangelism

Employee Evangelism functions mainly within the realm of content marketing – as Evangelists share branded content across their personal and professional networks – and partly within the realm of customer service, as they support community-building and issue-solving.

Social media has transformed advertising and customer services for businesses as they are able to reach larger and more widespread audiences than ever before, and with more sophistication than has previously been possible.

This has allowed businesses to develop myriad ways to both reach and retain new customers while creating a culture of agile and rapid-response customer service.

Brand Evangelism has grown in influence in the digital marketing world and, as mentioned, much of your Employee Evangelism efforts will take place on social media.

In fact, skilled and charismatic Employee Evangelists can build their own personal online brand associated with the business’ brand and use it to attract even more fans to the business.

Both Employee Evangelists and brand fans can also be encouraged to create their own content or UGC and post it on brands’ social media profiles. This is the ideal situation where the brand can find real insight and spark conversations around brand values and products.

Employee Evangelists can also write web and social media reviews. They will have real insight into the business, understand the audience, and can offer a fresh, accurate view of the values that make the business special.

5. Online Company Reviews as a High Impact Tactic

Companies must leverage review opportunities online and on social media. Employee evangelists should spread company culture further, penetrating the market as a top-of-mind choice in the industry.

The most impactful of these review spaces will be recruitment specific (Glassdoor and Google reviews) while industry or product specific forums can also be targeted.

It’s important for Evangelists to align with the PR department and can receive training in writing reviews that showcase the company’s strengths and positive culture.

In particular, both Glassdoor and Google reviews are thought of as credible but most of the public and both are excellent spaces to post reviews.

It’s an important part of spreading brand awareness and providing social proof around a brand, product or service.

When considering working for a company, jobseekers will read on average four Glassdoor reviews before deciding what they think of a company. This is why it is so essential to have a regular flow of honest and positive reviews written by Evangelists.

Evangelists perform cross-over roles including elements of content marketing, customer service and PR, so their worth is obvious.

6. How to Create a Successful Employee Evangelism Program

Preparation is key and there are several steps to implement before your Employee Evangelism Program is fit for purpose. Business must sustain and scale their programs into the future with well-planned, agile strategies based on robust data and processes.

Let’s look at which steps are absolutely fundamental to implementing a program that is effective and measurable.

a. Ensure that a healthy company culture is already in place

It’s obvious that in order to implement an authentic brand evangelist program, company culture needs to be in good health. It’s imperative to remember that Employee Evangelists are communicating your brand values, culture, and key messaging and if they are forced to propagate false information, resentment could quickly build.

Brands must have defined values and those must be truly reflected in their work culture.

Those who have an unhealthy company culture are in the dangerous position of using potentially dissatisfied employees to propagate their messaging who may, instead, spread negative sentiment around the brand.

In truth, such employees are only fulfilling their side, and communicating the company’s true values.

There is no easy way around the crucial relationship of company culture and Employee Evangelists. Either a company creates an Employee Evangelism Program based on authentic company values or it does not.

Businesses who hide an unhealthy culture behind falsehoods and who expect employees to propagate these falsehoods will not be able to achieve sustainable success nor scale up in any meaningful way. The key areas which are vital to creation of a healthy culture are:

i. Build on your current culture. Brands don’t need to build a new culture from the beginning, and that. Leaders should use what works to help create a positive corporate culture that is best-fit for their employees.

ii. Give a purpose.  Engaged employees crave meaning and purpose in their work. Companies cannot create a culture with no meaning or aim meaning behind it. Therefore, it’s crucial to create a mission statement and brand values. Give employees specific examples of how their roles positively impact the business.

iii. Create goals. No organisation can have corporate culture without clear goals in place. Employers should gather with their team to create goals and objectives that everyone can work towards. Creating a company goal brings employees together and gives them something to gather around.

iv. Encourage positivity. In order to build a positive culture it’s essential to promote a positive working atmosphere on a daily basis. Employers must lead the way in fomenting this culture, thanking people for their work, and staying optimistic during difficult periods and situations. Employees are much more likely to engage in positive behaviour when they see their employers doing so. One of the most important roles a leader has is creating a positive culture that enhances the talent, diversity and satisfaction of your workforce. Building a unique, positive culture is one of the best ways to get your employees to invest their talent and future with your company.

v. Trust employees. The most crucial aspect is that brands must trust their employees to do good work and meet deadlines without micro-managing them.

vi. Help create workplace connections. When employees do not know colleagues there’s no possible way for a strong culture to grow. So, provide employees with social opportunities in or out of the office: regular team meals, trips or fun activities that appeal. Being a good listener is key to building good culture. employers can start to build a positive culture. Research gathered states that 86% of employees at companies with strong cultures feel that leadership listens to employees, compared to 70% of employees at companies without a strong culture.

