Kristen O’Neill shares how she launched and grew an employee advocacy program at TransUnion from the ground up

As the Corporate Social Media Manager for TransUnion, one of Kristen O’Neill’s responsibilities is to provide social media training for employees, thought leaders, and executives.

I was hearing from a lot of our employees through that training that they didn't have enough time and didn't know where to find content. Kristen O'Neill
But the largest audience she works to train is their sellers — whose training involves optimizing their LinkedIn profiles, networking best practices, and the importance of sharing content with their network regularly.

“I was hearing from a lot of our employees through that training that they didn’t have enough time and didn’t know where to find content, so they weren’t being as effective or engaged as they wanted to be,” she said. “I decided to develop an employee advocacy program to address those barriers and make it easier for our employees to consistently share thought leadership content to LinkedIn.”

According to Kristen, the first thing they had to do to get this project off the ground was get approval from their stakeholders.

“I had to present it to our marketing leadership first, who fortunately understands the value of social media and employee advocacy and was bought in early in the process,” she said. “But everyone we approached for buy-in on the marketing side wanted to understand how we were going to track leads with the program. Because, like many marketing departments, lead generation is an important goal. So, if we were going to reallocate some of my time to the program, we had to make sure that everything was trackable in Eloqua and Salesforce. Next, we presented it to our sales leaders.”

I also went to our LinkedIn rep and got some help identifying our more engaged employees. Kristen O'Neill
She said TransUnion is selective about what tools, programs, and training are introduced to the sales team, so that sellers can focus on the most important parts of their roles. Therefore it was critical to demonstrate that the program was easy to incorporate into their day and had the potential to make them better and more efficient as sellers.

Finally, she had to submit their employee advocacy platform for a thorough review by their Information Security team to make sure everything was up to their rigorous standards.

In all, it took six months from the time they started first evaluating vendors to the actual launch in May 2017.

For the launch itself, Kristen put together a communications plan of the different places she could internally advertise the program to get people to opt-in.

“I also went to our LinkedIn rep and got some help identifying our more engaged employees,” she said. “Then I handpicked people who I’d observed sharing our LinkedIn company content or people who were thought leaders or had unique POVs from different areas of the company.”

Once she had some names, she decided on running a small pilot first to work out the kinks.

I tried to get people who were already pretty social media savvy to increase the likelihood of success and reduce the number of questions about social media basics. Kristen O'Neill
“We started with 25 or 30 people,” said Kristen. “I tried to get people who were already pretty social media savvy to increase the likelihood of success and reduce the number of questions about social media basics.”

Now, they have nearly 150 people in the program.

With their pilot list finalized, Kristen set about training the participants to kick off the program.

While she originally hoped to use a recorded training for the program, she found that she wasn’t getting the engagement or attendance she wanted.

“Instead, I switched to doing 20-minute live training sessions, which include social media best practices, how to use the tool, a reminder of policies and an overview of the program’s benefits and success stories to hopefully get employees excited to get started.” she said.

Because Kristen is the only person managing this program, their growth so far has all been through word of mouth.

New participants are generally people who have heard about it before through their fellow employees and advocates. Kristen O'Neill
“New participants are generally people who have heard about it before through their fellow employees and advocates,” she said. “I start training by asking how they heard about the program, and nine times out of 10 it’s through one of their colleagues telling them how easy it is and how much they get out of it. I have no doubt if I had more time to manage the program that we could grow it to double our current size.”

Internally, she said, the response to the program has been better than she’s ever hoped for.

“I’ll often meet someone at an internal event who’ll talk about how much their sellers love the program,” said Kristen. “It makes something they know should be part of their sales toolkit really quick, easy, and efficient. And everyone likes something that makes their job a little bit easier.”

However, she said it’s difficult to get a comprehensive view of the degree to which the program generates sales opportunities.

“I use custom parameters on every URL shared through the program, so it’s easy for me to see that the program is driving a significant volume of leads to our gated content and meaningful web traffic. However, a challenge of the program is being able to track what we’re influencing on a day-to-day basis — like if a LinkedIn post results in a conversation with a prospect. But anecdotally we’ve gotten some really promising results.”

Because the biggest challenge right now is curating content, and the more people you have in the program, the more content you need. Kristen O'Neill
To combat that, she sends an annual survey where participants can report on some of the successes they had.

She said they recently used the employee advocacy program to promote one of their quarterly webinars.

“We promoted it via organic and paid social, and then through our program,” she said. “We had more registrations coming in through the employee advocacy promotions than on our other channels. The program’s primary goal was to impact top-of-funnel metrics, but it’s turned out to be a low-cost way to generate leads, too.”

Moving into 2020, Kristen hopes to identify other content contributors within the company and dedicate more time to the employee advocacy program.

“Because the biggest challenge right now is curating content, and the more people you have in the program, the more content you need,” she said.

She also hopes they can eventually expand the program from predominantly BtoB content into employment branding, enterprise communications, and talent acquisition.

“The program has incredible potential. Not only for lead generation and creating awareness of our business solutions, but also for communicating all of the great work the company does in using information for good and sharing the outstanding culture, opportunities, and benefits we offer our employees.”

“What I see consistently is that when I put employment branding content on the platform, that content has some of the highest share rates and highest engagement rates,” she said. “So there’s definitely the potential for successful application there.”

While she said she still has plenty of room for improvement with the program, she’s proud of what she’s been able to achieve thus far.

There's a perception that an employee advocacy program is just a 'nice to have.' Kristen O'Neill
She said she’s grateful she started small, and that making sure she did the pilot right set them up for success as the program grew.

For anyone looking to kick off a similar program, she suggested not underestimating the amount of time that it takes to actually find articles or shareable content and to get support in that area where you can.

“That includes senior buy-in and getting them involved in the program so they can lead by example,” said Kristen.

Most of all, Kristen emphasized that this kind of work is a worthy investment.

“There’s a perception that an employee advocacy program is just a ‘nice to have,'” she said. “But the results we’ve had from a marketing and social media perspective have been remarkable.”

She said the voices of your employees add a lot of value to your social media marketing mix.

“People want to hear from other humans and those they respect more than they want to hear from the brands,” said Kristen. “Employee advocacy as it pertains to social media marketing is only going to become more important and more relevant. I’m glad that we invested in this when we did.”

Kristen O’Neill has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2016. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.