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The best brand advocates may be your own employees

As the old saying goes, charity begins at home, but if you're looking to build and maintain a successful business, brand advocacy had better begin at home, too.

In the age of social and digital marketing, we often find ourselves looking for new ways of developing brand ambassadors that can help us forge an emotional connection with your audiences.

But all too often, when we are on the lookout for outside voices that can help us to spread a brand's message, we overlook the most valuable assets of any business – the employees.

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Think about it. Your employees are the ones on the front lines interacting with your customers and your audience. They are your critical touchpoints.

Whereas celebrity endorsements can sometimes be written off by consumers as nothing more than paid advertising, your employees are the people living and breathing your brand every day. With the right culture, your employees are there because they want to be. Because they believe in your brand.

That's a powerful thing.

At my company, we know our employees are the greatest asset we have. They not only form the soul of our culture, but they are our top advocates, helping to showcase on social media the amazing work we are doing, which not only helps to spread the word to prospective clients, but also to help with recruiting.

Think about a brand like Lululemon. At the yoga clothing retailer, employees are encouraged to live and breathe the active lifestyle that aligns with the brand and is reflective of the business.

In store, sales consultants are known as "educators" and are trained as such to ensure customers can visit a shop not only to find fitness clothing, but to be inspired to live an active lifestyle. They're not only selling yoga pants, they're advocating on their behalf and the healthy lifestyle they help enable.

These educators help create authentic connections within their local communities by taking yoga classes, which the company has paid for, while wearing branded apparel. Furthermore, a section of the Lululemon website is designed to showcase their "store ambassadors" allowing shoppers to vote for their favourite home-town heroes and support their personal athletic endeavours.

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Sometimes, it's about simplicity. To help encourage employees to talk about its software through their own social channels, last year IBM created an internal online hub that provided about half a dozen pieces of ready to share content that could be easily disseminated to social media platforms.

What's more, employees could privately share information to help marketing and sales efforts, while participating in a points-based incentive program that created internal leaderboards. The initiative proved to be an award-winning program for the technology giant.

Employees who feel a sense of pride about their company are more likely to organically share those feelings across social channels, resulting in authentic brand advocacy that is hard to match.

Just look at how fashion retailer Aritzia works with its employees to help them become style influencers on social channels. By providing clothing and personal shout-outs to employees rocking Aritzia clothing through its own social pages, the brand is able to help engender lasting relationships with key employees while assisting in the creation of authentic content that strikes a chord with the target audience.

Take for example style blogger and Aritzia employee Kareema Qaderi. Often you can find Ms. Qaderi posting snapshots of her outfits that prominently feature Aritzia clothing, while using the hashtag "staffstyle." In fact, Ms. Qaderi is just one of many Aritzia employees developing a voice on social media with the assistance of the brand.

Before you go too far afield in your search for the right ambassadors for your brand, make sure you're doing everything possible to empower your own employees to be the best advocates they can be.

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Mia Pearson is the co-founder of the communications agency North Strategic.

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