Can Employee Advocacy Save You From Facebook Pay-to-Play?

Facebook now forces brands to pay to reach the Fans they attract. As one example, Chris Penn estimated that, “Facebook is averaging about $.38 per 100 fans in sponsored post fees in order to reach all of your audience. If you have 5000 fans, expect to spend about $19 per post.”
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One alternative would be to ask your employees to share your brand content or messages. So far, individual profiles do not seem to be affected as much by the News Feed algorithm changes.

How much can we expect such an approach to close that gap for a brand? Constantin Basturea and I kicked around some thoughts, considering the following three aspects of paid posts — or paid media in general:

1. Reach

In some situations and in some industries, you might replace sponsored posts — to some degree — with employee posts on Facebook.

In Facebook, relationships between people generally depend on people having some real-world relationship that is personal, rather than professional.

  • LinkedIn, on the other hand, depends on people having some kind of professional relationship. Some people connect on LinkedIn just to have more connections, or because they work in the same industry, but most relationships on LinkedIn form when two people have worked together.
  • On Twitter, people connect because they share an interest. Most people who connect on Twitter have never met in person.
  • The same is true on Pinterest.

These network differences are critical to understand because reach depends upon the degree to which your employees are connected with people in your target audience, on the appropriate social network, for the given message — or context of the message.

Let’s take two examples:

Example 1: Employees Increase Message Reach

You might ask your employees to share information about positions you are trying to hire. Maybe your employees can talk about interesting aspects of their work, team successes, or benefits. If your employees have network connections who work in the same industry or job role, then your employees might add visibility and credibility to your messages.

Example 2: Employees Don’t Increase Message Reach

If you sell something like corporate sustainability services, your employees may not have a lot of network connections in that industry or professional circle. (I don’t have data so support employee reach within these target audiences. Just examples, folks.) In such cases, you might not get much juice from your employees sharing brand messages on Facebook. You might achieve greater reach through employees on other venues in which corporate sustainability services are most often discussed. For example, an open community, group or forum.

2. Frequency

Imagine you sell toothpaste. How many times per week would you personally share brand content about toothpaste — on your personal Facebook page?

People who nag their Friends about their employer’s products typically pay a steep price: less and less attention, until they get ignored — or worse, removed from their network connections. When a brand shows you the same banner ad twenty times, you may not like it, but you don’t take it personally.

So, you might need to think about how employee posts contribute to frequency, while knowing they are not likely to replace it.

3. Control

When you pay for advertising on Facebook, you control the content. You don’t exactly control the timing of your ads’ display to consumers because Facebook does, but you control the start and end times of your campaign.

If you deploy an Employee Advocacy platform, you might be able to restrict changes to any content that you ask employees to publish or amplify.

Brands in highly regulated industries usually have an easier time of enforcing such controls because their employees are accustomed to restrictions on what they can say about the brand. Brands in less regulated industries may find that exerting such control dissuades employees from participating in an employee advocacy program.

Without an employee advocacy platform, brands who ask employees to share certain content may need to give up control of the message in exchange for indirect access to the employees’ Facebook networks.

Remember the Targeting Value of Sponsored Posts

Finally , consider the fact that Followers of a brand page are a qualified audience because they opted-in. At least, this is true if you didn’t bribe them to like you with free gifts.

Sponsored posts let you target that qualified audience for additional targeting. How would we target the followers of our employees?

Constantin and I would love to hear your thoughts on this emerging and evolving topic.

2 Responses to Can Employee Advocacy Save You From Facebook Pay-to-Play?

  1. SusanEmerick February 19, 2014 at 3:23 am #

    This just published today: http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140219015600-2954-the-rehabilitation-of-the-facebook-newsfeed While it’s welcome news for FB users, it’s an interesting spin to drive more paid media investment.

  2. cbasturea February 24, 2014 at 5:04 am #

    LinkedIn has recently announced that they’re extending their Influencers program by opening up publishing for everybody: http://blog.linkedin.com/2014/02/19/the-definitive-professional-publishing-platform/

    This might be positioning LinkedIn better as an advocacy platform, though it’s unclear if employees will have any ways of monitoring what their employees will publish.

    Right now it looks more like a way of getting people to get their content (that might be published on personal blogs) within LinkedIn’s boundaries, which only creates more content against which LI can sell advertising. The terms of service discourages “posts that self-servingly advertise a service, business, political cause or other organization or cause that does not benefit the broader LinkedIn community” – but who knows where they will draw the line, and if an employee boasting about its employer’s products or services will be penalized:

    http://help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/47545/ft/eng