Employee Advocacy or Paid Advertising?

How these strategies work together for marketing and sales.

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In the modern debate for marketing and sales…

…is paid advertising or employee advocacy a better choice? This guide will cover all the essentials you need to know, how these two strategies should work together, a deep data dive, and much more.


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Modern Debate

While employee advocacy impacts your entire organization, many will look to start a social program in the marketing and sales departments.

Understandably so, as the impact on brand, leads, and revenue is a driving factor for most business decisions, right?

But one thing we wanted to look at was how employee advocacy and paid advertising compare.

Is one better than the other? Should organizations consider employee advocacy programs over paid ads? Why do many B2B organizations scoff at the idea of paying for employee advocacy software, but don’t bat an eye over high six-figure ad budgets (or higher)?

So in this, we decided to run some data, do some math, and provide some examples. As someone who works in marketing, I tend to find this information interesting.

How We Pulled This Data

Important to note that any numbers in here are conservative averages found online. There are many factors to consider including cost-per-click in your industry, the competition, quality of the ad copy and landing pages, targeting, etc.

Additionally, the numbers for Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook will change and fluctuate. So remember, these numbers were taken Q2 2020. We will come back here periodically to update the calculations when numbers have significant adjustments.

Here is where we found data from (besides our own internal data):

  • Wordstream
  • WebFX
  • Statista
  • Social Media Examiner
  • CXL
  • AdStage
  • Soulmates.ai

Please keep in mind most publications are similar or have slightly different numbers when it comes to click through rates (CTRs), average monthly spend, and cost-per-click (CPC). But using this data can provide us with insights and greater understanding.

We also only focused on Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook — which are the common places B2B organizations will advertise. These have the most data and so it keeps our investigation simple.

The Findings & Highlights

This is a pretty long guide, which covers more about paid advertising, employee advocacy, and includes math and screenshots. If you just want some of the findings and calculations in easy to digest points, we got you covered here.

However, if you want to learn more about our findings, how we got to them, and more — definitely continue reading or download the PDF version that you can grab above.

– Small businesses using Google advertising spend between $9,000 and $10,000 per month on their online advertising campaigns. That’s $108,000 to $120,000 per year.
 

Note: Keyword here is “small business.” If you work for a mid to enterprise company, this number is probably on the low end. Many well-known brands are spending plenty more.

 
–  Average cost of social media advertising ranges between $6,000 to $10,500 per month or $72,000 – $126,000 per year. We’ve worked with many companies who are (or were) spending 3-5x that per year conservatively.

Similar to Google, most mid or enterprise brands in the B2B space are spending plenty more than the averages. But again to keep this simple, we focus on the total average data out there.

– Based on those numbers above, total paid advertising between search ads and social media can cost between $180,000 – $246,000 per year or $15,000 – $20,500 per month. This is only based on the averages found via other research companies data. Additionally, this does not take into account any other paid platforms used to get advertising out (like ABM platforms, Content Distribution Ad Platforms, etc.) or even costs if you outsource advertising management to an agency or consultant.

– Depending on the number of employees and needs for your advocacy program, you are looking at anywhere from 1/5th – 1/15th the cost overall compared to paid advertising.

–  We’ve found employees have an average of 1,000 social connections. If your organization for example has 1,000 employees creating and sharing content, they have a combined potential average reach of 1,000,000! (do not forget, engagement increases social results that 2nd and 3rd connections will see the content as well)

– We’ve also found employees who are active in their employee advocacy program grow their social networks up to 10% (or more) per year. Increasing reach and influence.
 

Earned Paid Ad Value

Based on the numbers we found, the average CPC for the four common paid outlets: $5.26 (LinkedIn) + $2.69 (Google) + $1.47 (Twitter) + $3.2 (Facebook) / 4 = $3.15 total CPC average, conservatively.

Example: Let’s say a company has 2,000 clicks to their website this month from their employee advocacy program. And we now know the average CPC to advertising combined is around $3.15 per click (more than likely their CPC’s will be higher).

Total “Earned Paid Ad Value” = $6,300 conservatively for that month.

If their program costs $40,000 per year for 500 employees, that’s around $3,300 per month — almost half of what it could cost them to get the same click results with paid ads. Again, fairly conservative numbers.

