Yvonne BoatengImplementing an employee advocacy program for any organization can come with challenges and hurdles. Couple that with implementing it in a regulated industry, like a bank, and the challenges are amplified, but far from being a deterrent. In fact, the financial industry can, and does, prove to be one of the best areas to implement an employee advocacy program because the end user needs to trust their financial institution, and their friends and colleagues are more trustworthy than a faceless brand. 

In this episode of AMP Up Your Digital Marketing, we meet Yvonne Boateng, the Employee Advocacy Director for Standard Chartered Bank, who championed her company's employee advocacy program. Recognizing early on that the company social media policy needed to match their desires for employees to share, alongside executive buy-in, led to a successful implementation, increasing engagements by 180X. Yvonne explains to listeners how and why the program was a success as well as hurdles she encountered early on that others should be aware of when implementing their program. 

Transcript:

Glenn: Our guest today would like everyone to know that her views expressed on today’s podcast are her own.

Glenn: Welcome back to the show. Today I'm speaking with Yvonne Boateng. Yvonne, welcome to the show! 

Yvonne: Hi, Glenn. Thank you very much for having me. I'm super excited to be here with you. So, thanks.

Glenn: Yvonne, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Yvonne: Yes. Sure. At the moment, I'm the Employee Advocacy Director for Standard Chartered Bank. So, at the moment, my responsibility it's strategizing, executing, planning, deploying, scaling, and it's really, at the moment, a one-man-band. So, there's a lot going on at the moment with the program. But so far it's been super fantastic. We've had excellent results and just before that I was the Social Media Director Lead as well at Standard Chartered Bank. So, I was doing the same thing but globally for our social media channels – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and we just started Instagram. And then, before that, I was at LinkedIn for four years. So, I've been, you know, technology-side, and then I've been client-side as well. So, it's really been great to have that other angle.

Glenn: You know to me – and I mentioned this before we started the show, I am thrilled because you have employee advocacy in your title. And I'm also thrilled by the fact that it's in a bank. So, how did that happen because you were on the social media side but then you were given a title which is very, very specific. So, you've gone from, more kind of broadly, social media to very specifically employee advocacy. Can you tell us a little bit about that journey?

Yvonne: Yeah, absolutely. And just to apologize for my voice, it's a little bit croaky. So, I was at LinkedIn, I moved to Standard Chartered a little bit earlier than I planned. And that was because I was given masterclasses on, you know, social media, how to do LinkedIn, how to do social in general, what kind of process, etc. And one of the directors who worked at Standard Chartered reached out to me a few months after that to, you know, offer me a position at the bank. And as you do, I was quite okay at LinkedIn, but after kind of looking into the opportunity then it was one that I really couldn't pass up. So, I started doing broadly social media for the bank. And I was in about, I would say, eight months in, and thankfully, after much preaching and educating, we, the bank, realized that this is important. Employee advocacy is important. You know, we educated on the benefits to leadership, we have to get their buy-in, that was absolutely crucial.

And if I kind of take you a step back, the bank has always said, you know, stay away from social media when it relates to the bank. So, it's been a whole 360 transformation and it's been a beast of a task and I'm just glad that I'm able to make a difference and bring that to the bank. And a lot of people are really excited about the opportunity, they are really onboard. And it's so humbling to see that people have been looking for this, colleagues that have wanted something like this for a long, long time. So, that is my single focus, employee advocacy planning, executing. 

So, we just launched in September so it's still really early days. But amazingly we've had super, super results. You know, 180X engagements versus before we had the platform implemented. And my role is seeing how fast or how quickly colleagues are picking this up. It's now about scaling – bearing in mind it's one person managing the whole program globally. So, that's been quite a challenge, but it's been interesting and I've loved every single moment of it.

And being a bank, it was that much harder to convince senior stakeholders, compliance, we love them, they have their challenges and their concerns, which are really fair concerns. And what I say to people is, because I get that question a lot – how have you done this in a bank? The single most important thing was educating the leaders and taking them along the journey so that they can understand why this is important. And then once you have that, you have their buy-in, then you need to tweak it when you're speaking to colleagues and show them the benefits to them first as professionals. There's no way, you know, you're going to sell this in to colleagues and they will do this willingly, post about the bank on their own personal social media, if there is no win for them. So, for me, the training and all the education material has been showcasing the win-win-win scenario.

Glenn: Did you find that you had some preconceived notions that you had to change with the senior leadership or was it just the – this is how we've always done it, we haven't said anything online, we've been, you know, we're highly regulated, everything, and that is certain – that mindset. But did they have a preconceived notion of what employee advocacy or even social media would be like if you started to bring it in-house and started to actually execute it?

Yvonne:  I wouldn't say they really understood employee advocacy or the concept. It's such a simple concept and it's simple yet powerful. So, it was really about just removing that word 'employee advocacy' and explaining and letting them know, social media is not going anywhere at the moment. So, we need to use this to the brand's advantage, because no matter what we do in organic or paid it won't really make the impact or have the impact that we want if the brand kind of – the brand isn't there, it hasn't been built up in a certain way. And how do you do that effectively, you use your colleagues, who, you know, if we combine all of them – I'm preaching to the choir here – but, you know, all of them combined can have greater impact. 

So, for us, we removed employee advocacy as a term and I was talking about champions, you know, brand advocates, people who are telling the story and that clicked with them and the penny kind of dropped. And now they are fully onboard. There are still other stakeholders that were taken along the journey, but, for example, our CEO, who didn't have LinkedIn, we activated him this summer, which was a really big win, a really big win for us. And, yeah, we're happy that he's on there. It's been about two-and-a-half months or three months and his follower growth has been exponential, it's been quite crazy.

And that's the power, we have as a brand, posted something, and then the CEO has posted the same thing and the engagement was far greater – it was double, the numbers were double when he posted the exact same video. And for me, that was the cards, to say, guys, look this is what we've been telling you, people trust people. Now, yes, it may be a CEO, so, you know, it's kind of slightly different to just the normal colleagues. But the fact still remains, two videos, this is the difference when it was posted by us as the brand whereas as posted by the CEO as an individual person.

Glenn: Yeah. I mean, it makes sense, right? Because people engage with people. They don't necessarily engage with something that isn't going to engage back with them.

Yvonne:  And that is it. People now expect a presence, you know, they want to know who are those people behind the brand logo. And with social media, no one can hide anyone, unfortunately, so we need to own it. And if we want to own it ourselves, as opposed to letting anyone else own it, then we need to make sure that, you know, colleagues understand the benefits and the story and then telling that story for us.

Glenn: Now, being in a highly regulated industry such as banking, and you mentioned it before, there's people who are involved in just making sure, you know, all the t's are crossed, all the i's are dotted with anything and everything that the bank has to say publicly. How do you have conversations with those folks and how do you put them at ease that this is actually going to be an alignment with what they're trying to do rather than cause them problems?

Yvonne:  With everything there is – especially with the industry I'm involved in, with everything there is a level of, you know, risk. Social media, yes, there is a level of risk but the benefits massively outweigh the risk. And for me, the biggest, the first thing we did was to revamp the social media guidelines. So, that was the biggest and the first task on this program. And when I look back on it now, the quality that we used to have as a bank was quite restrictive or specific to what you could not do or what you must not do.

Glenn: And there wasn't much that said what they could do, right?

Yvonne: Exactly. So, it wasn't – I would say, it was more a scary document than anything else.

Glenn: You shall not do social media.

Yvonne: Understandably, you know, we work in a highly regulated industry. Nobody wants to get in trouble. And the bank wants to keep colleagues as safe, you know, without saying the wrong things. So, I understood it. And that's why I was quite empathetic but at the end of the day, we have to realize if we want to make a change, we have to empower those employees and we have to give the power back to them to make sound judgment, you know. If they don't feel trusted or if they don't feel empowered, they won't post, they won't join the program, they won't join the vendor that we've brought onboard. And so, there won't be a platform, there won't be engagements. So, we need to go back to the core of it, changing the kind of the perception and letting colleagues know it's okay to be on social media. 

And I think our CEO going online, we saw that month there was a huge spike in activity and engagements. So, that told us that, yes, people were looking for that reassurance and we took it step-by-step. There was one-to-one with stakeholders to understand what they wanted to be known for? And then we can start planning their content strategy. So, it was really – it was a planned approach and we made sure that expectations were managed in terms of how involvement do you want to have, is it going to be you as the senior exec or would you have a comms person who will be managing this? So, we have to have those very upfront conversations and understand how involved they wanted to be and then make sure that we can account for everything and have plans in place whatever the case might have been.

Glenn: So, it's interesting, right, you've got a scenario in which your employees have been in a very restricted environment, and to your earlier point, the social media policy that you had basically said, yeah, don't do anything. And now all of a sudden you're saying, yeah, yeah, you can do something. It sounds as if one of the ways that you are able to accomplish that is by getting the executives to almost take the lead in some of these and show the impact that the CEO can have?

Yvonne: Absolutely.

Glenn: Is that one of the things that changed the hearts and minds of the rank-and-file employees is just seeing that the executives were out there and it was okay do this? 

Yvonne: Absolutely. The first post that the CEO did, if you read the comments, a lot of the comments were just, excitement that he had posted something. Clearly people have been waiting for this, you know, so it's really great. I am so excited that we have come this far as a bank. And I think the future is massively bright. 

Then the next step would be all about how do we scale with the platform that we use and how do we scale this because we have a lot of employees globally and we need to make sure that we're educated, we're scaling, we're enrolling people in the program. And that they understand what comes first, second and third. So, they understand in order to have an effective – in order to be an effective ambassador, you know, it starts with your social media profile. And we found that during the process, we did some surveys in the beginning, LinkedIn was the platform that people are most comfortable with.

So, that was really useful information. So, that is where most people are started and that is where a lot of the training focus is on. So, how to start building your own personal brand through your LinkedIn profile? How do you then build relationships and build your network and why is that useful on LinkedIn? And then, how to now start posting and content and how to do that well. 

