Give ‘em Something to Talk About

Your company’s best advocates are closer than you think – IF you know how to engage them

Free advertising, mobile billboards, editorials, letters to the editor and social media — they all can be effective ways to engage potential customers. But did you know that you can do all of that and more with your existing workforce? Not all public relations campaigns need to focus outside the business! Sometimes use those public relations skills to harness the assets you already have.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds; often, the secret to engaging more customers is simply to engage more employees. And you do that by having them become advocates. But before they can help you, you have help them. So here are some easy strategies to help you create employee advocates. 

Communicate: Companies say they want to “communicate” with their employees, but do you fully appreciate what this means? Organizational consultant David Lee says, “The more employees know, the more they are likely to care.” The corollary: The more they care, the more likely they are to advocate. Good communication must be timely, accurate, honest and genuine. You can’t sugarcoat bad news, and at times, you should include some sensitive information. How would you feel as an employee to come home and learn about your company on the news? Shouldn’t your boss had told you about the good/bad news? Give your employees the perspective they need to carry your message. Let them help your public relations efforts.

What?: You may be thinking, “Where are the key message points I need to share with my employees? If I don’t tell them, they won’t know what to say.” Don’t worry: Your employees are smart, and they can talk about their work without your help. But if you tell them “good job,” they will share that message. Engaged employees also will share your social media posts and even create their own (for example, for a job opening at your company). And they will wear your t-shirt to the grocery store. So give them one after 90 days on the job and for any special occasion. Your staff shares your message based on how much you show that you care for them.

Reward: Make sure employees know how they are making a difference; eSkill Corporation CEO Eric Friedman calls this “the Yelp treatment,” and it is a great way to think about employee advocacy. Money is always nice, but it is not the only thing. In fact, Robert Half with Office Team says one of the key concerns for employees is work-life balance. So boss, no emails or texts after 7 p.m. — stop talking work. You can still work, just limit who you are dragging along with you. Conversely, if you are in an office setting, don’t email them before 6:30 a.m. And unless you plan to let them go early on Friday, don’t even think about Saturday and Sunday. Give a hoot!

Care: Know your employee’s names. Then demonstrate that you care about them by stepping into the cub farm or onto the shop floor and shaking hands and saying “thank you.” The Gallup organization reports, “The best managers make a concerted effort to get to know their employees and help them feel comfortable talking about any subject, whether it is work-related or not.” Caring about your employees can benefit you, as well: One study found that managers who showed their “human side” were rated substantially higher by their staff. The more you care about your employees, the more they will care about the organization.

Sincerity: This might be the most important way to create advocates. Sincerity means giving employees realistic expectations, genuine compliments and helping them grow. It especially means not being tone-deaf. For example, one local organization abruptly instituted layoffs; a couple weeks later, the leadership sent a message saying what an “exciting time” it was for the company – a stance completely out of touch with the staff. As Executive Coach Irene Becker counsels, “Strong relationships are built on shared values, integrity and transparent communication … You cannot make a fire with wet wood.” (It’s also harder to recruit top talent and grow your business.)

In short, billboards, editorials and social media are indeed great. But even better is to have employees talking (and tweeting) things like, “This company really cares about its people,” and “We’re really raising the bar.” Or send them a great photo that they are in – and don’t ask for anything back. Remember, most employees want to be advocates for their company; all you need to do is give them a reason.

When employees are properly engaged they are a huge asset, but at the same time, when the natives get restless, you need to do all you can to recover.

Written by Jeff Rodriguez and Brian Murnahan

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