Employee Advocacy =/v Influencer Relations

I listen to a lot of podcasts and, to be honest, a some of them go in and out without much impact. Others, I have to listen to again. Every now and again, one really hits right at home. 

Yesterday, I definitely listened to one of the latter. I’m a subscriber to Katie Macaulay’s Internal Comms podcast and in this week’s episode, she interviewed Harry Hugo, chief at GOAT (pic left, courtesy of Goat’s instagram feed) – an influencer marketing agency. First time I’ve come across him, or the agency (although as we learned in the podcast I’m older than any employee they have across their 4 global offices so prob no wonder I haven’t..…), but am glad I listened on. Under Katie’s direction, Harry talked about a whole load of issues on the podcast here.

Employee advocacy v Influencer Relations?

“Influencer marketing is the new way for advertisers to get to audience” he outlined. Hang on just one sec! That’s practically what I say I do as an employee advocacy-focussed social media manager!  Every day!

We want to get our employees to be our voice in the market. We want them to raise and build their own audience – who will be the very people we’re trying to get to as a business – either as intermediaries in our markets, or to people as consumers in their own right.  Harry calls them influencers. I call them colleagues (or employees!) But they *are* influencers!

Instagram is the new pub!

He talks about social media just being the way we now do “word of mouth” – it’s what has always happened since time immemorial. He says, quite accurately, that Instagram is the 2019 version of the pub. “The ability to influence four people over a pint in the pub, is now happening at scale on social platforms.” 

In a time when the word “influencers” isn’t far away from a negative reference to the “Fyre Festival”* Harry maintains the industry isn’t a sleazy operation, and if it’s done right, it drives the right outcome – engagement.  

People who are good with people have always, since cave people, been more influential than those around them. They generate community around them.

It’s simple. And word of mouth is generally the cheapest. Because its people talking to people. Which often doesn’t come at a cost. And it’s around common subjects, whatever that may be, on whatever channel that may be. That’s why it’s called “social” media after all.

It was refreshing to hear Harry talk so openly about vanity metrics and that they are nonsense. They look at engagement and actions as the metrics, not followers. Reaffirming again for me, as it’s what I’m doing internally – all very well someone having 12,000 LinkedIN connections but if the content they have (or we create for employees) doesn’t engage, then volume doesn’t mean much.  I only really watch the engagement levels on our platform analytics.

It was also, the first time I’ve heard anyone in the influencer space acknowledge that mental health is a crucial issue we should all be considering and spending time and energy on.  We all know that society nowadays is driven by social proofing – getting clicks, likes, comments – the dopamine hit. But an eye opening stat Harry mentioned, was in the older, lurker generation – those who spend lots of time on social, but don’t necessarily engage. An audience not to overlook.

Losing control?

Katie asked about how power is being passed from the business/centre to people who create their own content, and if that’s a concern for brands.  Of course it is. I often tell colleagues that we’re trying to re-culture (a word I may have made up…) the organisation having spent so many years telling people to shut it and make any public comment through the press office.

Photo by Pixabay

That’s what I spent my first eight years at Zurich telling people (gently!)  For us, we’ve now recognise the value they have for amplifying the great work we all do, through the channels they all have.  

Back in the podcast, Harry rightly talks about brands wanting to retain some form of control. I get that and we certainly do have that in what we’re doing. Our employee advocacy platform helps – as we can put our content in there in a way that we know is safe and compliant and we can influence/control (?) the message and the context. But we don’t mandate that they only use that content, or that they issue it as we’ve written it. Employees can chose to post, or not to post, or to use the copy we’ve suggested, or to write their own. And we find a decent mix of all those options!

We trust colleagues to remember the codes of conduct we have, our social media policy, their terms of employment and the rules (or actual regulation/legislation) that exists in their element of the market. They already know what they’re allowed to do face-to-face – social isn’t (or shouldn’t be) any different. 


The whole conversation is making me reframe how I should be talking about what I do.  What I do really is influencer marketing. Our employees are our influencers. Their content is marketing – sometimes theirs, sometimes ours.

Wouldn’t have said this before, but I am definitely in the Influencer Relations game.  

Thanks for reading – feel free to comment below. What do you say when people ask what you do? Does it change depending on who’s asking?

*See Scott Guthrie’s good backstory and comment at: https://sabguthrie.info/fyre-festival/

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