Is Incentivized Employee Advocacy Eroding Consumer Trust?

Most marketers understand the power of word of mouth marketing – the added trust that comes from sharing a real opinion or experience with a product or service. Part of the appeal of employee advocacy revolves around the idea that employees’ messages will be perceived with more trust. The thought is that an employee would not engage in this type of activity unless they felt genuine about that communication.

Some critics may counter that incentivizing employees as part of an advocacy initiative will erode this trust because the communication involves rewards, whether it’s points or prizes. Do these incentives, then, challenge the integrity of the employee’s advocacy? My answer is, likely not.

The Motivation To Advocate

The reality is that employees are largely motivated by factors other than rewards. Numerous psychology studies on the nature of employee engagement show that pay compensation (although particularly relevant in certain circumstances) is often found not to be the ultimate driving force behind employee motivation.

At the end of the day, an employee sharing personal points of view in an advocacy role is largely intrinsic and not tied to a “reward for sharing a post”. An unhappy or dissatisfied employee is not likely to engage in advocacy, even if he or she stands to win a prize.

This is not to say that employees may not be motivated by other factors: recognition at work, becoming influential on social media, becoming a thought/opinion leader or being viewed as an authority or expert. More importantly, these types of reasons are largely tied to an employee’s sense of value to the company, their personal ambitions, career development goals and sense of self-actualization, as in Maslow’s pyramid of needs.

Fostering a Culture of Thought Leadership and Innovation

Moreover, happy employees are more likely to be self-driven to these behaviors because there is an overall system of support and encouragement already in place that led them to be happy employees in the first place. Active employee advocacy is therefore more of a symptom of company culture and of innovation-focused work environments.

An employee advocacy initiative cannot work if the work environment has not previously established a supportive context in which employees can feel free to share, discuss, offer points of view, or feel a personal motivation to do so. Companies that successfully launch employee advocacy initiatives are those that have created company cultures encouraging employees to share ideas, drive projects and deepen their career development with the company.

Implementing Employee Advocacy

The motivation (and by and large the ROI calculation) tied to advocacy initiatives is often measured through marketing-focused KPIs such as reach, brand awareness, and even online paid media comparisons. I argue, however, that the greatest impact is an increasingly engaged workforce that is more informed and collaborative, which itself leads to further innovation and synergy.

However, this does not mean that companies with different cultures cannot transform, at least at a basic level, to allow a window for this sort of initiative. Even a basic recognition that employees’ points of view are valued, and that their advocacy activities are respected by the company, could easily lead to greater feelings of loyalty by the employee for the company.

To learn more about what is involved in creating your own employee advocacy initiative, discover the webcast, “Launching Employee Advocacy on a Global Scale”.

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