How HR leaders can drive content marketing and employee advocacy

I had a wonderful opportunity to speak at HRO Today Forum in Singapore recently. Thank you to my friend Wendy Tan for putting me forward. Very much appreciated.

This is the first time I’ve talked about content marketing, social leadership and employee advocacy specifically to HR professionals, so it was a great exercise to hone the message for the change agents of business – HR.

So for any HR leaders not in that room, I thought it might be valuable to summarize the key points from the presentation.

The most direct impact of the digital revolution on business today is the fact that the customer has fundamentally changed. Consumers (B2C) don’t rely on businesses for information on their products or services anymore, because they are 92% of the way through the decision cycle before they speak to a brand. For B2B it’s anywhere between 65-90% of the way through. This is significant. The customer is deciding and learning outside the brand.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is about creating conversations with customers, partners and influencers. To achieve that, businesses must focus on delivering content that is so good, it earns the right to live in the customer’s world, where they are learning, being educated, and of course, distracted.

Our goal today, is to build so much loyalty with our customers – because we are consistently delivering value to them and making their lives better – that they want to buy from us to reward us for our efforts.

The six levels of content marketing

If we break down the state of business today in regards to content marketing:

  • Levels 1-3 are still trying to figure out what it is
  • Level 4 scares me. This is where companies are feeding their employees content and asking them to share it on their social channels. On one level it’s good – they appreciate the value of employee’s social presence. On another level it’s bad, because the content is not good enough to make anyone look good. It’s marketing content and it does not respect the employee or honour the value of the employees’ personal brand
  • Level 5 is where we all need to focus. This is when businesses create amazing content and encourage the employees to not only share content but to create it themselves. Equally, businesses are honouring the employees personal brand above the company brand. That is where we need to go and trust is central to this
  • Level 6 is my nirvana. This is bringing the whole business ecosystem together and creating a story that elevates employees, customers, partners and more. We need to be focused on building businesses that do this, however, for now, I’d be happy if businesses focused on level five

Content marketing is about business transformation

I believe there is a lot of confusion about content marketing, but it’s essentially about business transformation. All eyes are on the marketing department to deliver it, and while marketing enables it, every line of business function must be involved. Especially your senior executive team. They must buy into content marketing or it just won’t work. Well it can, but it’s much harder.

Businesses must put content and storytelling at the heart of business. Not off to the side as a tactic where it sits today. It needs a place at the strategic centre of business.

The Digital Conversationalist

HR professionals, internally and externally, should have an audience-focused mind-set. Whether it’s attracting or retaining talent, content marketing is your greatest asset today.

While we could talk through the entire heart of content, and everyone’s role, let’s look at those who touch the customer – sales leaders, customer service, customer feedback and so on. Businesses must feed the customer perspective back into the heart of your business, answer the questions/concerns of customers, and then create content that is pushed back out into the world of the customer.

Every role in your organisation has a role to play with content marketing. And the reason employees are so critical today? Because people don’t trust brands (it’s low at 15%), but they do trust people – 84%.

If you look at the numbers.

The average person has 500 social media connections. If you have 500 employees doing one activity per week, on behalf of your business, that is the ability to influence 250,000 people. If you have 5,000 employees, they have the ability to influence 2.5 million people. Add this up over weeks, months, years, and you’re really starting to see impact.

What is necessary to ensure you run a successful employee advocacy program?

  1. Culture – corporate cultures rooted in trust do employee advocacy well. Brands must trust the people your customers do business with
  2. Guidelines – that encourage participation versus being over controlling. If you are still using the same social media guidelines written a decade ago, throw them out and start again
  3. Employee brand first – focus must be on the success of the employee’s brand first, not the other way around
  4. A Platform – make it as easy as possible for employees to get on board
  5. Effective measurement – a platform makes measurement easier, and this will help to understand impact. However, defining how you measure success is not straight forward. You can measure numbers, but impact, especially when you factor in dark social, can be more challenging to measure. This is a good case study of IBM’s success with employee advocacy
  6. Champions – start with this group, those who are already engaged and understand the importance of their personal brand. Especially anyone who is blogging. Embrace them and bring them into the fold – they will set the tone for everyone to follow
  7. 1-2-1 Coaching – success requires access to coaching. I shared the IBM case study above, but this experience also revealed that only 9% were successful when left alone, versus 75% if they had access to on-going coaching. This is critical to succeeding

What are the benefits to business?

  • Engaged and valued employees – employees who are contributing and part of your story are more engaged and feel more valued. You are making them a star and they want to be part of your journey. Employee engagement is at an all-time low worldwide, this could be the differentiator for your business
  • Retain & recruit the best – when employees are valued they stay – and let’s face it, these are the people you want to keep. Equally, 50% of the workforce will be millennials by 2020, and what do they do when applying for new jobs? They find out about the culture of your business – that is what they care about. Content marketing is that window to your corporate culture
  • Agile business – being social as a business forces you to look outside of your organisation, versus being internally focussed. A broader, external perspective means you are more agile because you are on the pulse of the knowledge economy and connected to customers in real time
  • Connected to ideas – because you’re social, you’re connected to the ideas of your employees and the wider world. Considering the change we are going through, the speed of which has never happened in human history, being connected to the pulse of an always-on world is critical
  • Customer loyalty – content marketing is all about helping customers and making them the focus of your business. In return you get their loyalty
  • Industry leadership – an outward and customer-focused business is on the pulse of its industry
  • Competitive advantage – and of course, if you’re on the pulse you’re going to enjoy the competitive advantage that comes with that across the board

HR leaders have such an amazing opportunity to take the drivers seat in transforming their organisations into content led business. If I was going to suggest where to focus first, I’d say:

  1. Get the siloes down – content marketing can’t exist when siloes remain. The siloes of business are the enemy of being successful at content. This is about the whole organisation coming together
  2. Partnership culture – with siloes down you need to create partnerships across the business, working together for the future of the business
  3. Train & trust – train your people, provide them with great guidance, but you must trust them
  4. Get the leaders on board – without your leaders it’s very difficult to make this happen. Convince and cajole them
  5. Culture change – as HR leaders you understand cultural change better than anyone in business and this is fundamental to the success of creating a content driven organisation

Content marketing is a massive opportunity for your business. It’s about transformation and if you think of content marketing as the store window to your business, attracting both customers and talent, as well as keeping your star employees, it needs you (and your leadership team) to step up and lead the change your business requires to be successful in the digital economy.

Here is the presentation if you are interested

[slideshare id=63399560&doc=andreaedwardshrotodayforumapac2016-160624031802]

What do you think? Can HR leaders drive content marketing? What have I missed?



Picture, don’t follow the crowd, courtesy of Shutterstock. Content heart design, courtesy of Novus Asia.

And please, if you like this, I’d love a comment, or a virtual hug. Of course, please feel free to share with your communities. That’s what this is all about today – sharing and giving to each other. If you like my style and what I talk about, feel free to follow me on LinkedInTwitter or on Facebook. My blog is here.

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