Trends for 2016 are now emerging in full force, both for the marketing industry and the general workforce. One that seems to be permeating both aspects is employee advocacy, where company employees take to their own social networking pages to be a voice for both the company brand and business. It is predicted that in a number of years, the responsibility of overseeing and distributing online channels/content will no longer just revolve around one coordinator, but nearly every employee in the office.

In theory, this might seem like a good idea: if more employees have more access to a variety of platforms, the more opportunities they have to reach a larger audience. But vast aspirations involve bigger risks, which should be taken into consideration. Advocacy should not involve going to one extreme or the other, despite how often it is implied. There is no one size fits all method, and it’s imperative to ask these questions in order to incorporate an effective strategy:

What Does the Business Need?

Just as a decade-run corporate organization is very different from a newly incepted start-up agency, so will the marketing strategy of both types. While every social platform is useful for marketers, not all turn out to be necessary, particularly as a business becomes more established within the industry. Why use Tumblr to blog if someone is already well acquainted with WordPress? Google+ might seem worth investing in because of its similarities to Facebook, but it turns out that hardly anyone uses it in the same way. Having a presence on every social platform might work well at first, but it’s important to consistently utilize what’s working and what isn’t. Managing a multitude of channels becomes a lot of work and responsibility over time, and it’s important to not only find the right ones that will connect with the masses, but will engage and connect with them in the right way.

Can Your Business Afford It?

Employee Advocacy is often composed of two aspects: tapping into the majority (if not all) company employees to speak for the brand, and to do so within their own social networks. It is suggested that if employers want to implement advocacy, they should train those outside of the marketing department through programs, seminars, and peer-based mentorship. Additionally, advocacy would most likely take place beyond normal work hours, particularly on the weekends. Regardless of size, some businesses just don’t have the finances or time to teach every department (let alone employee) how to be a social media guru. In turn, not every employee has time to take on the additional work of being of brand voice in the midst of doing the work they were hired for. And depending on the circumstances, they might not have the energy.

There’s also a question of capability; it’s easy to assume that the younger generations (particularly Millennials would know how to use social media networks because of how ingrained that technology has become in daily life. However, there’s a huge difference between using social media from a casual perspective, and using it in a way that’s responsible, ethical, and engaging with audiences. Digital marketing is typically viewed as a niche, which is why a number of job positions usually require several years worth of experience, (if not more) in order to qualify for hiring. Providing rewards and incentives does not guarantee that anyone can (or will) learn how to apply best practices (i.e. creative content, brand voice, automation and engagement, etc.). It’s vital to have a clear understanding of what you’re doing, and knowing how to do it correctly.

Not only have huge blunders been made due to a lack of paying attention, but reputations have been tarnished because those behind the computer screen did not know how to separate personal from professional. While small errors are expected in social marketing, a complete gaffe is not easy to come back from. This goes for both sides: supervisors and CEOs should not be scrolling through employees’ personal accounts to ensure their company is portrayed in a positive manner, nor should they have to micro-manage employee advocacy in itself. If there’s little trust involved, then it won’t work.

Is it Genuine?

A good marketer is a genuine marketer, and the same goes for being an advocate. The goal is not to blow up people’s newsfeeds or timelines, but to draw them in by keeping it simple and to the point. It seems easier for consumers to trust word of mouth as opposed to advocacy, because there is often less bias involved. When sharing or posting, be sure that it’s purposeful (i.e. avoid using clickbait or content solely for the sake of numbers), and done so in a way where consumers are being led to follow, not forced.

Again, employee advocacy is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. For the sake of time and resources, start small and continue to re-work your strategy as time goes on. If a writer publishes a company blog post, it’s perfectly normal for he or she to distribute on any of their own platforms, considering that they wrote it. To take a more in-depth approach, trying have two three people within the marketing/copy department act as online advocates, and see what results from that. It makes more sense to grow and make adjustments, rather than trying to cut down or cut back all together if something doesn’t work. By doing that, your company will thank you, and so will your audience.