One of the most prevalent challenges for law and accountancy firms today is to get their messages out in the marketplace. But since the explosion of communications channels from the traditional to online, gaining visible traction has become more difficult than ever. And with many search marketing organisations predicting that social sharing of content will be a much more important means to improve search engine rankings in 2013, there is a strong business case for professional service firms to assess ways in which their valuable content will be distributed.
Larger law and accountancy firms may enjoy the support of PR, digital agencies and internal marketing teams to help them ‘be seen’, but a lot of smaller and even large regionals don’t have this type of resource to call on, yet they still need to generate visibility. These firms have to work with what they have.
Gaining visibility – a creative solution
In the past, firms have typically focused efforts on littering their communication platforms with ‘client evangelist’ testimonials – these generally being considered more authentic, valuable and influential – and using traditional PR methods to cultivate relationships with key influencers in the news media and sector press.
But while most professional service firms reach out to the external constituents, the best potential advocates are actually right in front of them – their own employees. Firms don’t recognise this untapped resource of often passionate colleagues and employees who have a stake in the success of their firm.
The making of a professional service brand is now about moving interest generation out of the marketing department, into the hands of all of its employees. This is where partnering with law firm or accountancy employees as brand advocates represents a potential solution: a firm’s employees are the key to building a firm’s corporate reputation. Most employees will have their own personal and professional social networks. Social media has made it easier to share, distribute and disseminate information to their social networks.
Distributing professional services content in this manner can be as simple as sending an email to employees asking them to share the firm’s content through their LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter profiles. If a firm has 30 employees that each have 200 unique followers, that’s 6,000 people that have the opportunity to learn more about your firm, or that can help you find that critical hire. With added social outreach, their social network may forward, and share to others, quickly growing visibility of your content organically, creating a more sustainable marketing and advertising effort.
How can leaders inspire brand advocacy in their employees?
If you want to improve your firm’s bottom-line results, appreciating your employees is critical. If you want to build a workforce that is engaged and focused, recognition and reward is essential for driving desired employee behaviour and performance.
Innovative recognition programmes leverage the power of social media by encouraging employees to personally endorse the firm’s brand and service lines, and receive recognition in return. These programmes also encourage colleagues to work to their social circles. As their calls to action are delivered, you gain the mind share of your employees, their contacts, their contacts’ contacts and so on. You also gain personal endorsements, generate buzz, ignite conversation, drive purchase intent, increase loyalty and attract new clients.
Define your firm’s goals
Firms need to select their approach and ensure it will have an impact that is appropriate for the size of firm. Advocates need to be identified at the outset. Whilst every employee within the firm may not be ready to advocate, some may still have influencing power as they can use their own personal network to amplify the information or brand message. Every firm has room for and needs advocates to help promote their message.
It’s crucial to communicate expectations. It’s no good if nobody knows about what you are doing, so be sure to provide communication that is clear and consistent. Since buy-in at all levels is critical, ensure messaging is relevant and appropriate for your audience.
Develop a programme
Firms need to demonstrate a commitment towards recognition in a tangible way, and ensure that immediate and periodic recognition triggers repeat behaviour. Firms need to create a culture that encourages improved performance and motivates employees at all levels, providing them with the platforms needed to easily share information with their social network. An advocacy programme will act as an essential framework for management and employees to work to.
Motivation is key. For those who want to engage, you could build advocacy into their job description, which also increases accountability. For some levels of employee, allow them to build their own community and blogs as a platform.
Governance is also critically important. A firm needs to ask many questions before launching an employee advocacy programme. What happens when an employee does or says the ‘wrong thing’? What constitutes the ‘wrong thing’ for your firm? Is there a social media policy in existence? Are employees trained on existing policies? Do employees know how to behave on social media? Will you teach them how to share branded content the ‘correct way’?
Firms need to determine whether they have full stakeholder support. Will you build in ‘feedback from employees’ into the advocacy programme? Do you have the motivation to stay the course and change the process if needed?
Monitor and evaluate
There’s always room for improvement, so measure results along the way. In addition to celebrating what’s working, you’ll have the opportunity to identify areas needing improvement and the ability to make necessary adjustments.
Making employee advocacy work
So what are the keys to success in today’s environment? Begin by understanding what motivates your employees to become more engaged with your brand and your strategic initiatives.
Any advocacy programme must be built on trust. Your employees trust you and, in turn, their social audiences trust them. Your firm’s messages will come back full-circle. But if you do consider implementing an employee advocacy strategy, do not abuse that trust. Employee advocacy and social media engagement collapses when you try to force an audience to engage.
Social media success is heavily reliant on authenticity and ‘likability’, and your employees’ social channels are their own. You can incentivise, but management should not make demands. This has to be an employee-led initiative in order for it to succeed. At the same time, managers need to have clear policies about advocacy on behalf of the firm. Social media can seem like one big sandbox, but there should still be guidelines on how to play in it.
Your employees should believe in the same vision you do, and that’s why they are your best advocates and brand ambassadors. Sharing news with their networks is not only additional validation that helps your campaign and message scale more quickly — their messages are rooted in a genuine interest.
While not without its challenges, widespread employee advocacy is the surest, cheapest way to scale up a firm’s visibility. Instead of achieving linear growth with client testimony, a professional service firm can magnify its reach at very little cost by activating a broad cross-section of its existing workforce.
Each professional services employee can be the first link in a long chain of valuable, person-to-person social shares. By leveraging employee advocacy and increasing the number of starting points for social sharing, a firm can greatly improve its chances of gaining visibility through social marketing success.
His passion for marketing and client acquisition has developed into a 20-year career, working for some of the leading professional service firms in the UK.
Graham can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mobile: 07715 413706.
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