Buyer Guide: Social Employee Advocacy Software

Notes on the Third Edition

I published the first version of this report in February 2014, and published minor updates throughout 2014.  The second major edition launched in January 2015. Since then, I added a few new vendors, updated some trends, and added more details into the Insights, yielding this third edition.

What’s new in this version:

  1. 16 insights for brands, fully updated, although some evolved from previous versions
  2. 38 total vendors. Almost double the total in the original 2014 report.
  3. Greater detail in many of the insights, to better explain the impacts of the trends, and how you can make better decisions in the face of the trends. (Details behind the insights are available only to members of the new membership for people who run employee advocacy programs. Please contact me for more information.
Why Publish This Report

First, in the past 3 years — brands around the world invested to empower their employees in social media. Example brands include: Oakley, Dell, IBM, Intel and Best Buy (I’m not talking about Twelpforce. This is different.) As of the year 2014, it became malpractice to claim your organization is “omni-channel” while ignoring employees and advocates as a channel.

Second, there are nearly 40 vendors specifically focused in this space, with more still entering. And that doesn’t include social selling vendors or all of the ancillary utilities required to run an employee advocacy program, such as tools related to influencer analysis.

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

Definition of Social Employee Advocacy

In this report, the terms Social Employee Advocacy, or Employee Advocacy, or Employee Activation, describe the activities of 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 with advocate or referral marketing, Employee Advocacy focuses on employees as the trusted channel for passing information to target audiences; whereas referral or advocate marketing typically use customers or other external audiences to distribute or amplify content and messages.

This Document Will be Updated Regularly

This document will be updated every time I find a new vendor, or any time a vendor contacts me with a significant product update, as well as any time I feel the market has changed enough to warrant a new edition. Anyone can suggest a vendor at any time.

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Vendors were selected for inclusion based on their self-reporting. Within that self-reporting, they must at least show me a demo of their product providing functionality that helps 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.

If a vendor says they have a feature, and they show me something in a demo that looks real, then, in most cases, I take their word for it.  If you are a potential buyer, you should not do that; make sure anything you are promised actually works in production, before you write a check.

I did not evaluate the vendors’ professional services or support capabilities. Some of them are certainly better than others when it comes to implementation and after-purchase support. The best way to get perspective on that is to join my new membership for people who run employee advocacy programs, where you can have private discussions with people who have picked the various vendors, understand their experiences, and share lessons with other members, as we all figure out this new space together. Memberships are available to brand professionals only. Membership is not available to vendors. For more information on membership, contact me.

Finally, in 2014 I decided to stop publishing scores of each vendor, for the following reasons:

  1. My evaluations rely on demos from the vendor, usually via web conference. I do not login to each product, or test them rigorously. That is a very important caveat, which you, as the buyer, should understand. No one should score vendors without logging in and actually using every tool they score.
  2. The vendors change too quickly. They are all moving with speed, releasing new features, and so on. When I published scores in the past, the scores became out of date quickly, but buyers still made purchase decisions with those out-of-date scores. That’s not good for anyone.
  3. No single product is the best for every company. Every buyer should define their own requirements, and evaluate vendors against those requirements. If you need help defining your requirements, one great option would be to reach out to members of my private membership for people who manage employee advocacy programs.
  4. No single product has all the features that any large organization needs. In fact, you may need multiple tools for publishing, compliance monitoring, analytics, etc. In any case,
Types of Vendors Excluded

I deliberately exclude the following types of vendors from this analysis:

  • Influence Scoring: Examples include Klout or Kred. I don’t find such tools useful for empowering employees in social media because (1) they do not measure influence in a way that helps to build influence within a domain, and (2) they do not explain the factors driving performance for any employee. For details of my rationale, see Chapter 4 in my book: The Most Powerful Brand on Earth.
  • Influence Analysis: There are utilities that reliably estimate influence in ways that are very useful as inputs into your employee advocacy strategy and planning, especially if you are empowering experts in social media. But those are different than the utilities listed above. In any case, I do not include them because they are not focused specifically on employee advocacy, and they do not have any modules or features specifically targeting the employee advocacy market.
  • Innovation Management: Tools that help companies build networks of employees, partners or customers to scale innovation programs, enable innovation ideation, or otherwise support innovation processes.
  • Listening or Monitoring I would include a listening tool if it had special features designed for listening to employees or monitoring employees, but I know of no such tool.
  • 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, or scheduling your social media posts. While I use some of these 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. Also, many of these features are included in the leading employee advocacy platforms.
  • Social Collaboration, such as Chatter, IBM Connections, Igloo, Jive, Yammer. While these tools can be built into a solution architecture that supports empowerment of employees in external social media, they do not explicitly offer features that help to empower employees in external social media.
  • Collaboration Compliance Management: Vendors that monitor or help to manage compliance within social collaboration platforms or Sharepoint.
  • Gamification: Like collaboration platforms, these may be part of a larger employee enablement solution, but they do not focus on functions that enable employees in social media, explicitly. Also, most leading employee advocacy platforms include gamification features.
  • Social Networks:  I do not include the social networks themselves — such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter — unless they launch an app, specifically aimed at employee advocacy.  As of the latest update to this report, none have done that, but I’ll be very surprised if none ever do.