vii. Listen. Being a good listener is key to building good culture. employers can start to build a positive culture. Research gathered states that 86% of employees at companies with strong cultures feel that leadership listens to employees, compared to 70% of employees at companies without a strong culture.

 b. Define your business objectives

 Businesses that don’t know what they want to achieve with their Evangelism Programs, will not achieve anything. It’s crucial to decide what the objectives are. Is it to increase brand awareness or web traffic? Is it increase sales or optimise online customer service? Decide on your business objectives because that will be crucial when setting strategy and KPIs further down the line.

c. Define your audience and the brand values to be communicated

Businesses must already understand who their audience is, their likes, affinities, habits, online behaviours, networks, motivations, and obstacles.

It’s important to know an audience intimately, and smart businesses will have already created a customer persona. That will help create an effective community-building strategy, and personalised marketing materials that speak directly to your audience. Such assets will be used to arm Employee Evangelists with everything they need to achieve the business objectives.

Market research is of, course, a valuable method of becoming more familiar with your audience but with the advent of social media, where the bulk of businesses evangelism will happen, has changed the landscape to a significant degree. Social media is where companies will mine most of their audience data, (to be discussed further in the section about analytical tools).

Only once the audience has been defined can a business make good decisions about which brand values and aspects of company culture are most attractive to their audience.

After the brand values that are to be the base of the Evangelism Program have been defined, businesses can start personalising their sales and marketing materials which highlight these values.

However, first they must create strategy, set KPIs and decide which upon channels they will run their Evangelism Program.

d. Create strategy, define communication channels, and set KPIs

Once audience affinities, habits and touch-points have been defined, businesses can go ahead and define strategy, comms channels, and KPIs.

Companies must concentrate their efforts onto employee/audience interfaces, the most actionable of which will be social media.

They must set KPIs that clearly indicate whether strategy is working or not. KPIs show you whether your strategy is on point or whether it needs to be tweaked. For example, good KPIs for brand awareness might be Reach and Engagement Rate.

In today’s world most evangelism takes place on social media, as it supports content marketing, customer care, community management, and even purchases.

It is also highly measurable and provides key insights into customer behaviour, in addition to analysing Employee Evangelist performance. There is hardly a data source in existence which provides the kind of detailed information social media provides. So, it should be the major communication channel for Evangelists.

Of course, all this data has to be tracked, measured and analysed so that strategy or content can be adjusted if needed. It’s really the only way to maintain sustainable strategy, so brands need to invest in the right tools beforehand.

e. Establish your analytical tools

Ideally, a business will connect their web, social media and offline audience data to mine for insights and define strategy.

There are many SAAS tools and software options that will allow businesses to get both full oversight of their social media activities, and access more granular insights into their audience. Engagement rate, audience growth, referral traffic, and evangelist performance will all be measurable and visualised.

Brands who have not invested into marketing software to track and analyse their social media performance will be left behind in 2020.

Managing, maintaining and scaling up Evangelism Programs just isn’t feasible without technology, and so businesses who take evangelism seriously must research and invest in a good MarTech solution.

Brands must be able to measure performance and adjust strategy based upon data or risk losing share of voice to their competitors.

f. Define Your Social Media Guidelines

Every brand needs to have a set of social media guidelines. This will include types of behaviour, subjects and vocabulary that employees must not use, and on-brand phrases that employees should use.

It’s also worth setting guidelines if a social media crisis happens, because they can escalate quickly and permanently damage brand perception. So, it’s vital to avoid such online crises, now that customer opinion holds such power. Here’s an example of a set of social media guidelines.

g. Identify your Employee Evangelists

It makes sense to select employees who have passion for the brand, who have good stories to tell, and who are articulate in telling those stories. Of course, they must also be social media savvy.

Brands must give their employees an opportunity to be open about their ideas and emotions around the brand.

It’s a useful practice to set aside time for employees to attend social media training where fun tasks and quizzes can be set, helping businesses to identify potential evangelists amongst their employees.

7. Incentivising Your Employee Evangelists

The most powerful incentives aren’t prizes or money but empowerment and success, recognition, and praise. It’s key to provide the things Evangelists need to be able to succeed.

Creating a fun scheme and fostering an atmosphere of friendly competition may boost Evangelist performance. Rewards for high performance might include marketing “swag”, prizes, such a meal for two, and smaller performance-based financial incentives (bonuses).

a. Provide Evangelists with branded content/assets

It’s crucial that Employee Evangelists maintain a close relationship with content marketing teams. Creating online communities and brand awareness relies heavily on personalised, targeted content, which the Evangelists will need to be supplied with.

