Many of the companies generating buzz on social media right now likely all have something in common: it’s not just their brand accounts posting great content, but their employees too.
That’s particularly true for businesses and employees active on LinkedIn. According to the network-building platform, content posted by employees is seen as three times more authentic and has a click-through rate twice as high as brand accounts.
Business leaders and marketers are tapping into this powerful approach, both with gentle encouragement and intentional employee advocacy programs.
I spoke to experts at companies who have gone one of these routes. In this article, I’ll unpack their learnings and advice to help you kickstart a personal branding movement within your own team or business (and why it’s a great idea for everyone).
What is employee advocacy?
First a brief detour: You’ll often see the term ‘employee advocacy’ pop up in conversations about personal brands in this context.
Generally speaking, employee advocacy refers to the promotion of a company and/or its products by its employees. That could mean on social media, but also in person (say, at conferences, networking events, or even a family get-together) and on other sites like Glassdoor.
Employee advocacy is the term LinkedIn has long used to describe what I’ll be unpacking in this article (“empowering your employees to share smart, quality content with their own social networks” is their definition). Still, the phrase ‘personal brand’ has gained more traction with the platform’s users in recent years, which is why I’m using it here.
The benefits of building a personal brand — for both employees and their company
It wasn’t that long ago that companies were wary of their employees posting on LinkedIn. Getting active on the platform used to be a sign that people were polishing up their resumes and getting ready to move on.
“But LinkedIn is no longer just a ‘jobs board’,” says Lorraine K. Lee, Founder of RISE Learning Solutions and a LinkedIn Top Voice. “Now, employers are the ones who know that their employees are their best advocates.”
She believes that supporting employees in building their own personal brand is one of the smartest things a company can do. “When employees have an online presence, the company gets organic visibility in an authentic way. It’s a win-win for employee and employer.”
- Opportunities for career growth. Curating a presence on LinkedIn is effectively a live portfolio. It shows employers exactly what you can do, all your achievements, and how passionate you are about your work.
- Internal recognition and opportunities. “At my last company, they knew I was a keynote speaker [thanks to building a brand on LinkedIn],” Lorraine says. “We needed someone to represent the company in a media roundtable, and I was asked to be that person. I was also asked to speak at all-hands and became more known at the company.”
- The potential to monetize by sharing your expertise outside of your work (for example, courses, paid newsletters, or speaking gigs).
- Organic visibility whenever that employee pops up in other people’s feeds, which in turn will lead to increased traffic and engagement for the company.
- Exposure when the employee is invited on podcasts or to events, as is often a by-product of building a personal brand.
- Increased trust and authenticity. It helps to humanize the brand to know the people behind it, making it seem more authentic and trustworthy. “As the market gets more and more flooded with automation and AI tools, authenticity, real human interaction is what people want to see more of,” says Hanna Larsson, Founder at Huntrs.
- Increased sales. According to LinkedIn data, socially engaged companies are 57 percent more likely to see increased sales leads.
How to help your employees build their personal brands
As I mentioned above, there are plenty of ways to handle an employee personal brand-building program — and lots to consider before embarking on one.
Here’s some advice, with real-life examples.
Help your employees find their niche
An employee advocacy program doesn’t mean simply sending over generic marketing copy for employees to share on their personal accounts.
Rather, it means encouraging them to create their own content/share knowledge within their own niche. A personal brand is best built on someone’s own knowledge, experiences, and interests (as Tami Oladipo unpacks in her simple framework here).
LinkedIn recently updated its algorithm to prioritize real-world expertise and practical advice from experts, so this content will likely perform far better than straight-up company announcements.
Olga Andrienko, VP of Brand Marketing at Semrush and personal branding expert, helped her team find their content sweet spot by conducting interviews with every single one. To help your employees pinpoint their niche, consider:
- Their current role and experience
- Passions and interests outside of work
- Aspects of their personal lives they’re open to sharing
Lorraine has found her niche in helping ambitious people cultivate their professional presence. She shares tips on building a personal brand, public speaking, career advancement, and more — but she’s not averse to getting a little personal, as she does in the post below.
