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The Best Social Influencers? Your Employees and Customers

Not that long ago, marketing experts were singing the praises of celebrity influencers. The idea was simple: pick someone famous and visible on social media to help grow your own brand.

Has this social marketing strategy paid off?

That depends whom you ask.

After Adidas enlisted the aid of pop princess Selena Gomez and other top social media influencers for its #MyNeoShoot social media campaign, the hashtag alone received over 71,000 mentions and Adidas’s Instagram page gained 41,000 new followers.

Best of all, Adidas’s influencer marketing strategy helped increase sales by 24.2% in 2015.

Also during 2015, Blue Apron (a popular meal-delivery purveyor) asked top food bloggers to write about their own experiences with the company’s products.

These cross-promotional efforts paid off in a big way, resulting in thousands of new social followers and a slew of new customers as well.

cooking, social influencers blog, Banyan

By contrast, consider the anonymous tool company that hired a popular reality-show star as its social media advocate. Marketers spent a ton of money but saw no ROI, mostly because they overestimated the TV-watching habits of their target demographic. Expensive mistake!

What do these influencer trends mean, especially for small businesses?

Clearly, it takes time, money, and a whole lot of creativity to succeed in the celebrity influencer game. And most small businesses just don’t have the resources to make it work.

Luckily, marketing trends have shifted from a celebrity-based influencer model to a more practical model involving those who know you best—your employees and customers.

The Era of Employee Influencers

According to LinkedIn and Buffer, “engagement is the number-one way brands measure ROI from social media.” But how can you drive that engagement in an era of content saturation and lagging attention spans?

One answer: involve your employees.

Banyan signs, employee influencers

Forbes contributor Cheryl Connor puts it this way: “Instead of paying big dollars to ‘rent’ a celebrity’s audience, you could tap individuals who understand your brand far better than a celebrity would.”

LinkedIn researchers agree, stating that “employees have 10 times more first-degree connections than their company has followers, so they can (be) powerful conduits to the outside world.

More importantly, “leads developed through employee advocacy convert seven times more frequently than other types.”

So, how can you empower your employees to become great social influencers? Here’s how we’re doing it at Banyan.

Employee Advocacy, Banyan Style

As you can imagine, Banyan feels strongly that we need to be great at social media if we’re going to teach others how to do likewise. And, like any business, we have some employees who love to be outgoing, flamboyant, and social—while other employees prefer to keep to themselves.

For a recent employee campaign, we set out to have frequent, high-quality content from our employee ‘ambassadors,’ leveraging the talents and personalities across our unique employee base.

So what worked well?

1. A physical ‘social’ presence in the office

We made sure TV monitors showcased examples of the social content being posted. We set up a photo booth by the front door, and we even made some custom decor that connected to specific campaigns.

Banyan team, social challenge

We also posted a leaderboard on a separate TV monitor so everyone in the office could see who was posting the most.

2. Meaningful incentives

We offered three top prizes that employees could win for their social engagement: horseback riding, jewelry making, and a night out at a popular comedy club followed by ice cream.

horseback rider

By choosing ‘experience-based’ incentives, we gave employees even more chances to post to social media while enjoying their prize.

On a day-to-day basis, sometimes we surprised our team members with small prizes. For example, one day we invited everyone to post on social media before noon. Those who met the deadline received an Amazon gift card.

3. Photo opportunities

Employees will be active on social media when they have a reason to celebrate. For this reason, we took advantage of festive activities around Banyan.

Banyan breakfast

When our team organized volunteer service for the entire company, we made sure to take photos. When team members went to lunch together, we always made sure someone snagged a photo.

4. Content suggestions

We knew employees wouldn’t always know what to post, so our social team thought of suggestions everyone could try.

One week, we used “Banyan Besties” as the theme and asked employees to post photos with their work friends. Team members used stickers in the Banyan app for a little extra photo pizzazz.

Banyan Besties campaign

All in all, our team loved highlighting the Banyan culture on social media.

