What’s the difference between employee advocacy and social leadership?

What’s the difference between employee advocacy and social leadership? And why it matters

Welcome to 2020. I’m off to a slow start, due to extended festivities around my 50th birthday (yes getting old), but I’ll never be absent for long. There’s too much to ponder and discuss. Too much to get ready for.

If you watched my video earlier in the month (please give my YouTube channel a follow while you’re there 😊), talking about my mission for 2020 and beyond, I’m going to be sharing many more topics this year:

  • The environmental content will continue, because it is critical we face this and make the changes need urgently
  • How we get ready for the future of work
  • Compassion and empathy
  • Courage, bravery, resilience
  • And how we work towards creating a greater global society for all

That’s my mission.

But social leadership will remain a core topic, because it’s such a vital tool in the transformation we need to make in business and society. It’s the time of people power, let’s use it for good!

Social leadership Vs employee advocacy

So, here’s my first blog on this topic. If you’ve been reading any predictions for the year, a big one for 2020 (and 2019) is employee advocacy will take off as a trend and companies are finally ready to focus here. I really hope they don’t.

You see, employee advocacy is about the brand. By this I mean, the majority of brands are focused on creating a way for employees to share company content.

Whereas social leadership is about employees first – as social leaders and content creators in their own right. To achieve any level of success, it must start with employees, not the brand.

What’s wrong with employee advocacy?

Over the years, I have watched many many companies invest in the latest employee advocacy software, and then I’ve watched them fail in getting employees to embrace it. Note: the software isn’t bad, it’s how it’s being utilized that’s bad.

Most businesses will experience only a handful of employees jumping on board, incentivised by the gamification features typically included with this software. Boy do I hate gamification!

You see, to be powerful on social media, you don’t need to be incentivised, you need to understand why it’s so critical for you personally and then you need to own your voice and get out there. When companies push employee advocacy on their teams, they are missing one very important fact.

Employees who jump on board, sharing everything the company uploads onto the employee advocacy platform, are not an asset to be rewarded. They are regularly annoying or boring their community, because the information is not shared from a place of meaning. Therefore, it just becomes more noise in an infobese world. We don’t need anymore noise. We really don’t.

How many times have you seen peers, friends or colleagues, share company information on all of their social media platforms, and they don’t even bother to personalise the content? It’s a direct share from the employee advocacy platform – hashtags included.

All that happens is thousands of employees share the exact same information, with the exact same commentary accompanying it.

Why great employees won’t do that

I have a friend who was working for a large MNC. They could see she had an excellent social leadership presence, with high engagement and credibility, but they were frustrated because she wasn’t sharing their information through the advocacy tool. This means the company wasn’t able to measure her impact.

But my friend said something along the lines of: this information is old and I’ve watched dozens of colleagues already share it. There is no benefit to me in sharing it and I prefer to find my own company information, which is often available on the Website or company social media pages long before it’s on the advocacy solution. Besides, why share what everyone else is sharing? I need to be unique and relevant to my audience.

And to me, this is the essence. She was being asked to fit into an existing infrastructure, but her value will always lie in the fact that she cares passionately about her presence, is conscious of what she is putting out there, is focused on the community she wants to speak to, and is always dedicated to being world-class. This is a lady I admire tremendously on social media.

But companies struggle with super stars like this, because they can’t measure what they’re achieving – well not in a traditional way. Then again, we measure and value the wrong things across all aspects of business and society today, so hardly a surprise.

However, there is one more insight I have consistently gained in running my social leadership training across the world’s largest multi-national companies, and it is this.

Your best people will never join your quest for employee advocacy. They value their presence above all, are driven to always act with integrity, and if they do show up, they want to be incredible, not megaphones for your brand.

It doesn’t mean they don’t love your brand; they just don’t love what you are asking them to do with it.

If you don’t believe me, ask them. Ask your best thought leaders and experts why they aren’t supporting your employee advocacy efforts? It will be one of two things – guaranteed.

  1. They’re not aware of it, haven’t thought about it, haven’t prioritized it, haven’t seen anyone else prioritizing it, or don’t know where to start – they are potential recruits
  2. Although, the best people regularly tell me: there is no integrity in sharing everything I’m asked to share! Why would I sully my reputation sharing this weak information? The content isn’t good enough to share! I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it doesn’t feel right to blast more information out into the world, I mean, isn’t there already enough? I will share when I believe I am adding value to my community

Your best thought leaders and experts are looking to build a presence that is meaningful to them, their career and life aspirations, as well as the community they want to reach. They may not know where to start or how best to achieve it, but that is what they want to do.

It’s often a sub-conscious thought, but they know it’s not right to participate on social media this way. I’ve spoken with thousands of professionals like this. These people should be valued. They 100% GET why social media is important and for them, it’s about delivering value, always.

No noise and fluff from these people.

Let’s look at social leadership

So, let’s look at social leadership, which is much more than social media participation and a much more sophisticated approach than employee advocacy. To understand the opportunity, we must focus on the meaning of the word – social.

Humans are defined as social when we live collectively in interacting populations.

