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I described the relatively recent concept of employee advocacy in my last post as "rather uncomfortable and somewhat forced", and I've been asked to qualify this description.

Firstly, it's worth stating the obvious – the aspiration that employees might advocate the employer is hardly a new idea. But this relatively new desire to go about it more systematically is prompted by employees' increasing social media activity. While recommending an employer down the pub leaves no discernible trace, doing so online does, and that appears to have internal comms, HR professionals and social media types hot under the dollar.

But here's the rub. Genuine employee advocacy remains a consequence. That's always been the case and will always remain so.

You can't insist. You can't take control of employee social media profiles. You can't pick out people for failing to advocate, not without creating the kind of culture that's counter to employee advocacy.

There’s influence in everything an organization does, and sometimes in what it does not do.

The organization (a collection of people, mostly employees) influences the participating individuals (mostly employees) who influence those beyond the payroll. The culture and policies and behaviours that sway whether that influence is constructive or destructive play out long before Fred lets fly on Facebook and Tina trills on Twitter.

Everyone with a stake in the organization's success has to work hard collectively to build something worthy of advocacy. And that very process prompts the advocacy because everyone then feels a part of the magic, or in more prosaic terms, a part of this mutual value creation. Much easier said than done I know, which is why I advise caution when being sold employee-advocacy-as-a-service.

I asked Rachel Miller over at All Things IC for her thoughts:

I think advocacy for me is along the lines of…. "We trust ourselves and empower each other to have a voice inside our organisation. Sometimes we all might choose to share thoughts about the company externally, we can’t control what each of us says and we don’t wish to because authenticity is vital. When it’s positive, that has clear benefits for us, when it’s negative, it means we clearly have more work to do internally to ensure these voices are heard and acted on.

I love that Rachel takes employee advocacy and makes it organizational learning, in tune with public relations excellence theory. She continues:

A key phrase for me is 'flexibility within boundaries'. That’s how I describe all internal comms activity and particularly social media guidance. As in… we set the parameters and outline expected behaviours internally, yet trust everyone to make smart choices.

I'll leave you to ponder whether you're ready for a systematic approach to employee advocacy with the following diagrammatic polemic. It's short on detail if only because I believe you'll know in your gut, in your heart and in your mind whether you're about to do something that's "rather uncomfortable and somewhat forced". Or not.

employee advocacy threshold