Your Employee Referral Program Starts with Smart Advocacy

Sheridan Gaenger
August 15 ․ 8 min read


Employee referral programs are sometimes the “silent partner”of the talent acquisition game. Recruiters are so focused on, well, recruiting that sometimes (and we understand why) they overlook the potential their company’s current workforce offers in attracting and securing quality candidates who increase productivity and the bottom line. And make no mistake: Referrals often are a great asset to the organization. Study after study has shown that referred employees are hired more quickly, onboard faster, cost less to hire, and are retained for longer. Take for example the fact that 46% of all hires at top performing firms are referrals.

That said, an employee referral program must be more than an email urging workers to “Refer a friend—win a free company T-shirt!” The best referral strategies incorporate smart advocacy into the process, thus empowering employees to be more engaged in the organization’s success.

Advocacy and the Talent Lifecycle

So why are we talking about employee advocacy in a recruitment blog? After all, employees being better employees would seemingly have little impact on subsequent hiring decisions. But let’s consider the journey that a candidate takes on the way to hire. This person starts as a brand explorer, then becomes more interested and becomes a candidate, goes through the hiring process, begins employment, and, hopefully, transforms into an advocate.

If you deliver a meaningful candidate experience throughout this journey, employees will inherently trust and become loyal to your brand and organically become stronger brand advocates. These engaged employees potentially become recruiters themselves, thus perpetuating a talent lifecycle that extends to next generations of hires, who ideally become advocates as well, and so on.

Although referrals generally are part of the attraction phase (i.e., recruitment marketing), the cycle is fueled through strong loyalty and advocacy. An outstanding candidate experience establishes the building blocks toward achieving that loyalty and advocacy.

The Connection Between Advocacy and Referrals

So how does advocacy link to referrals? Simply put, the stronger the employee advocate, the stronger referrals that employee will deliver. Advocates are likelier to have invested in their company’s success because it translates to their success as well (and vice versa). A top-notch referral only builds upon that success. And make no mistake: The opinions of current employees carry heavy weight, especially with potential future employees. According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer - Employee Engagement, employees are the most trusted spokespeople to communicate information about treatment of employees and customers—by a wide margin (48 percent, compared with 24 percent for senior executives). If your employee activists say your company is a good place to work, candidates are more likely to believe it.

Amplify the Brand

Smart advocacy means that employees aren’t just evangelizing the merits of your company but are actively promoting the message—the employer brand—that you want promoted. For example, an advocate may post on Facebook about how great work is, and that message is seen by a friend, who may see more content (including targeted ads) with the same messaging: Your company is an awesome place to work. This begins a candidate journey for the friend, potentially enhanced with a formal recommendation from the original advocate via the employee referral program. When potential candidates, both active and passive, engage on the channels they are naturally drawn to, you have a golden opportunity to influence. And employee advocates are powerful influencers….

We recently welcomed Chloe Rada, Senior Marketing Manager – Talent Acquisition for Sodexo, to talk about employee advocacy, and she offered this insight on why advocates can be so impactful:

“You are getting trusted guidance from the people you are connected to, the people you trust the most, your friends and family. I think that holds more weight than coming to a corporate career site or listening to a corporate channel. Those are still really important, but it’s hard to decipher—is the story coming from the employee, or is this brand speaking? Oftentimes, brands are not humanized.”

Dynamic Advocacy

Dynamic advocacy that weaponizes employee referral programs doesn’t happen on its own. It requires commitment, creativity, and, often, help from a dedicated employee advocacy platform. The best solutions use shareable content, gamification, analytics, and more to empower and engage employees as well as deliver maximum results. Give your workers tools and incentives to be evangelists for the next wave of candidates and they will enthusiastically respond.

Ensuring Advocates

We touched upon this earlier in the post, but it bears repeating: A superior candidate experience before and during hire increases the odds that employees will embrace becoming advocates, which in turn ignites your employee referral program. Value candidates during their journey and they will become megaphones for your employer brand, shouting out to their networks and their friends why your organization is worth working for. Every employee can be an evangelist—their advocacy simply needs to be properly activated.


How effective is your company’s employee referral program?

interstitial ads infographic