Jacky sits there, her head in her hands. She’s waiting for Marshall to show up for an interview and, as usual, he’s late.
Marshall is an engineer and the only person who knows exactly how the company’s latest innovation works, so skipping out on the interview isn’t an option. The company is launching an awareness program to promote the new product’s launch, so this has to get done, today!
But, as she looks up at her ever-growing task list, she wonders if there is a better way.
Marketers are stressed, burned out and under pressure
The demand for more and better content is putting enormous pressure on marketers.
According to Curata, time and bandwidth for content creation is the no. 1 challenge for marketers and the problem is not going away anytime soon. There is a massive skills shortage in strategy, subject-matter expertise, and indeed, content creation expertise itself.
Spend on content marketing has increased to 29% of marketing budgets on average. Recently, Apple announced they are spending $1B on original content in 2018, following trends set by Facebook and Amazon.
The average marketing manager is now expected to take on diverse roles: print and digital media publisher, TV producer, editor, journalist, social media manager, graphic designer, event organiser and data analyst to name a few. It’s no wonder marketers are stressed and burned out, and it’s no wonder that many are producing mediocre content at best.
If you are pushed for more and your contribution resources are minimal, it becomes too easy to accept work that is done over work that is good.
Megan Merchant, Content Marketing Director at RSM, a leading provider of audit, tax and consulting services globally, is concerned that the push for more content is lowering content quality. She says: “I think that the demand for content can put marketers in a pinch if they are not editors and critical readers at heart. If you are pushed for more and your contribution resources are minimal, it becomes too easy to accept work that is done over work that is good.”
A Forrester research report states that 87% of marketers admit they “struggle to produce content that truly engages their buyers.” The report further postulates that “marketers are too focused on acquisition rather than creating long-term loyalty.”
When you’ve spent most of your career bullshitting your way through it to get passable content before consumers’ eyes, it’s not surprising that the idea of producing truly thought-leading, authentic and ground-breaking content for different stages of the buyer life-cycle gives marketers headaches.
They simply don’t have the capacity or the time to.
How marketers currently extract content from knowledge workers
A marketer does not speak in the same voice as a knowledge worker, so a measure of authenticity and connection to the content can be lost in the editorial process.
In order to meet increasing demand for content, marketers have employed a number of strategies.
It’s common practice to interview thought-leaders within an organisation, and simply repurpose that content in multiple formats. I’m all for interviews and repurposing, however, I would argue that doing this does not help companies create content that breaks through online noise. It just adds to it because when you do something, in the same way, all the time, that is disengaging for the very people you potentially want to connect with.
The other issue is that of voice dilution. A marketer does not speak in the same voice as a knowledge worker, so a measure of authenticity and connection to the content can be lost in the editorial process.
Who should be creating thought-leading content?
Content Marketers cannot and should not be expected to fill editorial calendars alone. It takes an enterprise to give voice to the various factions of any business.
The primary role of creating thought-leading content needs to be handed over to a company’s actual thought leaders, and I’m not just talking about the CEOs.
As Sr Content Marketing Manager at BlueCat, Jodi Schechter puts it: “Content Marketers cannot and should not be expected to fill editorial calendars alone. It takes an enterprise to give voice to the various factions of any business.”
The role of communicating about a brand needs to be placed in the hands of knowledge workers: the strategic managers, the engineers, scientists, subject-matter specialists, doctors, economists and human rights lawyers who know their industries, their customers and their companies’ greatest challenges and opportunities.
Thankfully, more and more companies are beginning to see the employee advocacy light.
Why empower your employees to create marketing content
According to a study by Lewis, involving a survey of 1000 knowledge workers, companies that initiate employee advocacy programs successfully, benefit enormously. The Lewis study, along with anecdotal evidence from brands like Fujitsu show employees are more engaged, inbound traffic and leads increase, social reach increases, content is more authentic and credible because it’s coming from knowledge workers, search engine rankings improve, sales improve, and marketing costs decrease.
Alongside these benefits, pressure on marketers is alleviated. If you shift content creation’s focus away from the marketer bottleneck to the company’s knowledge workers, you not only enable richer, and more relevant content but you save marketers an enormous amount of time, and that’s time they can spend improving customer acquisition, developing partnerships and creating strategies.
