We’ve all heard of influencer marketing. We know the impact celebrity endorsements can have on brand awareness. And while one survey found that 70% of Millennial consumers are influenced by peer recommendations, the same survey also uncovered that people feel more inclined to purchase a product recommended by a non-celebrity influencer—otherwise known as, micro-influencers.

In 2018, organizations are embracing the massive potential of micro-influencers, and they’re doing it in greater volumes than ever before. As more customers turn to relatable, authentic peers for buying insight and influence, your employees will be the ultimate resource for your next influencer marketing campaign—after all:

Employee advocacy delivers all the benefits of a standard influencer marketing campaign at a far lower cost, leading to a shift in the way companies attract prospects and connect with customers.

Companies that encourage employee advocacy are already seeing the ROI from their efforts, turning 2018 into the “year of the employee influencer.” Now is the time to look internally for the group of people already passionate about your brand, and activate the power within it.

The Changing Nature of “Social” Employees

It wasn’t long ago that organizations were taking every measure possible to keep employees away from social media in the office. One statistic in 2013 even revealed that only 13% of employees felt engaged at work, and many employers assumed that social platforms were more of a distraction than a channel for revenue.

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Clearly, the nature of the workplace has since changed, and the way companies feel about social media has transformed alongside it. Now, a company’s social presence is crucial for reasons beyond just Marketing—reasons including talent acquisition, employee retention, productivity, consumer trust and the health of your buying funnel in general.

Socially engaged employees have the power to communicate a message to an audience filled with potential candidates, prospects and customers, and they can build loyalty more efficiently and cost-effectively than the average celebrity.

Embracing the Micro-Influencers Within Your Organization

Around 67.6% of all marketing experts consider their biggest challenge with influencer marketing to be finding the right people who can share their message—a problem that was recently met with a solution in Forbes’ 2018 Marketing Predictions From The C-SuiteEmployees will be the new influencers.

Margaret Molloy, Global CMO, Siegel+Gale, explains:

In an era when your people are your brand, marketing leaders will finally recognize that an engaged workforce is critical. Our research shows companies who invest in simplifying their workplace benefit from greater employee trust, advocacy, innovation and retention.

Simple workplaces communicate clearly and clarify how employees’ roles impact customer relationships to drive business results. In their quest to build brand champions at every level, savvy leaders will foster clear internal communication, where transparency is fundamental.

While influencer marketing campaigns can still be effective in generating awareness and conversions, many marketers find themselves distracted by the level of effort, time and money it takes to find the right partners. When it comes to finding influencers who are invested in your brand on a personal level, there’s no better fit than the micro-influencers within your workforce.

Changing Culture With Employee-Focused Influencer Marketing

The shift in today’s purchasing experience is a primary driver for the rise of micro-influencers and word-of-mouth. Customers now have the power to influence brand reputations, and as a result, CMOs need to work harder to ensure that the overall perception of their company reflects the image they want to sell.

In 2018, more CMOs will take control of company culture. Knowing that employees are the most effective vehicles for creating and sharing engaging information, CMOs have to begin tapping into and extracting the value within that. Whether you’re investing in social selling or focusing efforts to increase referrals from social recruiting, your audience wants to connect with a brand they can relate to.

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As a result of these added responsibilities, the CMO will finally earn a prominent seat in the boardroom. According to Greg Welch, Partner at Spencer Stuart,

As consumers become more empowered to influence brand reputations, corporate boards will recognize the need to add CMOs to their ranks. Tomorrow’s boards will bring along the next generation of digitally savvy omnichannel marketing pros to help shape an organization’s strategic direction.

The number of active CMOs on boards to date has been minimal, but that is about to change – and it will be a perfect forum for marketers to prove their value.

Of course, like any movement in the enterprise space, change needs to come from the top-down in order to be successful. If business leaders inspire their teams to want to share their experiences across social media, influencer marketing will feel like a natural part of employee/employer engagement.

Since many employees often need a little help taking that first step towards becoming an “army of influencers,” executives can start by demonstrating the value of positioning yourself as a thought leader and showcasing authority on a specific topic.

Given that 50% of employees are already posting messages about their company on social media, with the right employee advocacy program, those fleeting messages could be transformed into valuable social selling opportunities.

Replacing “Branding” With Relationship Building

Ultimately, the rise of employee-based influencer marketing is a result of companies raising their standards when it comes to the brands they do business with.

According to David Minified, CXO and Executive Vice President of the Centene Corporation, branding in the traditional sense has changed—today’s CMOs need to find new ways to engage their community and build relationships with their prospects and customers.

Perhaps the easiest way to do that is to is to work on establishing affinity with each customer. Employee influencers can show your customers that they share the same values, beliefs and expectations. Since people have an easier time of connecting with individuals that demonstrate similar interests, your micro-influencers could be insturmental in bridging the gap between your product and customers.

Luckily, technology is available to help your employees and micro-influencers make those connections. Employee advocacy isn’t just a way to accomplish social selling, but another avenue to gather essential customer data that becomes a transformative element of your influencer strategy.

Heather Whaling, Founder & CE of Geben Communication, explains that “communication data will provide enterprise-wide insights”:

While brands are finally getting better about using business data to shape communication strategies, the reverse has been a missed opportunity thus far.

Now that communication departments are savvier about data and analytics, we’ll see heads of strategy, operations, R&D and other departments beyond marketing communications begin to leverage communication data to drive business decisions.

The more you listen to your audience and learn what they need, the more effectively you can adapt your products and services to meet their expectations.

Micro-Influencers & the Age of Customer Experience

It’s safe to say that the customer buying cycle is changing. Experts predict that CMOs will be leading the advancements in tech-based customer personalization in 2018, with 91% of executives claiming that digital disruption is key to their future. That said, technology isn’t the only element to consider when you’re building the business of the future.

As Generation Z customers start to tap into their $44 billion of buying power, marketers will need to start making more connections through social media and organic methods of consumer interaction. People don’t want to hear about the benefits of a product or service from a business owner or entrepreneur anymore—they want to listen to the voices of the people behind the brand.

Social selling and employee advocacy represent a strategy for customer engagement and conversion that goes beyond the traditional (and often-ignored) advertising techniques of the past. By approaching influencer marketing through the activation of micro-influencers—those who infuse industry expertise with personality and authenticity—you’ll transform your brand and the impact it has in today’s business world.