Buyer Guide: Social Employee Advocacy Software

Why Publish This Report

First, in the past 1-2 years — brands around the world have invested to empower their employees in social media. Example brands include: Oakley, Dell, IBM, and Intel. In the year 2014, it is malpractice to claim you are “omni-channel” while ignoring employees and advocates as a channel.

Second, I found 29 vendors in this space today. More will enter in 2014. As the space becomes more crowded, I want to help people make informed choices about the software they select.

Third, while many people write about these kinds of programs, but no one writes about the technologies.

Definition of Social Employee Advocacy

In this report, the terms Social Employee Advocacy, or Employee Advocacy, describe brands empowering employees to support the goals of the brand, through employee-owned social media. That is, employees use the social media accounts that they own personally, such as the employee’s personal Twitter account or Facebook account.

For example, a brand may give employees images to share on Pinterest. Or a brand may ask employees to tell their LinkedIn network about a job opening.

Employee Advocacy is sometimes considered to be a part of Advocate Marketing or Referral Marketing, or even Affiliate Marketing. While there are many similarities or overlaps, Employee Advocacy focuses on employees as the channel, not customers or other external audiences.

This Document Will be Updated Regularly

This document will be updated at least once per quarter, with quarterly interviews of the vendors in the report. I will also update the report whenever I discover new vendors in this space. You can suggest a vendor any time. Further, I will update this document any time a vendor releases significant new functionality, or in the cases of mergers, acquisitions or vendors leaving the space.

Changes Since First Version

(ordered with most recent at the top)

  • Added OpenQ
  • Removed HootSuite
  • Added Xmplifi
  • Added PointBurst
  • Added Nexgate
  • Updated Influitive based on interview with the vendor
  • Began listing brands whose perspectives contributed to this report.
  • Added HootSuite.
  • Added social collaboration and SharePoint compliance to the list of vendor categories excluded from this report.
  • Added Socialware.
  • Added PostBeyond.
  • Clarified the fact that no one vendor has everything that is needed to run an employee advocacy program because (1) no vendor has all the needed features and (2) the definition of “everything” depends on each customer’s requirements.
  • Added Sprinklr and combined with Dachis Group, due to acquisition.
  • Clarified requirements for “API” scoring.

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Vendors were selected for inclusion based on their self-reporting that they provide services that help brands to empower employees in social media, on behalf of the brand. Vendor representatives were interviewed, and each interview included a product demonstration, as well as discussion of the vendor’s vision for the market, the types of customers they serve, and how they intend to position themselves within the market.

I did not evaluate the vendors’ service or support capabilities. That is impossible to evaluate personally, so I will include that in a future report, after interviewing customers from the vendors.

Types of Vendors Excluded

Categories I deliberately exclude (but I could be convinced to add, if you would like to help me understand why I should add them):

  • Listening or Monitoring — unless they focus on listening to employees or monitoring employees.
  • Social Collaboration, such as Jive, Chatter, Yammer, IBM Connections. While these tools can be built into a solution that supports empowerment of employees in external social media, they do not explicitly offer features that help to empower employees in external social media.
  • Performance Utilities: These are usually single-function tools or apps that offer to make your social media activity achieve greater impact, such as telling you the best times to tweet. While I use some of these kinds of tools myself, choosing them is typically not a significant investment decision, and that decision is usually taken by employees individually, rather than on behalf of an entire program of employees.
  • Influence Scoring: I don’t find such tools useful for empowering employees in social media. For my rationale, see Chapter 4 in my book with Susan Emerick, The Most Powerful Brand on Earth.
  • Gamification Platforms: Like collaboration platforms, these may be part of a larger employee enablement solution, but do not focus on functions that enable employees in social media, explicitly.
  • Collaboration Compliance Management: Vendors that monitor or help to manage compliance within social collaboration platforms or SharePoint.

Each subsequent release of this report will include more input from more corporate practitioners, domain experts, agency staff, and consultancies.

This methodology will evolve, and new steps will be added, with each release of this report, and as vendors evolve in their complexity. To suggest changes to the methodology, or factors that I should add to this research, please contact us.

