Best practice for employee advocacy & your digital first impression


This is part two of an engaging and insightful conversation with Kim Babcock from Sales Reboot Camp. The 2-part series of interviews cover Digital Disruption, Digital Eminence, Employee Advocacy and what it means to be a ‘Practical Futurist.’ Part 1 can be found here.

Presented below is the interview transcript from Kim.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Andrew Grill, Global Managing Partner @IBM and Practical Futurist. I started reading Andrew’s blog some time ago and am consistently taken with his practical approach to digital thinking. We had an engaging conversation, and Andrew shared some powerful insights on digital disruption and what leaders should be doing and thinking about. We covered so much I have created 2 posts.

Part 1 — Digital Disruption

  • Digital disruption and what leaders need to think about and do
  • The need for ‘Digital Diversity’ starting with your board of directors
  • What it means to be a ‘Practical Futurist’: What can leaders be doing now to manage digital disruption in their business

Part 2 — Digital Eminence and Employee Advocacy

  • Andrew’s journey in building his thought leadership and eminence in digital thinking
  • Employee Advocacy: The value of enabling and empowering your employees as brand advocates
  • ‘Digital First Impressions’ for both you and your clients.

Here are the highlights of our conversation:

In part 1, Andrew highlights: “In order to get digital, you need to be digital”.

For some, this might mean understanding the value of using social media by actually using, listening and participating on the platforms. I recommend to start by listening on social media. You need to understand how your employees, prospects, customers and competitors are using digital.

It is important to make it comfortable for senior leaders to ask questions and learn about digital. Create an environment where they can ask questions: What is a hashtag? What is a retweet? Explain it in a way that is relatable. You want to create an environment where people are comfortable to ask questions and then respond in a way that makes things relevant. For example, a retweet is like forwarding an email.

These are important considerations as Andrew shares his journey in building his digital eminence and his thoughts on the value of employee advocacy. Not everyone will have the same level of digital knowledge and comfort. Training and support are important elements for an employee advocacy. It is important to help leaders and employees ‘get digital’.

On Andrew’s journey to becoming a thought leader and influencer on ‘Digital Thinking’?

I studied engineering and then fell into marketing while working for a large telco in Australia. I loved marketing, and perhaps should have started there but my background in engineering helps me understand the art of the possible, especially in the context of digital.

I moved to London in 2006 and started blogging on a regular basis around 2007, back then we called it a weblog.

I remember one of my first posts that really got noticed. I was working at a location-based services company and I blogged about what I thought was revolution at the time (although now it has virtually become ubiquitous) — that of Google’s mobile map product. This led to my “feedback moment” when I realized my content and my point of view was resonating with others. I was at a conference in London, and someone came up to me, looked at my name badge and said, “I read your blog.” I was so flattered. Initially, I was doing it for love, I was passionate about the topics I was writing about. This person said to me, “I really enjoy and value what you are writing.”

This was the feedback moment that I needed to made me realize there was real value in sharing my thoughts and insights. People were reading them, learning and finding them useful. In fact, my blog was also leading to many speaking engagements internationally.

The more I wrote, the more I shared, and the more feedback I received, it was clear to me that I I had a voice, and people were interested in what I had to say. I think everyone needs a “feedback moment” to help you see the value of building your personal brand and sharing your insights with others — in a way I could start to quantify the impact I was having.

I also started to engage with other thought leaders. I looked at those who I admired, such as Brian Solis and Mark Schaefer, and started commenting on their posts. I would add some insights and links back to my blog posts on similar topics to illustrate my point. Not only was I building my influence, but I was building my network and relationships that have now evolved from digital to real-world, in-person friendships.

On getting started

I actually advise people to be a “voyeur” on social, and to start by listening, It is important to understand that social media is really another language. You need to listen and learn to understand and then be understood. Even on Twitter understanding the @mention or #hashtag or use of a Retweet is critical to understanding how to communicate and engage on these platforms. You need to understand the language first to be able to communicate effectively.

The hardest part is getting started, but when you get that feedback moment, when others respond and see value in what you are sharing, then you become motivated to continue.

Employees not only need to build their own personal brand online but they are key to representing the brand online.

On Employee Advocacy: What is the value of enabling and empowering your employees as brand advocates?

Andrew has recently written an insightful blog post: Employee Advocacy Beyond “Please RT This” and the Rise of Digital Eminence. He clearly believes: ‘Your best advocates are already on the payroll’.

I see real value behind Employee Advocacy. Here is an example: A few years ago, I was speaking to a group of marketers about employee advocacy. At the end, I said, “You have just watched a twenty minute ad for IBM. You know where I work, and if you like what I said, there are going to be more people like me. Now you can see the value of working with IBM, as told by someone who actually works there.

At IBM, we have over 380,000 people like me, and we all have a voice.

The challenge is that most companies simply send out an email saying, ‘Please retweet this’. This does nothing for the corporate message, and does nothing for the employee’s personal brand.

