Best Practices

Leveraging Employee Advocacy Programs and Referrals

February 2021

This report highlights how leading companies implement and leverage employee advocacy programs.

Employee advocacy is a powerful strategy for raising brand awareness across social media.

While bloggers, thought leaders, and social media celebrities often have large followings, your employees have followers as well and they are in a unique position to share about their experiences at and passion for the companies they work for.

Employees are not only more approachable – as compared to a celebrity or a CEO – they are also one of the most trusted sources by buyers and potential job seekers.

Employee advocacy is a powerful strategy for raising brand awareness across social media.

While bloggers, thought leaders, and social media celebrities often have large followings, your employees have followers as well and they are in a unique position to share about their experiences at and passion for the companies they work for.

Employees are not only more approachable—as compared to a celebrity or a CEO—they are also one of the most trusted sources by buyers and potential job seekers.

As outlined in Edelman’s Trust Barometer study, buyers trust your employees over your CEO, spokesperson, or marketing.

According to a study by Cisco, employee posts can generate 8X more engagement than when that same content is shared through a brand handle. For many companies, their employees’ networks are far greater than their brand handles (upwards of 10x in some cases).

Employee advocacy can take many forms, both online and off. But the most common and effective channel for employee advocacy in 2020 is social media.

Employee advocacy is empowering a company’s employees to support the goals of the brand using company content cascaded via employee-owned social channels.

Said another way: it’s word-of-mouth marketing for the digital age. Through employee advocacy companies can increase share of voice by encouraging employees across the company to be more active on social media.

Employee advocacy delivers a measurable increase in brand awareness, employee engagement, and revenue because:
• 90% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know
• More informed employees perform at a rate of 77% higher than less informed employees
• 49% of people believe a company’s employees rank higher in public trust than an organization’s PR department, CEO, or founder

Tips for an Effective Employee Advocacy Program

Obtain Executive Buy-In and Support

• This is imperative as executives will set the tone for employees as well as encourage long-term engagement. In addition, there is an incremental cost to launching a social advocacy program, so it’s important to have a clear strategy that aligns with your company’s goals to define KPIs and determine program effectiveness.
• Executives will also be a critical component of your social media governance board, which includes program stakeholders, subject-matter experts, and employee advocates as well. Together, you’ll work with them to determine your ongoing goals and internal training initiatives, and make key decisions around your social media interactions.

Build Awareness and Train Employees

• As with any internal initiative, it’s important to get everyone on the same page. Your employees’ comfort levels with social media will differ, and to alleviate that, you can train them on company policies and guidelines in order to provide a level playing field for everyone—across all departments in your organization.
• Provide easy-to-reference training modules and/or recordings they can refer back to, and make it as easy as possible for employees to adopt and use.

Monitor and Reward Advocacy

• Once your employee advocacy program is launched, be sure to make employees aware of what’s in it for them. Since social sharing takes efforts, explain to them why it’s worthy it. Some incentives include: branded merchandise, gift cards and gadgets.
• For those with budget constraints, consider other incentives that would encourage your employees to participate. For example, you can highlight how sharing industry-relevant content will help your employees build credibility with their networks or consider other types of internal recognition like an award program or lunch with executives.

Use Gamification

For example, create a hashtag to promote a specific employee advocacy campaign. Then create a leaderboard to show who’s getting the most impressions or engagement for the hashtag.

Organize a prize for the leader, or hold a draw for all team members who create hashtagged posts.

Give your advocacy leaders the freedom to create other unique ways to make advocacy fun and engaging. For example, Cisco employees participated in a virtual talent show, and company swag made an appearance.

Best Practice Examples of Employee Advocacy Programs


Social media has been a core part of Dell’s marketing strategy for years. Dell was one of the earliest, large tech companies to deploy sentiment analysis and social media monitoring technology.

Dell is truly a pioneer in the world of employee advocacy. In addition to having top-level executive support their program from its inception (a crucial key to any program’s success), they were the first to encourage employees to find and share their own content in addition to what the Dell team provided them.

Empowering their employees to share content beyond news about Dell has been hugely central to the success of their program.

Employees who participate in Dell’s employee advocacy program have shared hundreds of thousands of pieces of content since the program’s rollout and have driven tens of thousands of clicks back to their website.

Electronic Arts

With 20,000+ employees spread across 30 offices in six different geo-regions, the video game company was suffering from multiple, competing internal cultures.

Electronic Arts launched their employee advocacy program, called “EA Insiders” in 2014. Within a very short time employees from around the globe were writing to the program managers about how much more connected they were to their coworkers.

New members were sent official certificates and an EA Insiders stocker thanking them for joining and participating in the program, and leaderboards and contests were created to spur friendly competition.

With thousands of active users across the globe, the EA Insiders program generates tens of thousands of social shares each month to a network of over 1.1M.