Ecosystem Input

A lot of people contributed and continue to contribute their time, perspective and feedback to make this report possible. (This is a living document.) Those people included corporate practitioners, domain experts, agencies and consultancies. Consulted brands include:

In addition, I spoke with people from the following vendors — some of whom are not in this report, but they helped to inform my analysis, and I thank them (in alphabetical order):

The next release of this report will include greater perspective and input from a larger number of ecosystem members surrounding employee advocacy programs and software vendors.

The Vendors

Many of the software vendors who help brands to empower employees in social media have been around for 3 or more years. Of those vendors, some always focused on employee enablement in social media, and some vendors evolved into the space from other areas, such as affiliate marketing or compliance management.

Each vendor takes one of three distinct approaches to the market for enabling employees in social media. In fact, the vendors in this report do not compete against each other entirely, but they compete within the four Use Case Groups described below.

In defining the Use Case groups, I sought to draw the lines around domains that will be difficult for vendors to jump across. For example, the Compliance Management vendors have been in that space for years, monitoring other channels such as email and instant messaging, so it would be challenging for any of the Employee Enablement vendors to add competitive monitoring and archival integrations across all digital channels. At the same time, it would be challenging for the compliance vendors to compete along the engagement and content management features that make the Employee Enablement vendors so compelling.

Use Case Groups

Use Case 1. Employee Enablement

In general, these vendors let marketers create content designed for social venues, and then push that content to employees, for employees to publish through their personal social media.

Employee Enablement vendors are the largest set of vendors in employee advocacy, and there is a wide range of functional coverage among them. Some of them offer very rich functionality across desktop and mobile experiences, and some predominately focus on either desktop or mobile.

Typically, these vendors offer features that support the following capabilities (this is a partial list of select examples):

  • Integration with employee social profiles (usually via OAuth)
  • Content Syndication and Content Management
  • Activity or Performance Measurement
  • Internal Collaboration for Advocates
  • Gamification, Performance Management, Rewards and Recognition
  • Content Personalization or Customization
  • Advocate Screening, Selection and Segmentation
  • Security and Privacy
  • Basic Compliance Management (see 2. Compliance Management below for more information)

There are important differences between these Employee Enablement vendors and social media publishing-engagement platforms. The publishing-engagement platforms are commonly called Social Media Management Systems (SMMS), such as HootSuite, Spredfast, Sprinklr, Expion, Oracle Social Relationship Management, or Buddy Media. Those tools let a brand manage their brand-owned presence at scale, but they do not support individual employees engaging in social media through their personal presence. At least, not yet. Expion has started to cross into this space, as described later in this report.

While some vendors in this category focus on coaxing employees to parrot marketer-crafted messages, the more mature and evolved vendors enable more sophisticated approaches that respect the nuances of online relationships. If you plan to purchase software in this category, the most important first step would be to determine the level of maturity that you plan to achieve for your brand, so that you can select a vendor who aligns to your aspirations.

Use Case 2. Compliance Management

These vendors generally have a history outside of social media, usually helping their customers to detect and protect against compliance violations in communication channels such as instant messaging or email. They have deep experience managing business rules around compliance, detecting potential compliance violations in text-based communications, and archiving messages to meet regulatory requirements.

There are a few different types of vendors within this category, and they do not all compete against each other. For example:

  • originally focused on compliance with FTC disclosure guides in the U.S., and has expanded into performance measurement at the level of individual employees or advocates.
  • Hearsay Social: Their compliance features focus on regulatory requirements, predominately in financial services. They have less focus on cross-industry compliance, such as FTC disclosures.
  • Actiance and Integritie: These vendors have been in the compliance management space for years, focused on other channels such as email and instant messaging. In recent years, they extended into social media.

Some vendors let you input keywords that could be considered inappropriate or otherwise undesirable, then they scan advocate posts for those keywords, and raise alerts when those keywords appear within advocate posts. While useful, that level of functionality did not qualify for inclusion in the Compliance Management category of this report.