I don’t simply retweet our corporate messaging for two reasons. One, I can always add extra value and insights. I can put the ‘Andrew’ spin on that message and share other insights based on my knowledge and employee point of view. My second point is that I know the value of my personal brand. And I know my brand will be impacted if I just retweet company content. People will just view me as a corporate mouthpiece of the PR team. There is no insight, just retweet after retweet of company press releases.

Not every employee is created equally and not everyone will feel comfortable doing this. Companies can and should find, train, mentor and support employees who are prepared to represent the brand and share their expertise to build their digital eminence.

Content and social sharing is so much more authentic coming from the individual than from the company. We know that, in the B2B space, recommendations are key. Ultimately people buy from people, so sharing insights and recommendations can help drive consideration.

The challenge is that too many brands are just viewing it as another distribution channel. Employees are an untapped resource — but don’t treat them as just another channel. It is a fine line to ensure you have a value exchange between employer and employee.


Social metrics are easier to measure but they can be gamed and do not necessarily indicate true value. You need to be able to tie back the activity to revenue. You can also measure incremental sales and/or increased pipeline as examples.

In the professional services space, another interesting approach might be to measure the way academics do. How many keynotes have been delivered? Are people choosing more of my content than one of my peers? How many people are searching for me on Google this month? You can also look at followers, likes, and social shares. This approach can be used to compare yourself against a key competitor and understand how they are doing in comparison.. How is your influence compared to one of your peers? Are your prospects aware of you, your thought leadership, your eminence? Are you in their consideration set?

Kim: Great perspective, ultimately what you measure should depend on what you are trying to accomplish.

The individual employee also needs to see value and a return to keep doing it. Are they learning something? Are they building relationships? Is it helping them in their role? For example, in sales there is a lot of value to be had through social listening.

My father ran his own small business. I learned some important lessons from him. This was long before social. He used to go through the employment ads in the local newspaper. If a company had placed ads, that was a sign that there were growing and therefore might need his services. In today’s world, when someone is sharing information on social media, it gives you an insight as to what is important to the individual and the company, and this can be used to your advantage.

On Digital First Impressions

Enabling employees to build their brand on social media is critical in today’s B2B sales environment. Andrew captures this brilliantly in his recent blog post: The First 90 Seconds — Your Digital First Impression Counts for More Than You Think

When I speak to Chief Executives and other in the C-Suite, I ask them directly, “What is the first thing you did when you saw my name on the meeting invitation?” They always respond, ‘We put your name into Google’. They meet me online before I ever meet them. My digital first impression is therefore paramount. In today’s world people often have already started to decide whether they want to do business with you before they have even meet you.

I implore people to put your own name into Google (in incognito mode to not skew the results) to see your own digital “first impression”. Put your name into Google, and see what your clients are seeing. If they cannot find you, that is an issue.

It works both ways, you can also learn a lot about your prospects, especially in the B2B environment. When it comes to sourcing and engaging leads, you should use every signal out there about your target. I use Full Contact. It gives me a single view of a potential lead . It helps me have a digital first meeting before I meet with them. If I look at someone who is ‘Head of Digital’ and they have no digital first impression, it gives me a good understanding of their digital mindset and digital maturity. This helps me really prepare for our discussion with these insights.

Relationships no longer start with handshakes and coffee. You can now start to learn about people in stealth mode. The sales person of the future now has so many more tools at their disposal.

Who influences you? Who do you follow?

People who influence me are people I have actually met in person. While I initially met many of them online, it has been the face-to-face connection that has really impacted me. Mark Schaefer, Brian Solis and Jeremy Waite are all people who make me think and influence my behaviour. We may not always agree, but they challenge my thinking.

What is your favourite Social Media platform and why?

Can I share two?

Kim: Of course! (I have more than one, each for different reasons)

Twitter obviously because of my one tweet story. (Andrew can credit his job at IBM back to one tweet. It is a great story. I can relate.)

I joined LinkedIn in 2004. Someone sent me an invite and at first I thought, Is this some sort of pyramid marketing scheme? I signed up and found that 32 people I knew were already using the platform. I thought, If these people are using it, there must be value.

I actively use both of these platforms and have never looked back. They have helped shape my career. They have allowed me to pivot from old-school networking, to building my personal brand online, expanding my network and growing my digital eminence.

Both platforms have given me incredible career and travel opportunities, and I have met many friends through them.

I do not play with too many. Snapchat, for example, I just don’t get it. (Kim: I agree)

But as we talked about — ‘to get digital you need to be digital’ — I recognize that I need to play with and understand these platforms.

Thank you, Andrew, for an extremely engaging and insightful conversation. What a pleasure to share your thoughts and insights.

You can read Part 1 of our discussion here.



Andrew Grill - The Actionable Futurist®

The Actionable Futurist®. Former Global Managing Partner @ IBM. Proud Dad. TEDx & International Keynote Speaker. Aussie in London.