Therefore, when it comes to embracing professional and business opportunities in the digital age, we must help employees determine their unique value proposition and then make them aware of the paths available – both digital and physical – so they can become powerful social leaders in their field of expertise – with an emphasis on the word social.

With a lack of trust in businesses and uncertainty about the future of work, empowering employees to own their voice will build your business today, and position your employees for opportunities as technology advancements change the landscape of business.

SocialCEOA true social leadership culture helps employees become a voice around the issue or business topic they care most about – because passion is in the driving seat.

Employees might want to talk about solving customer issues, or inspired leadership. They might want to discuss the transformation happening in their current job function, or they might care most about spirituality, mindfulness or food. The topics that get them excited are varied and important to them.

But how does that benefit our business?

We are in the business of building trust with our communities. Read Edelman’s current Trust Barometer. It’s gone live this month. Competence and ethics is the theme for 2020, and both qualities enhance a social leadership culture – whether customer centric or not.

As an example, a senior leader in the IT industry I worked with got more engagements and comments on a blog he wrote, where he discussed work life balance and how important it was to him to achieve both. That’s ethics. It builds trust in a company, because its leaders’ value what’s important. People want to work for a company like that. Customers remain loyal to companies that value this too. They can be trusted.

Another executive, in the financial services industry, gained a significant promotion and talked about the challenges and opportunities he was experiencing as he was growing into his new role. That’s the way to speak to employees in the digital age (and the employee impact was significant for this leader), while also letting customers know you’re human, open, and vulnerable, which is both competence and ethics.

And another executive speaks about mindfulness and spirituality. This is really important to her and she wants to raise awareness in business to embrace these ideas. Again, ethics. Customers, fellow employees, potential recruits, and all other stakeholders want to work for or with a company that values its people bringing their whole selves to work.

No matter the topic, when a person builds a presence around something that is important to them, they gain a following that cares about it too, and it gives a window to their colleagues, customers and more, on the quality of person they are. That’s a critical path to building trust today, via our integrity displayed online.

Transform your business through social leadership

Social leadership transforms businesses from within through the voice of your people. It delivers business results, drives employee engagement and builds trust…

I often hear: but if we train them, they will leave and get better jobs? 

Which always reminds me of: What if we train them and they leave? What if we don’t and they stay?

Building a social leadership culture and empowering employees to own their voice, builds their trust in your company. Yes, some may leave and get better opportunities, but from what I’ve seen, this isn’t the norm. They become more loyal to their leadership team and the company as a whole. Their careers expand and great opportunities become available.

Equally, it is an investment in the future of your employees. With the gig-economy and automation on the rise, this is one of the single best things you can do to prepare your employees for the future of work.

When they have a strong and credible presence on their professional social media channels, as well as on stages and within your business, it future proofs them for professional opportunities as the world continues to evolve at speed.

When you invest in your employees and create a social leadership culture, you are demonstrating brave and courageous leadership. You are showing your employees that you trust them.

Top 5 benefits of social leadership from employee feedback

  1. Growing belief in the effectiveness of strategic social selling
  2. Bigger networks globally, opening doors to opportunities for the company and its employees
  3. Clients learning about the company from the content employees are willingly sharing
  4. Growing self-confidence and belief they are in control of their careers
  5. Increased internal visibility within the company, which increases confidence in future opportunities

I’ve witnessed the transformative power of social leadership cultures in some of the world’s biggest companies. It is incredible.

If you are considering embracing employee advocacy this year, take it up a notch and embrace social leadership instead. It’s a long-term transformation, but it is worth the wait. Make it about your employees first. You will bask in the glow of your powerful social leaders.

Anyone working for a company that is either failing at employee advocacy or one that understands social leadership is the right approach? Let me know. Would love a chat.

Cheers and here’s to great things in 2020


Stay tuned – it’s finally happening

18 Steps to An All-Star LinkedIn Profile (the book) will be released any day now!!!

Are you a Social CEO?

I’m proud to be a contributing author to The Social CEO: How Social Media Can Make You A Stronger Leader. You can order it on Amazon today.

Want to claim your stage?

Check out our co-authored Best Selling Book – Unleash Your Voice – Powerful Public Speaking for Every Womanproud to be part of this too!

Want proof social leadership transforms business and attracts customers?

Check out this case study with IBM Asia Pacific. Incredible results.

Want to be a super star online?

Don’t know where to start, check out my e-learning course How to build a rock star personal brand today.

I believe it’s time for all of us to embrace our voice and embrace the future. We do this by working and living ‘out loud’ with meaning, intention, integrity and by being true to ourselves. If you own your voice, you will own your future.

Connect with me

If you like my style and what I talk about, feel free to follow me on any of these platforms on social media.

My blog andreatedwards.com

Twitter @AndreaTEdwards

LinkedIn AndreaTEdwards

LinkedIn The Digital Conversationalist

Facebook AndreaTEdwards

YouTube Andrea Edwards

SlideShare  AndreaTEdwards

1 thought on “What’s the difference between employee advocacy and social leadership? And why it matters”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *