Advocacy vs. Ambassadorship (Hint…there’s a difference)

Advocacy vs. Ambassadorship

Those of you who know me know that I am passionate about the role of advocacy within organisations—the extent to which people collect knowledge, form opinions and share them with their colleagues.

But when I talk about advocacy in organisations, I am met with this response, “Yes, Mike, we should start an ambassadors programme.”

A lot of people collapse the definitions of ambassadorship and advocacy.  On the one hand, they address a common need:  to generate positive word of mouth.  On the other, though, they represent profoundly different approaches.

In the larger world, the word “Ambassador” means an official representative of a formal entity, in most cases, a country. That means that ambassadorships are formal and official, and ambassadorial views to represent those of the country that employs them rather than their own opinions.

In contrast, advocacy reflects the committed expression of one’s own opinion, and the taking of visible actions on behalf of one’s own views to further one’s own causes.

Why is this relevant to communications pros?

In a world where brand transparency and consumer advocacy is increasingly driving buying and business behaviour (Trip Advisor and Net Promoter Score, anyone?), employee advocacy is seen as highly desirable.

But, employee advocacy is also seen as difficult to manage, particularly by managers.  Managers often see it as too important to be left to drivers other than management.

The formal, structured approach inherent in ambassadorship makes it much more attractive because it can be managed relatively easily, but produces a product very different from authentic advocacy.

Indeed, that which makes ambassadorship easy to manage makes it difficult to generate real advocacy.  The focus on standardization, manageability and consistency of messaging can stifle the sense of ownership required for employees to want to share opinions as their own.

A distinction, a spectrum

The challenge of generating and stimulating advocacy is one that few companies, once interested, are willing to leave to chance.  But viewing formal ambassadorship and self-generated advocacy as a spectrum, a communicator can have some leverage in balancing management’s desire for speed and consistency with the marketplace’s demand for transparency and authenticity.

Some questions to consider:

Who to involve:  usual suspects identified by managers vs informal leaders identified by peers

How to message to participants: common bullet points or stories rich in context and content

Which map to use:  tracking the org chart vs. loose demographic, cultural and functional balance

What tasks for participants to do:  Distribute information vs inspire actions and collect results

How participants should engage public:  Directing to company outlets or websites or sharing the love in their own terms on their own Facebook and LinkedIn pages

Not all advocacy efforts require the same approach—factors like regulation, national cultures, and compatibility with brand philosophies should certainly be considered.  But in recognizing that advocacy and ambassadorship are distinct concepts,  communicators have much more leverage in developing an approach that genuinely unleashes advocacy.