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:
- 16 insights for brands, fully updated, although some evolved from previous versions
- 38 total vendors. Almost double the total in the original 2014 report.
- 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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- No single product is the best for every company. Every buyer should define their own requirements, and evaluate vendors against those requirements.
- 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.
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 four 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
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
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
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.
Use Case 4
A few vendors specialize in helping companies to help their employees optimize their online profiles. For example, making sure LinkedIn profiles are complete and compliant with brand standards.
Important Capabilities That Cross the Use Case Groups
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.
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
- Brand Amper
- circulate.it , Cloze
- Command Post
- Dynamic Signal
- Educated Change
- Everyone Social
- Falcon Social
- Hearsay Social
- HootSuite Amplify
- LinkedIn Elevate
- Bambu by Sprout Social
 Addvocate and Trapit merged in December 2014.
1. The pace of deployments is accelerating
Some brands are skipping the pilot stage and launching to tens of thousands of employees.
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).
I usually avoid such judgmental statements, but, in this case, it is very true. The early adopters of Employee Advocacy implemented their programs by 2014.
4. Inadequate compliance with FTC Guides for disclosures
The majority of employee advocacy programs that I have seen fail to comply with FTC guides for disclosures. They don’t have the right policy or training in place. Employees are not disclosing their employment properly, and they are not monitoring employee posts for compliance.
5. Most vendors still do not offer a mobile app.
I firmly believe that it is critical to offer a mobile app in this category. Too many employees are on-the-go, and need access to content on their mobile device. A responsive web app just doesn’t do the trick. Look for a mobile app when you pick a provider.
6. Vendors consolidating mobile apps
Some of the vendors who let each client create their own, uniquely styled mobile app, are consolidating down to one mobile app that all customers must use. Why? Launching a new app for every customer is a giant pain when you have to get each app, and their updates, through the iTunes review process.
7. Vendors are innovating in their user interfaces
In 2014 Social Chorus introduced Tinder-like swiping in their mobile app. It’s a great idea, and I hope more vendors follow the lead by getting more creative to make their apps more efficient for the employees who use them. Too many product teams seem to ignore the total actions required to achieve an outcome in their mobile app. Making your employee interface more efficient and engaging leads to greater adoption by employees and greater value for the brand. Everybody wins.
8. Increased support from Marketing teams
Thought leaders and experts are getting more support from their Marketing departments. Finally, Marketers are realizing how powerful their experts are, and providing real support to help them build their online influence. Bravo!
9. Emergence of text analytics
Text analytics have been used by companies for years, but most people do not think about how they can apply text analytics to make their employees’ social interactions more effective or efficient. That is changing as many vendors are adding various forms of text analytics to their platforms.
For example, some vendors use Natural Language Processing (NLP) to examine content, and determine which content to suggest that employees share. This usually is used when farming an employee’s external network, pick out relevant posts, then display those posts to the employee as engagement opportunities.
Natural Language Processing essentially uses software to understand the meaning of text, using logical rules. For example, NLP is how a listening platform can know the difference between ‘Apple’ the company, and ‘apple’, the fruit. NLP also lets the software understand that ‘fatigue’ and ‘tired’ are the same thing, or that ‘a sick snowboard” is a good thing, but ‘a sick child’ is a bad thing.
NLP is different than simply looking for keywords in the text. NLP looks at the entire text, to understand the context of the keywords.
Buyers must be very careful here, on two levels:
First, many people simply do not understand what Natural Language Processing is, and they may unknowingly say their software uses it, when it doesn’t. For example, one vendor showed me a feature that examined which content was most effective when shared by employees, and I asked if they used NLP to understand the attributes that correlated with success. They told me, yes, they do. When I probed more deeply, I discovered that they were really only farming keywords and phrases, and they simply did not know what NLP meant. This is common.
Second, it is very easy for a vendor to claim, “We use natural language processing”, and you will never know whether it really works, or is better than another vendor’s NLP. The only way to figure it out is to test the software.
10. Audience segmentation is emerging but has a long way to go.
Most tools do not let you segment your audience. All audiences are treated the same. Some tools measure the behaviors of audiences, after employees publish content, and derive segmentation attributes from the audience behaviors. However, the segments are usually pre-defined by the tool vendor, so the segments do not tie to the brand’s customer segmentation model, and the segments have no consideration of Customer Lifetime Value. Even so, they can be somewhat useful.
11. Measuring content performance
Some vendors are beginning to measure the performance of content. Most do not, and I hope that more vendors start in 2015.
12. It’s a crowded vendor space, and likely to grow more crowded before it thins.
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 started to enter the space.
Employee Advocacy in 2014 was 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.
13. Publishing and engagement platforms further enter this space in 2015.
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 programms. 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 2015. 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, and Sprinklr bought Branderati in 2014, with an employee advocacy expected at some time in the future. A few other publishing and engagement vendors have told me they plan to release Employee Advocacy features in 2015.
14. Wide pricing ragnges
Most of the vendors in this space sell hosted software on a subscription basis. None offer on-premises installations (although that may change). Pricing exists in three broad tiers, as follows:
- Low-cost: Typically $5 or less per user, per month.
- Mid-range: List pricing is often around $50 per user per month, with discounts for large volume purchases.
- Executive pricing: Thousands of dollars per month, per user. In addition to software, these vendors offer high-touch services for your executives engaging in social media.
In the first two tiers, 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. 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.
15. 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 who 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 employee’s 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.]
16. It’s much easier to prove ROI when you integrate web analytics.
It’s not the only way — eCommerce, Marketing Automation and Salesforce Automation are better for creating clear business value — but we analytics is the easiest point of integration. 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.
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.
Get Email Updates
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:
- General Mills
- The Hartford
- Hitachi Data Systems
- Little Bird
- Social Arts and Science Institute
- State Farm
- Wells Fargo
Each subsequent release of this report includes greater perspective and input from a larger number of ecosystem members surrounding employee advocacy programs.
Chris Boudreaux helps brands transform their business operations through digital and social media. Chris began blogging in 2005, and, in 2008, he created SocialMediaGovernance.com 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
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.