How to turn your employees into your best advocates

Nurturing employee advocacy has multiple benefits for companies; it increases staff loyalty (& retention), helps to recruit top talent and acts as an effective internal communications tool, as well as raises brand awareness and engagement with the public too.

Finland’s largest dairy producer, Valio, has been using employee advocacy for more than a year and has incorporated owner and employee generated content on to its main website, as a part of a new communications strategy. Valio’s community manager Pekka Rantamoijanen, who is leading the advocacy program, said: “We wanted to communicate the stories happening inside Valio to our customers, as told by our owners and employees. As social media is more popular than ever, we thought using social channels would be a good way of sharing our Valio message.”

Valio, which claims to be the most innovative dairy in the world, now has many of its farmers/owners, the lifeblood of the brand, regularly posting images to Instagram of their beautiful farms and livestock using the hashtag #valiomaitoa. Rantamoijanen said: “Farmers now think their work is much more integral [to the business] than before, because they can communicate about their work, their cows and how they are producing the milk directly to the consumer; we are just amplifying and sharing their message.”

This pioneering approach has stuck a cord with their customers, who have reacted positively to the business showing its more personal side. Within a year and half of the program in operation Valio has garnered 25 thousand Instagram followers, 220 thousand Facebook fans, and 17 thousand Twitter followers. “We get a lot of positive feedback from our consumers; they share pictures of our farmers at work and leave lots of positive comments,” said Rantamoijanen.

The farmer-owners are not the only ones actively acting as brand advocates. From the grass roots right to the top, everyone is playing their part. Rantamoijanen said: “Working life has changed dramatically in the last five to 10 years. Employees may be responsible for certain roles, but they have to be active in social media as well. It’s become part of their job. Even our CEO, Annikka Hurme, is now doing it too.”

The employee advocacy team have created what they call ‘champion news desk’ on their intranet. They have created their own ‘ideas bank’ of articles, written by its staff, on health, nutrition, fitness and wellness along with information about corporate social responsibility as well as the latest research on their industry, which employees are encouraged to share on their personal social feeds. The advocacy team have set up instructions and tips on how employees can use these pieces of content, as well as how to use the specially created hashtag #valiojengi. “There are certain rules – things our colleagues should not do - but more importantly we are trying to inspire our colleagues to go to social media and be active. We want our employees build their own character in social media channels, which means allowing them to share the content they want to with their own views and words,” Rantamoijanen said.

How to create an employee advocacy program

Learning from the successes Valio has experienced, we’ve come up with a five-point plan on how you can create your own employee advocacy program too.

1. Adapt your website to accommodate social content

Modern websites need to do more than just publish corporate information. They need to act as a two way communications channel between your brand and your customers. You need a blog, which carries written and visual content, as well as publish authentic content created on social by your colleagues, and customers. This really helps to show the human face of your brand. Not only will this approach attract customers, it will help you to recruit top talent too. Rantamoijanen said: “Our content is very natural. From the beginning our HR team have been impressed with this new approach, because it helps them to amplify the values of Valio from an employee perspective to prospective candidates. We’ve found it a really important the outcome of this program.”

2. Create a culture of sharing

Giving your employees ‘freedom within boundaries’ to share theirs and the company’s stories helps to create a culture of trust and encourages participation. This approach must be fostered from the top down; the management team need to be seen to be actively sharing and participating in the scheme to inspire the employees. Rantamoijanen said: “Even the directors and the CEO are participating [in the advocacy program]. This has been the most important aspect of wider adoption of the scheme – as you can’t tell other people to do it if you’re not active yourself.”

3. Provide the content

Give your colleagues the material to share. Make their lives easier by creating a bank of stories that they can simply click on and share on their social channels. Use your intranet to publish the latest industry news, internal news, curate things happening in your world. “We wanted to make it easy for our employees to share and advocate our work. We use Flockler’s platform to host our intranet, where publish and curate news pulled in from an RSS feed, as well as publishing our own in-house content. The platform is very streamlined, intuitive and instinctive to use – it’s so easy it only takes 10 minutes to learn how to use,” said Rantamoijanen.

4. Remind

As with any employee initiative you need to make it visible and keep it top of the mind for colleagues to do. Valio uses Flockler’s technology to live-stream a newsfeed continually on an internal television screen. The internal comms team also send out a weekly email – rounding up what’s been happening on social and within the organisation and, with the use of Flockler’s dashboard, are even able to say which employees have been the most proactive. “It’s really important to make the advocacy program visible, because there are so many other employee programs going on, so we work hard to keep it in people’s minds in everyday life,” said Rantamoijanen.

5. Incentivise and Reward

It’s important to incentivise and reward colleagues to keep the momentum going. Valio regularly hands out product samples to its staff, so they can try new lines and recommend them to their friends. They continually run extra training courses, in photography skills or writing technique, to enhance their colleagues’ skills and give them the confidence and empower them. Rantamoijanen said: “Valio is the most innovative dairy in the world – so we are challenge our employees to live up to that motto… and regularly ask them how can you contribute to this?”

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