Going. Ahead. With Gage: Interview with Danielle Guzmán, Global Head Social Media & Distributed Content at Mercer

“The holy grail of employee advocacy programs is the customer.” My next guest for #GAWG is Danielle Guzmán, the Global Head of Social Media and Distributed Content at Mercer. She is someone that inspires me, not just by her knowledge of social media, customer experience, and employee advocacy, but also by her shared love and passion on the importance of building relationships and wanting to help people be the best they can be. I hope you all enjoy reading our interview as much as I enjoyed doing it 🙂

In an interview you did with Dynamic Signal, you were called an “accidental expert in social media and employee advocacy.” Why was this career move accidental and what attracted you to it in the first place?

Great question! This career move was an intentional pivot several years ago, and I’ve never looked back. Having spent much of my career in Marketing across many different capacities, and most recently in product development and customer insight, I wanted to shift my focus to invest more in digital channels and through learning and working on a breadth of consulting engagements, my attention shifted to a deep focus on social media. This was an area that I saw evolving at a rapid pace, it still is, and I did not feel that I was truly at the center of it all. What attracted me to social media? It’s all about people, and relationships, with no geographical boundaries. Social media is also relationship building – accelerated. We are no longer confined to meeting people at a business networking event, or a conference. It can take place virtually anywhere, and at any time. And that’s incredibly exciting and full of opportunities.

I believe in the power and influence of employee advocacy programs and I’m always mind-boggled that it’s still such a challenging topic of discussion. Why do you think brands and teams still struggle in making these programs happen and happen successfully?

Considering the clear and compelling stats around the power of employee advocacy, I would agree with you. Today, your target audience would rather hear from your employees – not the brand. Here are a few compelling stats to get you thinking:

  • Brand messages reached 561% further when shared by employees vs. the same messages shared by official brand social channels.
  • 79% of firms surveyed reported more online visibility after the implementation of a formal employee advocacy program. 65% reported an increase in brand recognition.
  • Content shared by employees receives 8x more engagement than content shared by brand channels.
  • And one of my favorite’s (from McKinsey): Peer-to-peer marketing is the leading driver behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions.

With that said, it’s a pivot from a traditional marketing approach where brands have always owned their external voice 100%, and controlled their messages and how they communicate. To succeed with employee advocacy requires a brand to turn over the reins to their employees and empower them to be the voice of the brand. Trust is critical to a successful employee advocacy program – that creates a huge opportunity! It can also make an organization’s legal and compliance department quite nervous. When you look at organizations that have strong employee advocacy programs in place, they truly believe in their employees and have a few key pieces in place to launch with success. These include:

  • A clear game plan with KPIs
  • A rollout out plan
  • A brand reputation management process
  • A social media policy
  • A training curriculum

Much of your background has been leading customer experience and insights. What learnings and insights have you taken from those roles to build and influence employee advocacy programs?

The customer is king. Truly understanding and connecting with your customer, or target audience is instrumental to success. In many cases, companies are simply not naturally wired to think about the journeys their customers take, and as a result marketing strategies are developed inside-out instead of from the outside-in. Many principles of customer experience and insights lend themselves directly to employee advocacy. The holy grail of all of them is the customer.

Consider this simple example: when you wake up in the morning, what is the ‘journey’ you take. Think about it, and write it down. Many people will say something like “I wake up, make a cup of coffee, have a shower, and check my phone.” Perhaps in a different order, perhaps a different combination of four actions. While that may be true, when we consider employee advocacy, or customer experience, or customer insights, we need to go much deeper from that first second of ‘being awake.’ Let’s try the exercise again. This time the journey looks like this: you gain consciousness, you feel your body laying on the bed, you feel warm and cozy, you still feel tired, you reflect on why you’re tired, you don’t want to get up, you sigh, you open your eyes.  There are many differences between the two answers, the biggest being that slowing down and experiencing the journey brings forward so many rich details that enlighten us at every step of the way. As communicators, marketers, and business leaders, the devil and the opportunities are in the details.