Provide the level of support you have the time and resources for
There are so many ways to embark on an employee personal brand-building project. In her time at Prezi, Lorraine encouraged her team to get active on LinkedIn and helped them make sure their LinkedIn profiles were complete. “This wasn’t a formal project, just ongoing things I talked about and encouraged them to do,” she says.
What is a complete profile, exactly? “Write a headline that includes keywords beyond your current role, create a background photo that highlights your areas of expertise, and turn on Creator Mode so people can see your areas of expertise,” she explains.
Olga and Semrush opted for a more hands-on approach in their employee advocacy project (which she also documented on LinkedIn). She and her team sat down with each of the 30 employees who took part to help them come up with post ideas, and even helped them take part in other conversations on the platform.
Lead by example
Break the ice by getting active on LinkedIn yourself if you’re not already. Having you — or your leadership team — lead the charge will go a long way in modeling behavior for other employees.
“When senior management shows it’s OK to share thoughts, and it’s ok to invest time in your personal brand, people start posting too,” Olga says.
Give them the time and tools they need
Supporting your employees to build their brands on LinkedIn means recognizing this isn’t a one-and-done job — and it isn’t something they can save for outside their working hours either.
For one thing, building a presence on LinkedIn takes time and effort. It goes beyond simply sharing a couple of posts a week, too. As Olga’s strategy above hinted at, it also means engaging with others’ content and building relationships within your niche. For another, research also shows that the best time to post on LinkedIn is during working hours.
There are also tools that can make this a whole lot easier that you should consider giving them access to. Canva, for example, is a great place to create graphics and carousel PDFs, which perform well on LinkedIn. We created the carousel below with a template in Canva.
I’m biased, of course, but Buffer can also be a really helpful timesaver. It makes it easy to schedule posts for a specific time, save half-baked ideas you may have on the fly, and repurpose content for other platforms (my personal favorite Buffer use case). Best part: all of these features are free.
Celebrate their wins
Recognize your employees’ success — whether that’s sharing something particularly insightful, speaking on a podcast, growing their following, or just being consistent.
“If you have people on your team that share content regularly on LinkedIn, they are probably driving a lot of traffic to the company,” Hanna says. “Give recognition to them publicly. That will make those team members feel seen and appreciated, and it will encourage the rest of the team to get started as well.”
Measuring the success of employee personal branding
At Semrush, Olga and her team looked at the following LinkedIn metrics:
- Number of posts: how active everyone was
- Engagement: reactions, comments, and reposts
- Engagement on the posts that were Semrush-related
- Reach. “We asked each member to export LinkedIn analytics data, and built an estimated model to predict the reach of future posts based on historical data. I didn’t want everyone to waste time filling in any spreadsheets manually,” Olga says.
When it came to reporting to higher-ups, Olga focused on the reach of the company-related posts. “Within two months we got half a million extra reach for Semrush, and the total reach of all posts was 1.2 million. Roughly, one in four posts were company-related.”
How we handle employee personal brands at Buffer
While we don’t have a personal brand-building program at Buffer, it’s something that happens pretty organically with team members who are that way inclined. There are several reasons for this:
We have free access to a really powerful social media scheduling tool
At Buffer, we get access to the paid version of the tool for free. This, plus a desire to test out all the new features will certainly give you a nudge to build a social media presence. I’ve definitely found myself posting more on Twitter and LinkedIn since I joined the company, largely because it’s just become a whole lot easier for me to do.
Employee advocacy is organic
If you’re familiar with Buffer, you know company culture is something we take pretty seriously.
Thanks to our values and benefits, employee advocacy comes naturally.
We get support for our side projects
For many folks, having a healthy work-life balance means having projects you’re excited about outside of your day job. So at Buffer, we get a lot of support for these.
Many of these side projects happen to be things that have helped Bufferoos become thought leaders. For example:
Personal brand and LinkedIn resources
As you guide your employees through the weird and wonderful world of building a personal brand, send them our way — we have a host of resources that may be helpful on their journeys.
I’ve linked out to many of them above, but here’s a handy list you can save and send on:
Happy brand building!