This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center
In recent years, employee advocacy has evolved as a hot topic that has generated a lot of buzz in today’s public relations, marketing, and business circles. In large part, the increased interest that organizations have shown toward employee advocacy can be attributed to the high levels of trust that people confer to personal sources of information. Despite the growing relevance of employee advocacy, there is limited empirical research on this topic. Both scholars and practitioners agree that employee advocacy is beneficial for organizations. However, there is currently a lack of agreement on what exactly employee advocacy means. In other words, a universal definition is unavailable, and scholars have been using the term in different ways. Internal communication can play an essential role in generating appropriate conditions to drive employee advocacy behavior. Given the influence that internal communicators can exert on employee advocacy, and the rich understanding that they have of this concept and its importance for organizations, the author of this study examined their perspective on (a) the meaning of employee advocacy, and (b) its relevance for organizations.
For this study, 25 public relations and communications practitioners with at least five years of professional experience that have worked in internal communication were interviewed. These interviews were from 22 different industries and had a mean age of 41 years. They had a mean of 18 years of overall communication experience and 13 years of internal communication experience. Almost two-thirds (64%) of the interviewees were female, and more than one-third (36%) were male. The task of locating public relations practitioners with internal communication experience was primarily accomplished by selecting members whose names appear on International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) or Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) chapter websites.
- The interview data suggested that internal communicators’ understanding of employee advocacy could be separated into two broad areas: verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Concerning verbal behaviors, the examples provided by respondents fit into two categories: (1) speaking positively about the organization, its members, or its products and services, and (2) defending the organization from criticism. All communicators agreed that these behaviors could be expressed either online (e.g., social media) or offline (e.g., face-to-face, telephone, etc.). Additionally, the vast majority of respondents agreed that the receivers of these manifestations of advocacy could be either internal or external publics.
- Overall, the participants agreed that employee advocacy plays a critical role in the future of an organization. When the interviewees were asked about how employee advocacy behaviors contribute to the success of an organization, they provided responses that can be separated into the following three categories: (1) growth and sales, (2) human capital and productivity, and (3) reputation and issues management.
- Interviewees highlighted the importance of face-to-face advocacy as well as online advocacy—the former for its potential to have a powerful influence and the latter for its broader reach. On the other hand, the use of company swag tended to be considered as the least valuable in terms of influence.
Implications for practice
Organizations and public relations practitioners should 1) understand that employee advocacy does not solely concern speaking favorably or defending the organization to external stakeholders. Advocating on behalf of the organization internally is, at least, equally important; and 2) be aware of the impact that advocacy has on growth, human capital, and organizational reputation.
Location of Article
This article is available online at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0363811120300734