Use Case 3. Performance Measurement

Vendors in this category predominately measure (1) activities of employees in social media, such as the number of posts on social media, and (2) audience reactions to employee activities, such as re-tweets of employee posts, or white paper downloads stimulated by employee posts. Some produce analytics using text analyses, but most track activity metrics through the APIs of social networks (such as shares on Facebook or re-tweets on Twitter).

These vendors sometimes offer basic engagement or publishing functionality, but the bulk of their features measure and report.

It is important to understand that all vendors in this report offer some level of measurement, but this groups focuses on measurement. However, some of the vendors in the Employee Enablement category offer more extensive measurement and reporting than the pure Measurement vendors. Therefore, if measurement is important to you, you should at least investigate beyond the vendors in this Measurement category.

Important Capabilities That Cross the Use Case Groups

Mobile App
The ability to deploy content and functionality to employees via their mobile device is critical in this space, so I included it as a capability, separate from the Use Cases.

External API
Only a couple of vendors offer an external API, which allows customers to (1) independently integrate the vendor’s application with enterprise systems, or (2) build custom applications that extend the vendor’s platform. To meet this criteria, the vendor must show documentation of the API, either public or private.

Figure 1: Employee Advocacy Vendors by Use Case Group
Employee Advocacy Software Vendors

Insights for Brands

If you haven’t started, you are behind (unless you work in life sciences).

I usually avoid such judgmental statements, but, in this case, it is very true. Most vendors in this space would say that the early adopters of Employee Advocacy will all have implemented their programs by the middle of 2014.

It’s a crowded vendor space, and likely to grow more crowded.

The number of vendors in this space is increasing. In addition to more new entrants that focus on employee advocacy, the publishing and engagement platforms will certainly enter this space in 2014 (see below).

Employee Advocacy in 2014 is where social media listening was in 2009, and the market is probably 1-2 years away from acquisitions and competition thinning the number of vendors in this space. I expect consolidation to occur more quickly in this space than it did in social media listening.

Publishing and Engagement platforms enter this space in 2014.

As of now, almost all brands that implement an Employee Advocacy program keep that program separate from their Social Media Marketing and Social Customer Care programs. While Employee Advocacy tends to be owned by someone in Marketing, that program owner does not usually also own social media marketing efforts or social customer care. In most cases, Employee Advocacy tools and social media marketing tools within a brand do not share metrics, workflows, digital assets, publishing calendars, etc.

This lack of integration will change in 2014. Leading brands will begin this integration in 2014. In many cases, the integration will be driven by publishing and engagement platforms entering the Employee Advocacy space because many will feel compelled to create these features within their platforms. Expion already offers basic Employee Advocacy features. A few other publishing and engagement vendors have told me they plan to release Employee Advocacy features in 2014 or 2015.

There is a wide range of pricing, usually driven by the maturity and sophistication of each platform

Most of the vendors in this space sell hosted software on a subscription basis. None offer on-premises installations (although that may change). The least expensive vendors charge about $5 per user per month, and the most expensive vendors approach $30 per user per month.

Pricing tends to reflect the maturity and sophistication of the platform. For example, the more expensive applications:

  • Integrate with enterprise systems such as social collaboration and web analytics
  • Include provisions for regulatory compliance, such as FTC Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, in the United States
  • Understand and ensure compliance with personally identifiable information (PII) and other privacy requirements across global jurisdictions
  • Support the major Chinese social networks, so that global brands can deploy one platform across their enterprise.

These are a few examples.

Many people in this space wonder whether the higher price points are sustainable, and I think it will depend upon the degree to which these vendors create value for their customers. Those vendors that focus on basic capabilities — such as simply getting employees to parrot marketer-written messages — will see downward price pressure in 2014. Those vendors that enable higher levels of maturity and sophistication, integrate with enterprise systems and workflows, and enable truly compliant global operations, will be more likely to sustain higher price points. However, when the publishing, engagement and CRM vendors enter this space, as some already have, the market dynamics around pricing will surely evolve.

Employee Advocacy programs can create value in many different ways.