In the example, that would mean the company got those results with about half the monthly spend, among the other benefits of employee advocacy.

Plus, those clicks could be ramped up with better content and employees sharing quality content more often, without increasing the costs (unless they want to add more employees beyond the current subscription). Where in paid advertising you’d have to spend more to get more (generally, although you can try optimizing and test bidding options in some platforms).

Paid advertising and an employee advocacy program should work together as one. Employee advocacy can humanize your marketing unlike paid ads, increase leads, improve quality on remarketing lists that better enables your marketing and sales teams to keep the messages consistent.

Let’s Talk About Paid Advertising

You just read some of that data from the highlights section – maybe you buy into it and maybe you don’t. But based on the data and numbers we found, this gives you a pretty good baseline.

And while we are in the business of employee advocacy, we are not here to say, “Paid advertising is dead.” That would be a great controversial headline, but we aren’t about clickbait here at EveryoneSocial.

That said, paid advertising is important for any B2B marketing strategy.

The benefits of paid advertising is that you can position your brand in front of the right people, drive people down a sales funnel, give your organization a competitive edge, you have tons of targeting options, get great market insights, etc.

That all said, employee advocacy programs are the perfect complement to strategic paid ad initiatives. And even a way to scale back on some ads, but still boost your results.

Advocacy can help your organization generate lower CPC’s, with an increased social organic reach, and plethora of other benefits that paid ads can miss the mark on as a standalone strategy.

If employee advocacy software does not fit into your overall budget, then It’s time to consider using part of that ad budget to humanize your brand via your people and still drive strong results.

What does this all mean? Employee advocacy programs and paid advertising are the perfect partners.

It’s not a disjunctive question of either-or: which one should we invest in? Rather, employee advocacy is already happening in any renowned company, so the real question is: how much should you invest in your own people? And where should you place your marketing fulcrum to best balance paid ads and employee advocacy?
 

The changing landscape of paid advertising:

Like anything, there are some challenges and disadvantages of relying too much on paid advertising. There are various stats out there, but here are a few interesting notes:

  • The average global social ad CTRs are down 30%, year over year (Statista)
  • In 2019 approximately 25.8% of global internet users were using ad blockers. (Statista)
  • Ad blocking in the US has increased from 15% to 30% since 2014 (and growing). (Statista)
  • In the span of just one year, from 2018 to 2019, the total number of devices around the world with ad blockers rose from 142 million to upwards of 615 million (SmallBizGenius)
  • More than 70% of advertisers believe their ads are relevant to the audience they are targeting. Yet only 8% of people think ads they see online are always relevant. (Adobe)
  • The average person gets bombarded with over 1,700 banner ads per month, but only sees half of them. (SmallBizGenius)
  • 70-80% of users ignore sponsored search results. (Search Engine Land)
  • 42% found ads that showed up based on their online search results were annoying. And 36% of people surveyed found social media ads that were targeted based on interests and behavior were annoying. (eMarketer)

Certainly, paid ads are important for marketing and sales in B2B, and in general they should not be completely removed from your strategy.

However, paid advertising is increasingly challenging, people are skipping over the content, and costs for most industries and ad platforms continue to increase.

Naturally, the demand to reach targeted audiences increases, which also means the fight for ad positioning and visibility, along with costs which continue to go up. While an enterprise brand may be able to duke it out, it still increases how much they have to spend to keep up with demand and more competition.

“Paid traffic is not a bad thing. When a marketer depends on it in the absence of employee advocacy, influencer marketing, content marketing and events, that’s when it warrants scrutiny.” – Bernie Borges, CMO of Vengreso.

Google Paid Advertising

The leader in the paid advertising space, Google is one of the main locations where brands will be advertising on. While the CPC depends on your keyword type (broad, phrase, exact match), bidding strategy, ad relevance, competitors also advertising in the space, and other factors — each industry has an average CPC benchmark.

Again, when searching for ourselves in Google Keyword Planner, we found these averages to be lower than you’d typically see for specific keywords. There were variations that were closer to the averages or even slightly lower, but those typically did not have good search volume or much competition.