Marketing departments simply cannot create content for technical influencers that’s as engaging as content a technical person can produce.
Knowledge workers within companies and organisations have deep domain expertise that marketers often don’t have, and if they are supported to share that expertise as marketing content, via employee advocacy programs (and with the support of technological innovation), the bottom line impact on companies could be massive.
WP Engine’s Mark Randall (Country Manager – Australia/NZ) concurs, saying: “people are engaged by content that is authentic and applicable to their day-to-day to roles. Marketing departments simply cannot create content for technical influencers that’s as engaging as content a technical person can produce.
“Likewise a customer support person has a far better view on the issues that are troubling customers on a day to day basis. It is very easy to democratise the production of engaging content with platforms like WordPress, but internal policies prevent many organisations from effectively democratising the production of engaging content at scale.”
Nikol Moen, Digital marketer at CORT argues that content should come from those in the trenches, who are actually selling services. She says, “before I became more relationship-driven as a content marketer and began connecting with our sales folks and customer service team members, I was doing the heavy lifting of coming up with content ideas.
The true storytellers are the ones who are interacting with our customers day-to-day. They have a wealth of knowledge that can spark content ideas, which is half the content creation battle.
“As it turns out, the true storytellers are the ones who are interacting with our customers day-to-day. They have a wealth of knowledge that can spark content ideas, which is half the content creation battle. It’s so important to pick up the phone or connect face-to-face with colleagues and ask questions about the trends they’re seeing and hearing.”
Leanne O’Sullivan, co-founder of Big Blue Digital shared her experience of bringing in the whole team to create content: “When our business Big Blue Digital rebranded we went on a content marketing binge – but did it all in-house and could not have done it without getting full team buy-in.
“It brought a fresh take to our content marketing and in many instances, we had content that was more customer-focused, plus we had our staff gain a better understanding of what we do across the board and why our customers are interested in that.”
Why employee advocacy programs fail
The Lewis study showed that companies that are unsuccessful with brand advocacy campaigns don’t have a formal program in place to guide employees, don’t enable their staff to engage on social media in the workplace and don’t establish common values, educating their employees on social media use and conduct.
Evidence suggests that the best programs are not rushed into, but involve implementation through pilot programs (for larger organisations), so that problems can be identified early.
In Leanne’s experience, once she stepped out of the driver’s seat, the initiative lost momentum. She says, “our team had to be cajoled into doing it at times, and once my first 12 months of content planning ended (as I moved into a new business) things fell by the wayside.”
“If you spread the load and plan – anyone can blog – and getting different perspectives from the entire business is also great from a relationship-building perspective.
“Planning and Load sharing are key – and giving people confidence that they already know stuff so just share that is important. People are not writing novels – they are sharing what they are already experts in – in whatever part of the business that is.”
How to get started on an employee advocacy program
Establishing an effective employee advocacy program requires a strategic approach and consultation with employees throughout the process. The following tips will help you get started.
1. Establish a brand advocacy working group
Marketers need to be guardians, not gatekeepers. Unfortunately, many marketers don’t understand the difference, which is why, for an employee advocacy program to work, there needs to be a representative group from others within an organisation to give voice to different points of view.
Marketers who are gatekeepers will only ever see employees as subjects to squeeze information from, people they need to control and information sources they need to manipulate to appease the powers that be.
Marketers who are guardians see themselves as partners in a collaborative process. They are there to guide, facilitate and mentor, not to control.
In contrast, marketers who are guardians see themselves as partners in a collaborative process. They are there to guide, facilitate and mentor, not to control.
One solution to consider in terms of getting an employee advocacy program going is to set up a small but cross-departmental working group.
Depending on the size of your organisation, establishing a brand advocacy working group will help to engage with staff across different disciplines. The purpose of the working group is to act as a thinktank for how to set up the program, including what rewards and incentives to offer employees, what engagement and performance benchmarks to establish and measure, and how to activate, resource and train employees. The marketer’s role within this is to provide expert advice and direction from a marketing point of view.
Creating a symbiotic relationship between thought-leaders and marketers can only benefit everyone.