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 me.

The Vendors

Many of the software vendors who help brands to empower employees in social media have been in business for six 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 three Use Case Groups described below.

In defining the Use Case Groups, I sought to define boundaries 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. It would be challenging for any of the Employee Enablement vendors to add features like competitive monitoring and archival integrations, across all digital channels, which would be required to compete in the Compliance Management domain. At the same time, it would be challenging for the Compliance Management 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 and Sprinklr entered this space in 2014, 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:

  • 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 group focuses on measurement as its primary value proposition to customers; 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. Making the web app responsive to mobile devices is simply not good enough. Advocates on the go need alerts and access to features offline, among other benefits of native apps.

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 criterion, the vendor must show documentation of the API, either public or private.

The Vendor List

In past reports, I scored the features of each vendor, but I decided not to publish my evaluations of the vendors in this edition because the vendors evolve very quickly, and I would hate for buyers to rely on outdated vendor scores. This is why I do not make the 2014 scores available any more: those score are simply not accurate any more.
  1. Actiance
  2. Addvocate-Trapit1
  3. Amplifinity
  4. Aptvue
  5. Brand Amper
  6. , Cloze
  7. Command Post
  8. Docustar
  9. Dynamic Signal
  10. Educated Change
  11. Everyone Social
  12. Expion
  13. Falcon Social
  14. Finect
  15. GaggleAmp
  16. Hearsay Social
  17. Influitive
  18. Integritie
  19. Meddle
  20. Newzsocial
  21. Nexgate
  22. OpenQ
  23. PeopleLinx
  24. Percolate
  25. PointBurst
  26. PostBeyond
  27. Smarpshare
  28. SoAmpli
  29. Social2Step
  30. SocialChorus
  31. Socialook
  32. SocialReferral
  33. Socialware
  34. Spendsetter
  35. Sprinklr2
  36. Bambu by Sprout Social
  37. Triblio
  38. Xmplifi

[1] Addvocate and Trapit merged in December 2014.
[2] Sprinklr acquired Dachis Group in 2014, and Branderati in 2014.

16 Insights for Brands

Details for each insight are available in my new membership for people who manage employee advocacy programs. For information about membership, please contact me.

  1. The pace of deployments is accelerating.
  2. However, many of the brands who deployed at large scale are seeing extremely low employee engagement. Often around 1%. Don’t let this be you.
  3. If you haven’t started, you are behind (unless you work in life sciences).
  4. Inadequate compliance with FTC Guides for disclosures.
  5. Most vendors still do not offer a mobile app.
  6. Vendors consolidating mobile apps.
  7. Vendors are innovating in their user interfaces
  8. Increased support from Marketing teams.
  9. Emergence of text analytics.
  10. Audience segmentation is emerging, but has a long way to go.
  11. Measurement of content performance of emerging, but has a long way to go.
  12. It’s a crowded vendor space, and likely to grow more crowded.
  13. Publishing and engagement platforms further enter this space in 2015.
  14. There is a wide range of pricing, usually driven by the maturity and sophistication of each platform, but also driven by the users that the product targets.
  15. Employee Advocacy programs can create value in many different ways.
  16. It’s much easier to prove ROI when you integrate web analytics.
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.

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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 include corporate practitioners, domain experts, agencies and consultancies. Consulted organizations include:

Each subsequent release of this report includes greater perspective and input from a larger number of ecosystem members surrounding employee advocacy programs.

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, he built his first Facebook app, 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, Kohler, 3M 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 and Constantin Basturea. 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 digital strategy and implementation efforts for clients at a global consultancy, serving as both a business strategist and solution architect. Outside of his day job, Chris 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 digital and social media, including strategy, planning, solution architecture, policy and measurement.

Contact Chris Boudreaux

Email    (415) 692-1250    Follow Chris Boudreaux on Twitter    Connect with Chris Boudreaux on LinkedIn


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.

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