Turning now to employee advocacy – successful programs are those where the advocacy team builds the framework, the KPIs, the content plan, the training, etc. at a level of detail that enables you to truly connect with your employee community. Without knowing each and every one of them personally, the investment in ‘employee insights’ has ensured that your program will resonate, will engage, and inspire them to the desired actions you want, and equally, be rewarding to each individual.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and from who?

The best advice I’ve ever received was from my mentor at AIG. Simply put, he challenged me to look at my career like a NY Times best-selling book. And once a quarter, or every six months, I reflected on my professional journey – what I’d learned and my accomplishments during that period of time. I had to ask myself if I believed the output was worthy of a chapter in my NY Times best-selling book. The most important part of the exercise is about regular reflection and being present daily in your professional journey. Careers today are rarely linear, and doors are always opening around us. Being present in our every day, and mindful in all that we do is really important, and often takes a back seat to the day-in-day-out routine. Before we know it twelve months have gone by. Own your today, and create your tomorrows!

How do you encourage innovative and creative thinking on the teams you lead and work with?

I’m a believer that being able to think outside the box is a learnable skill. You just have to be willing to try new things, truly willing, and then it’s time to exercise and improve on your creative thinking. Today’s business environment places high demands on all individuals – It’s difficult to be innovative and encourage creative thinking when you’re always in a hurry. The first action, create a balance on your team where colleagues are not only empowered but enabled to set aside time each day to escape the day-to-day minutia and find white space. Help them find the time and make it a priority. Second, don’t just tolerate mistakes, create an environment where mistakes are a part of the journey. We only see the genius innovations in life, we don’t see the hundreds, thousands of iterations that were not accepted along the way. We need to give people a reason to care – If people are not feeling connected to your company, or your team, and its goals, then there’s little incentive for them to be innovative.

What advice do you have for junior level employees wanting to make it to leadership roles one day?

The world of work today is very different than 10 years ago, 5 years ago, arguably even 12 months ago. The world is changing at an unprecedented rate and individuals and what it means to ‘go to work’ is being disrupted. While there is much we can learn from traditional leadership it is equally important that we immerse ourselves into the future of work, and the skills that are instrumental for leading today’s businesses and workforces. We must consider that the workforce is becoming more virtual, employment is becoming more flexible, team structures becoming more agile, career paths more non-linear and organizations more purpose led, to name a few. And then we have technology taking a greater role, driving automation and empowering humans to be more effective and push new boundaries. My advice – read. A lot. Focus on the skills needed for the future of work, the human ‘soft skills’. These include fearless agility, empathy, selflessness, flexibility, communicating and listening, and cultural intelligence to name a few.

What is one of the most difficult decisions you’ve made in your career and what did you learn from it?

Wow. Tough question. I have to say it was taking a leap of faith and truly believing in myself, seeing what others around me saw in me and owning that leap from day one. I learned three things. First, when a door opens, go through it and explore, force yourself if needed to leave your comfort zone. Second, we are our worst critic, it’s time we all become our own biggest advocates. And third, the future of work (which is right now) challenges us all to be continuous learners. Even if you love what you are doing today, make daily learning a requirement. You never know what opportunity will present itself next.

I love book recommendations to help me grown in my career and challenge my thinking – What books would you recommend as a must-read for career growth and just for fictional fun?

Reading is arguably the most powerful way to nourish one’s soul and to challenge our brains to break free from the structured environments we unconsciously spend most of our time in. When it comes to fiction, “Harry Potter”. For me, it’s about the incredible depth of detail that JK Rowling brings to life in her storytelling, the endless creativity and how no matter your age, she transports you into a world where you are challenged to suspend disbelief and just be. When it comes to non-fiction, there are so many. I really like “David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell and also “Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What’s Obvious But Not Easy” by David Maister.

The first book I recommend because we often hold ourselves back from trying something new, or changing how we do things. We often find ourselves paralyzed with the need to know everything before we start a project. This book shares lots of examples focused on how we can overcome, and see opportunities throughout. The second book is a great read for people looking to make strategic changes to any aspect of their life, personal or professional. It shares great insights on how to focus on the key things that we should do, and say yes to, and learning to say ‘no’ to many things that are being done more out of habit and less because they’re critical to success.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next #GAWG next month!

— Gage Grammer

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