Using Google’s keyword planner to get estimates, we searched for terms related to a few random bunch of terms with the various keyword match types:

  • CRM Software Keywords: $8.00-$10.00+ estimated averages
  • Real Estate Agent Keywords: $3.45 – $7.00+ estimated averages
  • Auto insurance keywords: $7 – $11 estimated averages

The average small business using Google advertising spends between $9,000 and $10,000 per month on their online advertising campaigns. That’s $108,000 to $120,000 per year.

This average spend focuses on “Small business,” which depending on your industry, company, and campaigns — you could be undesirably spending quite a bit more.

Social Media Advertising

Average cost of social media advertising (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) ranges between $6,000 to $10,500 per month or $72,000 – $126,000 per year.

Similar to Google ads, these will vary depending on your marketing budget and campaigns your organization will want to run. We’ve worked with many companies who are (or were) spending 3-5x that per year.
 

LinkedIn:

One of the best places to showcase your brand and connect with professionals is LinkedIn. But with advertising that comes with a premium price. While automated bidding can help you lower your CPC and enhance results, your budget will still need to be relatively high to see meaningful results.

  • $5.26 (avg minimum). CPC rises as you lay on targeting features to reach your buyer personas. Many campaign CPC’s can jump to $10-$20+!
  • $6.59 per 1000 CPM (avg. min impressions)

While those are averages, it is quite difficult for more organizations with specific targets to hit the low end of those numbers. Certainly the less targeting and more broad your advertising goes will help the cost, but that may be wasted time (and spend) on those who do not make sense to target.

  • CTR across all of LinkedIn sponsored content ads is about 0.39% on average
  • CTR across all of LinkedIn text content ads is about 0.025% on average

Examples of LinkedIn Ad Costs:

Certainly, there are also various campaign options to choose from. Here’s an example of a general sponsored campaign for generating website visits.

We set up a test EveryoneSocial campaign to target mid, senior, and executive level marketing job titles, in companies of 500 all the way to 10,000+, in 7 countries. Not overly broad or super targeted either — but with some overlays.

LinkedIn’s recommended CPC bid was $15, with other advertisers spending between $12 – $25 CPC. And an estimated CTR 0.27-0.40%.

Recommended CPM bid $85.46 per 1,000 impressions with other advertisers spending between $71 – $142

One of the ad options that improved cost was their “Text ads” which dropped the recommended bid to $5.85 with other advertisers spending between $5 – $11 CPC. While more affordable, the estimated CTR noticeably decreased to 0.011% – 0.017%! Not very ideal.

There is plenty of value and ad options to try out, but you also need a consistent budget to see results. A few bucks a day, will not get you results. And conditional your targeting size, a few hundred bucks a day can last just a handful of hours.
 

Facebook

With over 7 million advertisers active on Facebook, the platform has become a trusted platform for making impressions. If your strategy is focused on CPM (cost- per-thousand-impressions) the overall average for businesses on Facebook is around $7.19 per 1,000 impressions.

Average CTR for Facebook Ads: 0.90%
Average CPC for Facebook Ads: $1.72
 

Twitter

While there is less industry data for Twitter ads, there is some information out there as far as average costs. From what we gathered, the average CPC is around $0.38 – $0.40 and CPM $6.46 per 1,000 impressions.

Again, these can be used as benchmarks, but will vary depending on the campaigns and targeting options you choose. Twitter ads CTR range (.90%-2.00%).
 

Paid Advertising Totals Based on Averages

So based on the yearly averages, the total combined paid advertising between search ads and social media can cost $180,000 – $246,000 per year.

This is only based on the averages found via other research companies data — again which is always evolving.

Additionally, this does not take into account any other paid platforms used to get advertising out (like ABM platforms, Content Distribution Ad Platforms, etc.) or even costs if you outsource advertising management to an agency or consultant.

But think about your total advertising costs at your company. Do they fall in that range? Even higher? I can tell you when I worked in a marketing agency, most of my clients whether small or enterprise were spending way more than this conservative average.

Earned Media Value Vs. Earned Paid Value

If you work in marketing, influencer marketing, or worked with employee advocacy programs, you’ve definitely come across the term Earned Media Value (EMV).

You may know what it is already, but it can also be a bit confusing — so here’s a quick definition.

According to Wikipedia:

“Earned media (or free media) refers to publicity gained through promotional efforts other than paid media advertising. Earned media cannot be bought or owned; it can only be gained organically, when content receives recognition and a following through communication channels such as social media and word of mouth.”