There is business value in changing a conversation’s tone, or changing an influencer’s perception.

Or in preventing an online crisis because you cultivated relationships with customer advocates that will take your side, or at least give you the benefit of the doubt.

Tools like brand health reports or influencer reports go beyond web analytics, and they can show value of Employee Advocacy.

Same goes for social recruiting – how would you measure through web analytics the influence of Employee Advocacy on shortening time or lowering costs of recruiting?

– Constantin Basturea

Your employees have a vested interest in your company’s success. They will be your most committed and enthusiastic ambassadors. Providing them the opportunity and support to be visible spokespeople on behalf of your brand drives employee engagement, inspires collaboration and improves customer experiences.

In general, empowerment fosters a positive environment. Employees who see colleagues demonstrate success will follow and emulate those behaviors. This drives momentum for program adoption, resulting in value for the company’s brand and for the employees own personal brand.

Finally, collaboration and transparency helps flatten the organization and eliminate the outdated hierarchy which no longer functions effectively in most modern organizations.
– Susan Emerick, IBM

[Chris' note: When Constantin talks about influencer reports, he means that influencer analyses will, hopefully, show that some of your employees are becoming influential over time. At least, some of your expert employees should, if you support them effectively.]

It’s much easier to prove ROI when you integrate web analytics.

It’s not the only way, but it’s the easiest. And too many brands aren’t doing it.
While many organizations focus on earned media value as the KPI of value in their Employee Advocacy program, these programs create the greatest amount of true business value when they create conversions of some type. In most cases, conversions created from Employee Advocacy are measured through web analytics.

So, if you want to prove that your Employee Advocacy program creates business value, hold your program accountable for results that you measure in your web analytics.

At the time of this publication, not all vendors support integration with web analytics, but they will. And you can register to receive updates to this report by email below. I will update this report at least quarterly, and whenever I discover new vendors, or any vendor releases significant new functionality.

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In most cases, brands are not connecting their tools, business processes, analytics, content management or anything else between their social media marketing and their employee advocacy programs — except for campaign coordination, where employees are typically treated as a distinct channel, but analytics are not usually aggregated across channels. Although, for many brands, that problem is not unique to the employee advocacy program.

Ultimately, brands will need to integrate their employee advocacy functionality and processes with at least their social media marketing and social recruiting programs.

Consider Your Needs

Some of the vendors in this space focus on niches, and are very strong therein. When considering vendors in this space, you really need to determine (1) which use cases you need to support, and (2) whether you need a comprehensive platform, or would be better served by a vendor focused on a niche that you need.


Although the information and data used in this report have been produced and processed from sources believed to be reliable, no warranty expressed or implied is made regarding the completeness, accuracy, adequacy or use of the information. The authors and contributors of the information and data shall have no liability for errors or omissions contained herein or for interpretations thereof. Reference herein to any specific product or vendor by trade name, trademark or otherwise does not constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the authors or contributors and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.

About Chris Boudreaux

Chris Boudreaux helps brands transform their business operations through digital and social media. Chris began blogging in 2005, and, in 2008, he created to help organizations get the most from their social media efforts. In 2009, and started developing Facebook apps, and he created an online database of social media policies which serves as a global reference for agencies and brand staff.

Chris built a social business consulting practice at a social media agency based in Manhattan, where he served clients including IBM, Ford and Walmart. He also led business development and marketing at two online start-ups, one of which was acquired by Glam Media.

In 2011, he co-authored The Social Media Management Handbook at Accenture, and he published The Most Powerful Brand on Earth in 2013, with co-author Susan Emerick of IBM. His work has been featured by media including Forrester, Gartner, Harvard Business Review, Inc. magazine and Mashable. In 2012, Chris was selected for membership in the 2012 iMedia Top 25 Internet Marketing Innovators and Leaders.

Today, he leads development and delivery of social media and text analysis offerings at a global consultancy, where he also serves as a Social Media Architect for clients across industries. He helps to provide industry standards and guidance through a variety of industry associations. In addition, he speaks to audiences around the world about governance of social media, including strategy, planning, policy and measurement.

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