By implementing the right influence strategy, Banyan’s employee social campaign was a huge success, and we’re confident you can replicate the same success in your business.

Here’s how it might play out.

The Influencer Culture at Work

Although each company’s culture and workflow are different, you can still find success by following these key principles:

Lead by example

Chances are, if someone in the C-suite is also sharing on social media, the whole company will be more motivated to follow suit.

As Shama Hyder (CEO of Zen Media) puts it, top executives increasingly need to be social media literate, which “translates to being a content creator, curator, and connector.”

For some execs, content creation may look like a visual diary on Instagram or commentary on Twitter. For John Legere of T-Mobile, content creation looks like zany cooking videos.

Hey—whatever works, right?

John Legere, slow cooker Sunday

Meanwhile, being a curator could mean leveraging your company’s hashtags and tapping into strategic social media campaigns. And good connectors are leaders who network effectively.

The point is, employees will be more effective influencers when their boss also walks the walk.

Foster a culture of social sharing

Of course, just saying, “Hey team, I post on social media and so should you” doesn’t always cut it. Employees need to know what they can share and should feel comfortable doing so.

As we discovered at Banyan, our employees didn’t always know what they could share on social media. Or, they were so busy with work tasks that they simply forgot.

That’s why we prioritized our sharing stations, leaderboards, and other visuals throughout the office.

Dance with me photo, Banyan employee advocacy

To empower more social sharing among your employees, pay attention to:

  • Environment – Is your physical (and psychological) space conducive to social sharing?
  • Activities – Do you plan team events and activities that are innately shareable?
  • Social culture – Do employees regularly share content even without splashy incentives?

Remember, you can’t create a social media culture in a day. It takes patience, creativity, and persistence.

Share brand-specific ideas of engaging social content

What does social sharing look like in your industry? Peek at your competitors’ social pages (don’t worry, they’ll be looking at yours, too). See what thought leaders are saying on Twitter and how many shares their content is receiving.

Overall, though, remember that no one knows your business like you do.

“Your employees are best positioned to discuss the product and consumers are very likely to believe them. They work directly on your products and are actually the people behind the product features. Who better to talk about those products? No one.”     Segun Onibalusi, Entrepreneur contributor

BUT—your team needs to know what company details they’re safe to share, and on which social platforms. Thought leadership is great to share on LinkedIn, but goofy employee photos probably belong on Facebook or Instagram.

Either way, empower your team with the information they need, and they’ll be less hesitant to share on social media.

Try new strategies to maintain employee interest

What kind of employee posts will be fun for them and engaging to your customers?

There’s no silver bullet on this one. However, it helps to have a wide range of content ideas that spark creativity. Employees could share 1-tip videos or fun tutorials. Maybe you can live stream your next community service event.

Themed campaigns around a holiday or special event are also great ways to stir up excitement around the office and help employees stay engaged over time.

Healthy Selfie campaign, Banyan

If appropriate to your business, you could offer a tip of the week, create a mini-podcast, or offer some other regular content that hits your Facebook page on the same day every week.

Whenever interest lags, shake it up and try something new.

Honor your employees’ success

As we discovered at Banyan, it’s helpful to offer a few sweet incentives to employees as a way of motivating their social shares—especially early on in the game.

If your employees love the outdoors, you might offer a ziplining package or a GoPro camera to the winner of your initial social campaign.

Change up the second- and third-place prizes by offering options that appeal to other hobbies and interests.

Banyan employees

Even more important: Remember to brag about your employees’ social posts on a regular basis. When team members are celebrated in daily or weekly meetings, that praise may be the best incentive of all.

Track your efforts

Internal social campaigns can be fun, but data doesn’t lie. What’s the ROI for all your employees’ efforts on social media?

At Banyan, we compared our Facebook page views and reach before and after our first social campaign. Here’s what we found:

Facebook insights, Banyan

Because our employees were so engaged on social media, our average Facebook page views grew an astonishing 96 percent in June and July compared to the April/May period.

