Sometimes, the job of an employee volunteer manager can feel daunting. You’re a small team, challenged with a huge goal: get everyone in your company excited about the employee volunteer program (EVP). Sometimes you have executive support to get this message out, but more often you just have your own team’s resources. So how do you continue to grow your program?
VolunteerMatch works with more than 150 companies, so we’ve seen many of you take on this challenge in different ways. One trick we’ve learned through our 13+ years of experience in CSR is targeted, smart communications. It all boils down to this: find your program’s influencers.
There is a well accepted marketing theory focused on influencer marketing – the idea is that to sell products, businesses strive to find, engage and learn from their influencers. These influencers are “wavemakers” and, according to Traackr, “are the most effective partners for sharing your messages and driving business your way.” This same theory can help spread the word of your employee volunteer program internally.
How Can Influencers Help?
It’s all about finding who will evangelize your program. These influencers can have two large impacts on your EVP: 1) They can be advocates, and help to spread the word of your program across your company. 2) They can propel and change your program. Influencers are usually trendsetters, which means they are a great learning tool for you to adjust your program or communications.
Who are They?
The biggest hurdle to influencer marketing is finding the right influencers. As Traackr points out, “to create or raise awareness, you need to discover who has the greatest ability to support your messages and relay your news to the right audience.” – So how do you identify these wavemakers?
Our research has shown that most companies have committees and champions to help manage their programs at local offices. Many of our clients have recruited champions to act as local influencers and plan projects: for instance, Prometheus recruits PORCH Leaders to engage each property in volunteering, and UnitedHealth Group developed a broad network of volunteer councils to champion their strategic direction.
Champions are a great example of influencers, even if that may not be their core purpose. They are a great baseline to begin to grow your influencer strategy. To take your influencer tactic to the next level, you’ll have to do some research to find out who internally influences company culture and decisions. They can be difficult to find, as they are not often the usual suspects.
Start with what you already know: write down the top 50 people or groups who you feel influence the direction of your company. These may be senior executives, but they may be “groundfloor” wavemakers. They may be existing volunteer champions, or they may be someone who has never volunteered with your company. Do some initial research, using tools like social media to see who is active within your company.
Then, broaden your research by talking to others – have a few of your colleagues repeat the exercise of writing down their top influencers. Try to get coworkers from different locations, departments or executive levels to see where influence differs. Talk to decision makers across the company and ask who influences their direction.
You’ll end up with a list of influencers, many of whom may or may not know much about the volunteer program. Take this list and pick 2-3 top influencers to start with based on their level of connection or participation in volunteering/philanthropy and the potential impact on groups that you especially want to target.
Increasing Trust and Buy-In
Now that your influencers are identified, find a way to connect directly with your those at the top. You’ll want to personalize your message – find what matters to them and get them “hooked” on your EVP. Maybe this is a cause they care about, or an activity that matches their skills.
Once an influencer has given your program their “seal of approval,” you’ll see trust in your program grow gradually. Start small – build a volunteer project and see if your influencer can spread the word. Continue to nurture your influencer relationship and let it grow. Eventually, you won’t have to spend as much time trying to engage employees, as your influencers have already helped communicate your message.
Learning From Your Influencers
Influencers can also be a great tool to test your message. As the marketing firm OpenView points out, “More often than not, your influencers are on the pulse of trends within your industry.” Think of them as your focus group for program direction and communications.
Influencers can make your job easier – try it out and let us know how it goes!