2. Establish what’s in it for employees
Consultant Content Strategist Dorian Davis says “Content is a valuable asset that contributes to the success of nearly any digitally-driven company. From what I’ve seen, most people are hesitant to be involved because they’re worried they will not receive recognition. It often also requires someone to organize these efforts.”
Engaging employees with content creation will mean creating a way to convince them why it’s important, and more importantly, important to them.
The Lewis study identified that employees value being able to contribute content creation ideas and they value rewards programs. Some experts recommend putting in place a leaderboard system to game-ify the process while others recommend financial incentives.
Rewards, incentives, and gamification are nice gimmicks but if you don’t make efforts to engage employees in the bigger picture, they will quickly tire of these. Engaging employees with content creation will mean creating a way to convince them why it’s important, and more importantly, important to them.
3. Provide training and resources
One of the primary concerns marketers have expressed is how to empower already-busy employees to create thought-leading content and then how to manage the relationships once it comes to editing and publishing (and, indeed, the reactions that content gets).
Tim Gibbon, Social Media Portal’s (SMP) founder and editor argues that marketers are primarily there to support opinion-leaders within an organisation. “Identify who is healthy to create concepts, ideas and content and support them. Help them build the machines and teams instead of expecting marketers to do it all. Everyone has a stake in content. Everyone should care, and everyone can contribute.”
Ensuring you adequately prepare and train your staff and then educate them about how to present themselves online across their different social channels is crucial for an effective employee advocacy program. Michael Burns, who is an independent content strategist with experience in the tech industry says that content governance and professional training are critical.
Your marketing team can help develop the social media policies and blog guidelines, as well as source training and resources that can support your employee brand advocates.
Tim says: “The best way for the marketing team to receive support is to manage the following.
Have a plan and strategy, implementing it for the long term, not just focused on quick wins to make friends across departments and be liked. Guide, inspire, influence and collaborate. Communication is always a two-way street. Then, back up the talk with support. Know how you will implement follow-up and support and know how to ensure there is consistency in doing so in interesting ways.”
Centralised and accessible story libraries and collaborative social media tools such as Bambu or Ambassify and, of course, content creation tools such as Writally and Corilla can be enormously helpful for employee brand advocates.
In a follow-up post, I’ll dive more into the tech that can support this.
4. Actively encourage open communication via online groups
Set up a separate group on Slack, newcomer Coworkally or Facebook to enable employees to share ideas, news, give feedback and seek help and advice from marketers and senior staff when needed. Another side benefit to doing this is that it also enables you to align your brand advocates with your company content strategy and quickly share any updates.
In-person meetings can be added into the mix too so that collaborators can have those all-important water-cooler moments and compare notes. Things often come up in casual conversation that don’t in an online group.
5. Measure, monitor and learn
In a successful employee advocacy program, the marketer transitions from information gatherer and constant nagger to mentor, facilitator, and advisor. The marketer monitors progress, measures results and supports knowledge workers.
Christian Sharrow-Blaum, Content Marketing Strategist at Lyons Consulting Group has seen the benefits of opening the content door to employees. “I’ve had to rewire my thinking a bit from “creator” to “manager”. I was lucky enough to have management support when I launched a thought leadership/content initiative that drove other employees to submit ideas and topics they were close to. That way, I can edit, publish, and optimize while I have real experts sending me their input. Find creative ways to compel the people who ACTUALLY know what they’re talking about to feed you their ideas instead of taking a content directive to them and asking for input.”
Companies can also measure the impact of employee advocacy by pricing clickthroughs from employee advocate links, just as they would with paid ads. Fujitsu did this and found that their employee advocacy program virtually eliminated the need to buy paid ads. You can read more about their case study here.
The idea of empowering employees to be brand advocates isn’t new but it isn’t yet widely adopted either and so there is a lot to learn. Keep reading, researching and trialing new things and you will soon create a program you can be proud of and that gets bottom-line results.
Back to Jacky
Marshall finally shows up for the interview and Jacky spends the next hour recording his insights. Then she works through the night to get her case study done in time for her senior manager’s review. If only Marshall could have just written the case study himself.
Can you relate?
For the time-poor marketers out there. Here’s the infographic.
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