Employee advocacy and social selling programs experienced significant growth in 2017, according to the 2017 State of Employee Advocacy survey, conducted by JEM Consulting & Advisory Services. Now in its second year, the survey-based study was designed to explore the trends and best practices for employee advocacy programs, through which organizations empower their employees to use their personal social network channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn, to amplify company news, insights and expertise and market and sell goods and services. The purpose of the study is to track the adoption and growth of these programs, and to provide a useful resource for teams managing employee advocacy and social selling programs. One-hundred-fifty-five companies primarily headquartered in the U.S. responded to the 2017 survey.
There has been more than 25% growth in employee advocacy program adoption and more than 30% growth in social selling in the past year: 82% of respondents to the 2017 survey stated that they have an employee advocacy program in place; 77% have a social selling program in place. This represents significant growth over 2016 when only slightly more than half of the companies surveyed had an employee advocacy program and only 46% had social selling programs.
Growth and expansion will continue in 2018. Of the respondents that do not currently have a program in place, 26% are planning to launch one within the next year, and the number one goal of program managers is to increase the number of employees participating as advocates.
Employee advocacy and social selling are spreading to more types of organizations and industries, even highly regulated ones. In 2016, top adopters were primarily private and public companies in professional services, advertising, marketing, public relations and technology, with extremely low adoption is in highly regulated industries like financial services, legal and healthcare. In 2017, there is adoption across the spectrum: public companies, private companies, educational institutions, nonprofits, NGOs and governmental organizations, and in a wide variety of industries, including financial services, healthcare, pharmaceutical and biotechnology, legal, retail, manufacturing, travel and entertainment, as well as professional services, advertising, marketing, PR and tech.
Facebook, Instagram and YouTube grow, while the use of LinkedIn for employee advocacy declines. Facebook is the most popular channel for employee advocacy in 2017, with 76% of respondents saying their employee advocates use it, followed by Instagram (62%) and Twitter (56%). This is an interesting shift, as LinkedIn was the clear winner in 2016, with 100% of respondents saying their employees used it as a channel for advocacy, while only 15% mentioned Instagram in 2016. In 2017, only 44% of respondents listed LinkedIn as a primary channel. And, although Twitter was the second most popular channel in 2017, its popularity has decreased significantly over the past year by 29%. There was also dramatic growth (35%) in the use of YouTube – from only 8% in 2016 to 43% in 2017.
We attribute this shift to the increased variety of industries and types of organizations adopting employee advocacy, as well as the expansion of business objectives for these programs. As retail, travel and entertainment companies, educational institutions, government, NGOs and nonprofits adopt these programs, it’s not surprising that they are using more consumer-facing social media channels, rather than a strictly B2B or B2P channel such as LinkedIn. Also, we are seeing that all types of organizations are using more visual media effectively, especially online video, which was one of our key recommendations from last year’s study.
Program goals include both internal and externally facing business goals. Top goals in 2017 include an increased focus on internal employee advocacy initiatives: improving employee engagement (74%) and supporting change management initiatives (27%), as well as customer-facing goals such as elevating and humanizing the brand (61%), enhancing the organization’s thought leadership position (58%), amplifying the reach of branded content and reaching new audiences (53%), driving leads and sales (45%), strengthening relationships with key stakeholders (40%), improving the customer experience and delivering customer support (22%).
HR is beginning to play a larger role in the management of these programs, with 24% of respondents stating that HR manages their employee advocacy program, a 16% growth over 2016. This is attributable to the increased focus on internally-facing initiatives such as employee engagement and supporting change management, as well as using employee advocacy for employer branding and recruitment (44%). Marketing also leads 24% of these programs — including driving most of the social selling initiatives — followed by Corporate Communications (14%), Public Relations (13%), Internal Communications (13%), Social Media (8%) and Sales (2%). This is a big change organizationally over 2016, when employee advocacy programs were primarily being led by Marketing (31%), Corporate Communications (23%) and Social Media (23%).
These programs are maturing and becoming integrated with key business programs and goals and as these programs mature, program managers’ satisfaction with results is increasing: 47% of respondents stated that their program has been in place for three to five years, and 17% have had programs for more than five years. More than 75% of respondents reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the success of their employee advocacy program, while in 2016 only 67% were satisfied and no respondents were very satisfied. Satisfaction with employee advocacy platforms is also increasing as these tools and technologies mature.
We’ve seen a tremendous growth and maturation of these programs over the past year. They are more strategic, better resourced, managed, and governed, and business goals and measurements are better aligned. Still, companies face the same primary challenge: sustaining active employee advocate participation. Just as in 2016, this is the biggest challenge, with 68% of respondents ranking it number one.
There also continues to be a low level of risk mitigation in terms of addressing security and privacy risks to protect employees’ social media accounts and organizations’ brand reputation. This is concerning. According to our State of Digital and Social Media Risk Management survey released earlier this year, only 33% of organizations use any tools or technologies to specifically manage social media brand, security, and compliance risks, yet the number of organizations launching employee advocacy and social selling programs has risen dramatically – even in highly regulated industries. The number of employees participating in these programs continues to grow, and the number of social media hacks is growing, thereby significantly expanding organizations’ digital risk footprints.
Addressing these risks and ensuring that employees are satisfied and engaged throughout their employment and beyond, and that they understand the business goals and value of these programs and the significance of their role in these business initiatives will help to ensure the long-term success of these programs.
The full findings of this research will be unveiled By JEM CEO Jen McClure at a one-day seminar at The American Management Association Conference Center in San Francisco on September 27th: Employee Advocacy and Customer Engagement: A “How to Guide” from Leading Brands.
Jen McClure is CEO of JEM Consulting & Advisory Services, a Silicon Valley-based consultancy dedicated to helping organizations gain competitive advantage through the use of digital and social media. Follow her on Twitter @jenmcclure_JEM.