The Evangelists’ marketing efforts must be aligned with the overall marketing strategy across channels and working in lockstep with parallel marketing activities to maximise results.

In addition to being encouraged to share social media posts from the company’s online profiles, but also to provided content which has been expressly adapted for Employee Evangelism with company objectives in mind.

b. Highlight your Evangelists and other employees on social media

Employee Evangelists love recognition and acknowledgement of their efforts and social audiences love seeing behind-the-curtain glimpses into the inner-workings of their favourite companies, starting with the employees. Because your employees work with your product on a daily basis, they possess a deep understand of the field and the trends impacting it.

J Crew is a good example. In recent years the retailer has begun featuring its employees in its social content initiatives. Their magazine feature the current selections and outfit ideas from the staffers and their J.Crew Style Hacks Hotline video series gives customers the chance to ask the company’s stylists and designers fashion questions.

The retailer has put their employees front and centre, which has not only added another more relatable layer to their brand but created a deeper sense of community among the employees.

It’s important to create a desire to be involved in the program, and in the brand’s social initiatives by praising or rewarding good performance.

c. Hold ongoing social media training as standard.

Some brands fear asking employees to engage on social media because they’re worried that employees may cross a line or create content that is not in line with the brand’s values. That’s why it’s important to align with the marketing department and have a set of social media guidelines. Good training will also help mitigate any potential risks.

While most employees will engage with their employer in a strictly professional manner, companies can ease their concerns by holding regular social media training. In addition to helping them stay current on the latest social trends and updates, ongoing training also empowers employees to feel more comfortable sharing company successes and updates.

Social media has disintegrated traditional company hierarchies, and everyone from interns to CEOs has the potential to be a positive company spokesperson.

In addition to technical social media tips, brands can also offer employee tips on how they can positively reflect on their experiences as an employee in a way that feels open and natural.

The process cannot be forced. Every employee is different; some are more comfortable sharing regular professional updates on their social profiles than others. For employee social programs to work, they must be voluntary. If employees feel forced into social sharing on behalf of the brand, resentment can rise.

Creating a social army from within is entirely possible, but it’s not something that happens overnight. Brands have to take the initiative to arm their employees with the right training and resources to feel comfortable enough to promote the brand in the first place.

d. Don’t force it

Every employee is different; some are more comfortable sharing regular professional updates on their social profiles than others. For employee social programs to work, they must be voluntary. If employees feel forced into social sharing on behalf of the brand, resent will brew.

Additionally, forced employee social content will feel forced to the audience and evoke the exact opposite sentiment you are trying to achieve. Unless it is specifically written in the job requirements to post about the company, brands should take a gentle approach to employee social evangelism.

Creating a social army from within is entirely possible, but it’s not something that happens overnight. Brands have to take the initiative to arm their employees with the right training and resources to feel comfortable enough to promote the brand in the first place. Furthermore, the brands that empower and encourage their employees on a daily basis will see higher participation and enthusiasm from their organisation.

8. Summary

Employee Evangelism can provide a lot of benefits but must be planned and executed properly just like any other marketing initiative for it to be successful.

Evangelists can be a crucial driving force behind more successful social media campaigns, great customer care, active, and growing loyal, active audiences. Encouraging employees to get involved with a brand takes more than just promoting the products and offering some incentives.

It’s vital to build community that believes in what the brand stands for and open new niche audiences with whom a strong community bind can be fostered.

Just a few of loyal and effective Employee Evangelists can spread brand awareness in a measurably significant way. Once they start creating their own content for your brand, a community of creators can start to form, adding their own personality and individuality to your social media endeavours.

Let’s look again at the most important aspects of creating Employee Evangelists.

    1. Have a healthy company culture with clear values
    2. Define your business objectives
    3. Define who your audience are
    4. Identify the brand values to be promoted
    5. Create strategy and set KPIs for measurable performance
    6. Have the right tools in your marketing stack to measure social media performance
    7. Set official company social media guidelines
    8. Identify your Employee Evangelists
    9. Provide training and marketing assets

Create an incentive scheme to motivate and retain Employee Evangelists.

One of the benefits of an outsourced ICON team is that they act as a perfectly aligned extension of your workforce, and are highly-trained to interact with customers on your behalf. ICON agents evangelise your brand and its values, while championing your products and services with every interaction just as you would.

Discover what a BPO partner can do you for you brand, start the conversation with ICON’s New Business Manager Maisey Bonito.

Get Your ICON Solution!Our New Business Team will contact you for an initial fact-finding call.