When we think about lobbyists, most of us – in and outside Brussels – probably picture slick professionals dedicated to chasing down regulators and politicians to persuade them to do (or not do) something. However, we rarely consider the role of employees in this equation even if they can be instrumental in passing on messages and connecting with those we want to influence.

The image of an industry or company – and who represents them – can open and close doors as rapidly as a good set of facts and well-crafted messages. Reputation management, which is key to successful advocacy campaigns, often starts far from Brussels. Employees can be the ultimate secret weapon to up our advocacy game.  How do we make it work?

Employee advocacy: really?

“Employee advocacy” is a term more commonly used in internal communications and brand activation to describe the role employees can play to promote their own company and products. The potential to do this very same exercise to convey political and advocacy messages is yet to be tapped by most companies – especially by some of those with incredible reach across Europe and globally.

Obviously, social media can provide effective platforms for employees to start advocating on specific issues. Imagine you are running a new advocacy campaign, and you need to raise awareness about the negative consequences of a specific EU policy, with the aim of preventing it from coming into force. Getting your employees to spread the word online can be a great first step. If you do it well, your campaign messages may snowball and make it all the way to the corridors of power.

Human touch

Social media can be great for amplification but you may want to consider alternative channels. If you review some of the most recent surveys on how decision-makers are influenced, you will see that personal contacts and face-to-face interaction always top the list. Sending emails or letters can also be very effective especially if you are targeting parliamentarians and if these messages come from voters in their constituencies.

We all tend to trust people we know so, as well as trying to activate as many employees as possible to tweet, share and email, you should find out if any of them have personal ties to those you want to target. Somebody in your company may play football with a European Commission official or be an old school friend of an MEP/MP. If so, they can mix business and pleasure to talk about issues that are important for their organisation.

The role of internal comms

Mapping and tracking how to leverage these connections can be a major challenge, even for small companies. This can partially be because employees often want to keep work and their personal lives separate, although perhaps less so at NGOs. They may feel uncomfortable reaching out to people they know or posting something on social media. In many cases, this may be also due to the fact that employees are not equipped to talk about policy or regulatory issues.

How do we get more employees to become advocacy ambassadors? Having a good internal communications programme – or even better, a dedicated employee advocacy programme – is essential to get your people on board. Start by listening to what may be deterring them from advocating about specific issues.  Then define a programme that can provide the right tools and incentives.  Here are 10 tips to get your employee advocacy off the ground.

  1. Company culture: Make employee advocacy part of your company ethos. If you are proud of what you do and represent, it should be easier to advocate on important causes.
  2. Illustrate the benefits: Don’t just ask employees to regurgitate some messages or share some social media content because ‘you say so’. You need to win them over by explaining what’s in it for them.
  3. Provide guidance and training: Lobbying and interaction with officials must always be done in an ethical way. You have to train you employees on what’s acceptable and what’s not. They also need to be given the right messages and facts to put forward compelling arguments.
  4. Invest in tools: Do you have nice visuals or infographics to post on social media? Have you developed a cool video people are likely to share? Do you need to fly some employees to Brussels for meetings and events? Do it!
  5. Recognition & incentives: Praise those who are most active and those who are getting the best results. Recognition can come in many forms, make sure they feel the love.
  6. Map & track: Locating existing relationships and keeping track of recent interactions can be a great way to shape your outreach strategy and measure if you are being effective.
  7. Coordination: Somebody needs to be in charge to make sure the programme is running well and the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.
  8. Set clear targets – but keep it loose: Without making it rigid, it’s good to set up some goals for your employees so they know where the finishing line is.
  9. Leadership: Lead by example. Show your colleagues how you can be an advocate for your organisation and still look genuine and credible.
  10. Keep it fun: Asking employees to support an organisation’s advocacy goals can be perceived as extra work, so you have to keep it fun. A bit of humour goes a long way!