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Social Advocacy - The New Grapevine on Steroids

04/06/2016 15:40 | Updated 04 June 2016

Chatting with a group of friends over dinner recently, we realised how customer reviews are increasingly the tipping point in our buying decisions. We weren't talking about hotels and Trip Advisor. I was focused on cycling gear and a particularly animated friend on electrical appliances! What emerged was that we had gone past the point of simply using our own "trusted" networks to a wider set. However we admitted that for all the reviews we consumed, we hardly posted any ourselves, whether happy with our purchases or not.

When Glassdoor launched itself into the world of peer to peer employer reviews in 2007, it was undoubtedly a smart move ensuring you could not investigate its data bank without registering under your current job and posting a rating for your own employer.

I remember vividly a few years ago using Glassdoor data with a client to illustrate some of the challenges this particular organisation had on its hands when it came to employee engagement. They did not want to know, stating it was used by disgruntled employees only; it did not paint the whole picture. Interestingly it's a point of view I have heard again recently. So OK let's acknowledge that this might be akin to "active" versus "passive" candidates - in other words "disgruntled of Accounts" versus "satisfied in Customer Service". Even if this is the case - and without sounding like I am on the payroll of Glassdoor - there is huge value in the insight and ratings sites like this offer. If nothing else you can develop a calibration against "disgruntled of Accounts" for your talent competitor set - and that is undoubtedly revealing.

So why is it we are happy to work with peer to peer reviews now in every other aspect of our lives but we still see the content of sites like Glassdoor as somehow "different"?
I believe the answer lies in the complexity of how we think about the world of work. In other words, the construct of such sites is only scraping the surface of what it really takes to attract and retain talent and the individuality of organisations' employer brands.

Purchasing a job is complex - and it is rarely if ever an impulse decision. It is highly considered and very individual. Research at my consultancy has demonstrated six distinct categories of consideration, and you have to dig deeply in amongst the comments on sites like Glassdoor to really get the insight needed to evaluate these. A wider span of social listening - beyond peer to peer review sites - undoubtedly reveals more. But we are still not at the point where employee advocacy about the world of work is the norm. Or are we?

Altimeter, a Prophet company that helps companies understand the landscape of digital disruption, published research earlier this year that concluded increasing comfort with social channels meant we were now at a tipping point for the growth of employee advocacy and, in particular, formalised programs. They talked about brand leaders seeing employees as an underutilised asset, at a time when consumers rely on their social networks of trusted friends for information and brand preference. Smart companies managing their employer brands have long been using social advocacy - but making the connection to wider brand building is the new prize.

The report, available here, offers great insight, including:
• 55% of employees reported sharing posts about work - with 21% of consumers reacting by "liking" it - a far higher rate than the average social advertisement response

• When employees were asked how they felt about sharing work-related content, the leading response was "I feel more connected and enthusiastic about the company I work for"

• Only 9% of employees were posting as a result of a company endorsed programme - so what is currently happening is very much organic

• Community involvement and news posts from employees had more impact in North America than in Europe

• But there was some evidence that not everyone wants to be hearing/receiving this kind of content - 20% of consumers in the survey had blocked or un-followed a friend because of work content they posted

What is worrying is that it appears HR is not influencing the evolution of social advocacy enough. Colleagues in brand and marketing tend to be the drivers although the research findings suggest they are more interested in the number of employees who post rather than the connection to engagement, hiring and retention.

I have long talked about the prize of holistic brand management and the need for HR and Marketing and/or Corporate Communications to work together. Effective Employer Brand management demands it - but perhaps social advocacy could be the catalyst that really makes this happen.

Many moons ago organisations used to bemoan the mythology of the grapevine and work hard to drown out the background noise they felt it created. Today we are talking about harnessing the power of a grapevine on steroids that is now fundamental to our lives, omnipresent and the place where brand reputations are increasingly made or lost.

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