Our average organic reach also grew by a respectable 15 percent during the 4-month campaign. Go, Banyan!

Here’s how the numbers looked on Twitter:

Twitter data for Banyan

Although most of the Banyan team preferred posting to Instagram and Facebook, those who did post to Twitter helped raise our impressions and profile visits by 31 and 29 percent, respectively.

Because of awesome employees, Banyan’s social data tell a happy story. Your team can do likewise.

The Power of Customer Influencers

Now that you have a game plan for getting employees involved and excited about social media, what about your customers?

“In a fragmented media and social landscape, marketers can no longer reach their goals for awareness and reputation just through paid media and PR. People are the new channel. The way to amplify impact is by inspiring creativity in others. Treat everyone as an extension of your marketing team: employees, partners, and … customers.”  —Cara France and Mark Bonchek, Harvard Business Review

Keep it real

It would be wonderful if you could stumble upon customers who want to brag about your business.

But the truth is, customer advocacy has to be earned. It’s all about the kind of experience you give customers; that’s what earns their trust and loyalty.

As SproutSocial puts it, “Everyone loves a deal, but social marketers can’t build strategies solely around deals and promotions. This content, while it leads to conversions, does not build long-term relationships with target audiences.”

This is why a positive customer experience matters so much.

The best customer influencers are so jazzed about your business that they may already be talking about you on social media. Are you paying attention?

Banyan review

For all your other customers, the goal is to get everyone excited about what you offer. Then, they’ll be more willing to engage with you and spread the word on social media.

Create value

Think about what gets you excited about a business. Is it the friendly staff? Great products and services? Regular deals or customer loyalty programs?

Chances are, it’s a combination of all these things. The best businesses create value—and so should you.

Value comes from your heartfelt interactions with customers or patients. It has to do with making their experience easy, creating powerful connections, and building trust.

But value isn’t confined to your in-person interactions. Your business needs to extend that value online as well.

Dog person, social media sign, Banyan

The big question is, what kind of social content creates value for consumers?

“Consumers are interested in a wide variety of content formats from brands on social. Sixty percent of consumers want to see posts that showcase new products or services, 59% want to see educational posts, 56% want to be entertained, and 49% want to be inspired. The common thread is that consumers prefer content to be strongly visual. Over half (58%) prefer visual-first content, with graphics, images and produced video taking the lead.”

— Sprout Social

So there you have it. Give your customers authentic, meaningful, engaging content—especially photos and videos that entertain or include them.

Be friendly and approachable online and off. Ask your customers about themselves via surveys, quizzes, and the occasional Facebook poll.

Respond promptly when your customers comment online. Re-post their content when appropriate. And do things to surprise them.

Ask for help

It’s actually pretty easy to find out who your current or potential customer influencers are.

Which customers are the most willing to give you a rave review online? Which customers pop up most often in your feed?

These are probably the customers who will respond to your requests for input. Here’s how to invite them:

  1. Ask your best customers if they’d be willing to offer a review of your business.
  2. Ask followers to share an engaging post with friends who may need your services.
  3. Video a testimonial the next time your best customer comes in—and tag them on your social page.
  4. Boost your Net Promoter Score (NPS) by asking customers “How likely would you be to recommend us?”
  5. Ask your most engaged followers to share a “check-in” status update on Facebook the next time they visit you.
  6. Celebrate loyal customers with a surprise discount and a “customer of the month” photo post. Ask them to share the news with their friends.

As you build trust with customers, they’ll be more willing to use their own social influence to help you build your online presence.

The Last Word on Influence

In the end, influence comes from people who care. Employees who care will influence how their followers see your company. And customers who care will be natural influencers that spread the word about your business.

If you want others to share your awesomeness, don’t be afraid to make them laugh, inspire them, educate them, and touch their hearts.

After all, love is the most influential force of all.


How do you encourage employees and customers to spread the word about you? Share your favorite posts and tag us @banyansocial.

Mimi and family, Banyan

One of our best employee influencers, Mimi, poses with her family.






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