Another variation from The Shelf:

“Earned media value is all about social media engagement — the attention and brand recognition you “earn” without having to spend a dime for it (at least, not technically speaking).”

What this all means is that metrics of interest for EMV include:

  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Views
  • Shares
  • Recommendations
  • Word-of-mouth
  • Conversations and brand mentions

The challenge with Earned Media Value is there is not a single specific formula or exact way to calculate it. There are some ways to calculate that are worth considering, but marketers are all approaching it differently and there is no standard monetary value to assign to every metric.

  • How much is a “like” worth?
  • How much is a “share” worth?

With employee advocacy, those using it for marketing and brand reach sometimes would like to see a value assigned. However, at EveryoneSocial, we view earned media value as arbitrary to use as a calculation.

Most EMV comparisons in employee advocacy programs are using paid advertising numbers related to cost-per-click or cost-per-impressions as the calculation. If you look back at the definitions, using that for the calculation of  “Earned Media Value” is inaccurate.

Instead, that value should be called “Earned Paid Value” or simply what the equivalent of “Paid Value” is from an employee advocacy program.

Based on paid ad industry standards and averages, you can get the total value of the clicks and impressions in your employee advocacy program based on what it would generally cost you to achieve that in advertising platforms.

And those give you a pretty good insight into what ROI you are getting and how much you are saving by using employee advocacy for marketing.

The Value of Employee Advocacy

While employee advocacy programs have many benefits for the company both internally and externally, understanding the numbers can help you fully understand the impact on marketing and ad cost savings.

And the impact for marketing and sales:

  • Brand awareness
  • Better quality leads
  • More social engagement
  • Better CPC’s from employee shares
  • Increase win rates for sales
  • Better deal sizes (more $)
  • Improves purchase intent on ads
  • Builds your remarketing lists further

Our team dug into some of our own data in 2020.

  • Average shares per user per month per active user = 10.8
  • Average clicks per share = 2.4
  • Average branded clicks per share = .6
  • Average user drives 26 clicks per month (10.8 x 2.4)
  • Average user drives 6.5 brands clicks per month (10.8 x .6)

If we take the average branded clicks only, per month:

  • 100 employees sharing can conservatively net 650 brand clicks per month.
  • 500 employees sharing can conservatively net 3,250 brand clicks per month.
  • 1,000 employees sharing can conservatively net 6,500 brand clicks per month.

Again, this is purely if using employee advocacy for marketing campaigns and driving brand awareness and traffic.

Based on these clicks and that we know from the previous sections that the average paid ad CPC is around $3.15 — here’s what this would cost in paid advertising:

  • To get 650 branded clicks = $2,047 conservatively
  • To get 3,250 branded clicks = $10,237 conservatively
  • To get 6,500 branded clicks = $20,475 conservatively
Note: These are just averages based on our data. Results can vary based on your commitment, number of employees sharing, and what your needs are for your employee advocacy program. Many use it for internal content over external for sharing.

98% of employees use at least one social media site for personal use, of which 50% are already posting about their company. (Weber Shandwick)

And we’ve found employees have an average of 1,000 social connections. If your organization for example has 1,000 employees creating and sharing content, they have a combined potential average reach of 1,000,000!

We’ve also found employees who are active in their employee advocacy program grow their social networks up to 10% (or more) per year. Increasing reach and influence.

On average, an employee advocacy program involving 1,000 active participants can generate $1,900,000 in advertising value. (Kredible)
 

So why employees?

Employees are connected to current customers or prospects, partners, alumni, influencers, and future hires. These networks cast a new network of people unfamiliar with your brand, product, or service and many of those who also do not follow your company social handles.

But there is more data around the value of content and recommendations that come from employees in your organization:

  • A recommendation from a friend or family member makes 83% of Americans more likely to purchase that product or service. (Convince & Convert)
  • Brand messages reached 561% further when shared by employees vs the same messages shared via official brand social channels. (MSLGroup)
  • Content shared by employees receives 8x more engagement than content shared by brand channels. (Social Media Today)
  • Earned media (press, word-of-mouth, peer-to-peer referrals) drives 4x the brand lift as paid media. (Bazaar Voice)

And a Nielsen study showed that 84% of people trust recommendations from friends, family, colleagues over other forms of marketing like ads. These and more employee advocacy statistics can be found here.
 