Kelly Services

In this digital age, if a job seeker is missing a LinkedIn profile picture, or their profile looks lackluster it’s unlikely that a recruiter is going to want to engage. This is why employee advocacy also serves as an important tool for the staffing and recruiting industry.

Kelly Services, a staffing agency, launched their employee advocacy program at the suggestion of a technology research firm.

“We have a large employee base, many of whom are active on social media. And it quickly became clear that if we could harness the power of our employees, we could outpace our corporate marketing channels 10x.” – Lorrie Sole, Senior Marketing Manager.


HPE’s employee advocacy strategy is implemented via the employee advocacy platform, EveryoneSocial. Via the platform, HPE was able to easily curate, manage, and publish content in their chosen social media channels.

To help fuel their advocacy program, HPE offered incentives and guided employees on the proper way to interact with social media platforms.

Gamification, in particular, is one of the effective tactics that increased their employees’ drive to advocate for the HP brand.


One of the commendable tactics in Starbucks’ brand advocacy strategy is that they refer to employees as “partners.” This simple decision granted employees the sense of belongingness and accountability for their social media activities.

As stated in their social media guidelines “We’re called partners because this isn’t just a job, it’s our passion. So, go ahead and share it!”

A crucial ingredient in their employee advocacy program is the comprehensive social media guidelines they made widely available to their partners.

They also built dedicated social media accounts for their partners, which now continues to grow by the thousands every week. Starbucks is another early adopter and top employee advocacy examples.

Employee Referral Programs

According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), roughly one of every two employers offers a formal referral bonus program. Such programs account for close to 25% of all hires, on average. Many other employers have an informal referral system.

At some companies, such programs cover any job. In other cases, bonuses are restricted to positions with an insufficient supply of talent—for example; an e commerce company might provide bonuses for software engineers, especially if they’re in a competitive market for tech talent, but not other roles that are easier to fill. The United States government even offers an employee referral bonus program at the discretion of individual agencies to staff hard-to-fill jobs.

Employers often believe that accessing the social networks of the current staff can be more cost-effective than other recruiting techniques, including the use of executive recruitment services. Some research indicates that incentive programs yield a higher quality employee and enhance retention of staff.

Incentives vary greatly by company, with cash, gift certificates, trips, and even cars being awarded. The value of incentives ranges from $250 to more than $25,000 (for executive positions) with the most common range being about $1000 – $2500 according to a survey by WorldatWork. Bonus payments were made in a lump sum about 70% of the time, on average. In other cases, partial initial payment was made with the remainder awarded at a later date (often after one year).

Employee Referral ROI

Accenture Employee Referral Process

At Accenture, more than one-third of new hires are generated by referrals; rewards range from $2,000 to $7,000 or more. The company runs special campaigns for specific skills that might net higher incentives. Accenture’s one-step referral website allows employees to suggest candidates for specific openings or to make general referrals; its use is open to all employees as well as Accenture alumni.

Accenture’s employee referral program is based on the fact that referring people makes employees feel good; either because they helped out a friend by getting him or her a job and/or because they helped the company find a great new hire. To maximize this feeling of ‘doing good’ Accenture gives employees the possibility to donate a part of their referral bonus to a charity of their choice—the firm matches that amount.

Accenture has created an internal marketing campaign that includes a variety of communications strategies and a special landing page on the company intranet that includes photos and testimonials of successful program participants; employees can even shoot and upload their own videos. The referral site also features online help that allows employees to track the progress of their referrals in real time.

Accenture also makes it easy for candidates to initiate referrals by adding a “Get Referred” button in job postings.

Digital Ocean Employee Referral Process

Digital Ocean launched its referrals incentive structure in 2017. For each referral candidate who is hired, the referring employee received a $3,500 referral bonus in addition to a $1,500 charitable donation paid by Digital Ocean on the employee’s behalf.

The result?

In its first year, 40% of Digital Ocean’s new hires were acquired through employee referrals.

Key Takeaway:

Structure your employee referral bonuses to serve a good cause. Instead of offering a cash prize, offer to make a donation to your employee’s favorite support a charitable organization.

HP’s Employee Referral Process

Instead of focusing solely on great employee referral awards per se, Hewlett Packard Enterprise build a culture around it. They regularly organize company events to honor and publicly recognizes employees who refer qualified candidates.

By recognizing their referring employees as “champions” and celebrating their success, this company achieves a greater employee engagement.

Key Takeaway:

Don’t focus only on your employee referral awards and forget to thank your employees for referring great candidates! Even if their candidate doesn’t end up hired in the end, you should still think of a way to thank them for their time and effort.

Sign in to view this resource
Please sign in to access this and other member resources. If you are not yet a Seramount member, please email us at [email protected].


Related Content