So, there's a lot to learn and hopefully the different formats that we've created such as videos, recorded webinars, cheat sheets that I have to sweet talk some of our designers to help me do, because, you know, I'm sure a lot of people have the same parent resources so, building those relationships to get people to support you. So, we have cheat sheets created by our designers. We have PDFs, we have PowerPoints. So, you know, whatever your style is, there is something for you.

Glenn: Right. So, when you – I'd like to go back to the beginning, if I could, and clearly you had an early-on focus of really starting with LinkedIn, to activate folks on LinkedIn, have you gone beyond that or is LinkedIn still the core, do you see yourself adding some other social networks? Or, you know, in the banking industry there are certainly different places to go, right, depending on who your target audience is. So, I'm curious where you're going with that?

Yvonne: So, all the platforms are open. So, colleagues can technically post to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. What we realized, that about 95, 96, 97% are posting on LinkedIn and that is where the engagements are coming from. So, it was a case of, do we just create something generic and hopefully people can take it and run with it? Do we create something for each platform? Which is, at the moment or at the time, wasn't something we could do physically. So, let's look at this strategically, which platforms are the ones people have said they used and then we tailor content to that to start with. And once we see people are comfortable, the next thing would be, okay, you're a super-user on LinkedIn. Now, look at Twitter, this is why it's good and this is how you get started and these are the kind of things you post on that platform.

So, I think we don't want to blow anybody's mind. So, we just wanted to kind of start with something people are very comfortable and very familiar with, start with that and kind of take them through it. So, we noticed – we will be, you know, running reports and seeing who's posting the most, who's getting the most engagements and identifying those users that are having a great impact. And then, bringing in, hey, you would be great for Twitter, you know, join this training, this is what Twitter is good for, etc.

Glenn: Yeah. And I think that that's a key, right, to really help people understand it. Because too often there's an assumption that just because people may have an account that they truly understand, at least the professional value of that platform. So, bravo for incorporating that into the program. 

I'm curious, Yvonne, if there was one thing that – say, a fledgling company – fledgling in terms of employee advocacy – if there's one thing that they could be doing to start themselves off on the right foot, what was that one thing?

Yvonne: I would say two things, okay, so the first thing that came to mind was, get that executive buy-in from the start, because, you know, in order to really take this as far as it should go or it can go, you need to get that buy-in from execs and let your colleagues see that they're talking about this in a positive way. It is okay. And then the second, if I may say, the second thing is, really define your objective straight up. The one challenge I had that I did not foresee was we had kind of – we were a partner with HR. So, we partnered with HR on this program and they were, you know, our partner and together we were trying to create this program.

And so, when you are writing your comms – internal comms – if you're writing it from a HR perspective, it's going to be very different if you're writing it from, for example, a sales perspective. You know, HR wanted to be all about the people, this is how we get more people in the bank, like yourself, and retain you, you know. We care about you, we care about our colleagues, etc. But if you're looking at it from the sales point-of-view, the verbatim or the internal comms you would send out would be more geared around, this is why you need your profile to be this certain way, this is how and why it's effective for hitting your quota.

So, it becomes two very different messages, they're both very valid, but if that is not managed upfront, if the partners or whoever, if this does not manage to say, okay, the main objective is from a brand and marketing point-of-view. Second is HR, because, you know, you supported this, in terms of, you know, bringing some financial contributions to the table and making sure that we can build this up, but if it's not defined upfront then that can cause challenges. 

And we've worked through those, but I would say that was one thing I did not anticipate and that was one thing that actually was a challenge, but it's been a great learning curve because it's taught me a lot of things. And now I will never forget that and I will be able to advise other people running their own programs. Because for me, I run a consultancy, if you want to call it that, providing the service, so I'm providing this for Standard Chartered and I've experienced it personally on both sides. And I'll be able to make sure that anybody else embarking on this kind of program knows the things that need to be defined upfront before they kind of jump all in. So, yeah, it's been fantastic.

Glenn: Yeah. And we find that most companies, when they – the program they think they're going to have is different from the program they have in 30 days, it's different from the program they have in 60, in six months, in two years. So, yeah. But the one thing I would add, Yvonne, which you said earlier, which I thought was so powerful, is actually read the social media policy first, because you may have to change that before you do anything else.

Yvonne: A 100%. And then make sure that you understand what the colleagues think about that policy. And truthfully, and then you know how to handle your revised version. So, yeah, absolutely.

Glenn: Right. Yvonne, if people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way to get in touch with you?

Yvonne: Of course, you can find me on LinkedIn, Yvonne Boateng, you will hopefully see me there. And, yeah, feel absolutely free to reach out.

Glenn: Awesome! Yvonne, thanks so much for being on the show.

Yvonne: Thank you for having me. It was an absolute pleasure to speak to you, Glenn.

Yvonne’s Bio: Yvonne Boateng is the Employee Advocacy Director for Standard Chartered Bank, where she serves at the global lead for employee advocacy. Her focus is to lead the internal communications to activate employees on the platform and to facilitate change management. To reach Yvonne, you can find her on LinkedIn.

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