Small Organizations Can Win Too

While large and enterprise businesses may have the most opportunities with employee advocacy, don’t count out smaller organizations either. Let’s look at an example of a 100 person company and all are fairly active in sharing and creating content.

For this example, conservatively we’ll say those 100 employees generated 1,000 clicks in a month (roughly 10 clicks per employee for the month, very doable). Not only can their own connections see it, but when they get social engagement, people who they aren’t connected with can see it too.

That’s the network effect of second and third connections. As other connections are seeing their networks engaging with others, it piques their own interest and more brand awareness. Again spreads the overall reach.

Based on the average CPC of paid ads combined from earlier ($3.15), the company would have to spend $3,150 per month to potentially get the same click results.

Naturally, there are impressions, video views, conversions, and CTR metrics as well to consider here. But this is giving you a general insight to the common paid ad model of CPC.

And your advocacy program of a company that size, if utilizing the 100 user seats, it would potentially cost 1/2 or 1/3 per month (maybe even a smaller fraction of the cost considering your industry, as CPC’s may be quite high).

Certainly companies with more active users see better results, just like spending more on ads can increase clicks, impressions, and potentially conversions.
 
Remember: Good social media is not just spamming links, that is not true employee advocacy. So if that is your strategy or your presumption of how advocacy works — then yes paid ads will crush those results. That’s where the education, vendor partnership, and training materials will help those without social experience. Overtime, it becomes second nature and takes less work.

Paid Advertising With Employee Advocacy

Ads have stronger targeting and can hit your exact audiences exactly how you want. There is no denying that targeting with advertising can be powerful and much easier than employee advocacy. But even so, it’s expensive and the more targeting layers for example, the more that ads can increase your average CPC.

And if you look back at some of the ad data, the connection to those audiences is not always working. It’s becoming digital noise.

However, many employees are already connected to customers, partners, people in similar fields, and even potential prospects or people who could gain value from your product/services.

Instead of being hit with advertising first, they are seeing content from their connections about your brand — which can be less invasive and as the stats have proven, employee content is noticed and interacted with more.

Sales and marketing teams especially are connected to targeted audiences and should be building these online relationships to help their funnels and results. These folks will have an idea of what content their own teams should be sharing and creating.

  • Employee advocacy can lead to increasing purchase intent; it lowers the CPC that generally B2B brands would need to spend a lot more than what an employee advocacy program costs for similar results.
  • Social algorithms favor content from people over brand handles, humanizing marketing and sales is also more important than ever before, etc.

Think about it this way. Say 400 employees are creating and sharing various pieces of content with their own thoughts that points to customer stories, work culture, new educational blog posts, guides, etc.

Some of their connections may convert after reading and others will just read and move on — but those are people who clicked that are now added to remarketing lists for targeted ads, are people who may already be on ABM lists, and are people that sales teams are building relationships with.

They saw some value from their personal connections and showed some top of the funnel intent. And generally, many are people previously unfamiliar with your brand, but show more interest when it comes from colleagues, friends, family — that’s the power of word of mouth.

Now they are warmed up to your brand a bit and based on what they interacted with, you can give them strategic content via advertising to move them further down the funnel. That’s where paid ads and advocacy become a partnership to truly help marketing and sales and marketers win.
 

What should marketers do?

If you have the budget, adding employee advocacy is a cost-effective way to drive additional attention, but also to increase your click results, brand reach, humanize your marketing, and get more strategic with your paid ads.

While adding additional budget might not always be in the cards, you can take some of your ad budget, use it towards employee advocacy instead. It costs a fraction per month to generate similar clicks and impressions (or more) when you have an advocacy strategy in place. And it could be a great way to A/B test the results and numbers.

Remember, randomly slapping some content together and adding it to a program hoping employees will share is not a strategy.

Nor is encouraging employees to share with no context and spam their networks. Like anything there is some work involved but the results are worth it.

Lastly, it’s not completely fair to square off employee advocacy and paid advertising and see which wins. Instead, the two should coincide to meet the evolving needs of audiences and how buyers connect with your brand online and on social media.
 

Want to empower your employees, humanize your brand, and supercharge your marketing? Schedule a demo with EveryoneSocial to learn more about our power employee advocacy program.