Humana Taps Socially Savvy Employees as Brand Advocates


September 13, 2016

by Carla Johnson

Humana’s focus on health and wellness isn’t just something for its subscribers. It’s proving a tremendously beneficial approach for inspiring and empowering employees to serve as brand advocates for the Louisville, Kentucky-based insurance provider.

Companies face a tug of war between wanting to empower employees to act as brand advocates and wanting to control the brand message that goes out to the world. Humana has additional challenges because of healthcare industry rules and regulations.

However, the dynamics of how people look for information, especially those who grew up in a digital world, prompted Humana to think differently. The brand believed that the people their audience would trust the most was employees, which falls in line with results from the Edelman Trust Barometer – people put their trust in what employees say over what a company says.

Dan Gingiss

Dan Gingiss, head of digital marketing for Humana.

Head of digital marketing Dan Gingiss said one of Humana’s bold goals is to improve the health of the communities it serves.

“We have metrics,” said Gingiss. “We know if we can improve the health of an overall community, we can improve the health of our members and that takes cost out of the system. Improving the health of a community is good for everyone.”

Gingiss knew that Humana has a highly engaged employee base, which was an important start for Humana’s advocacy program. Engagement surveys showed that 88 percent of employees are proud to work for Humana and 87 percent agree that the company is committed to health and well-being.

Gingiss had a hunch that the program would world work well. Here’s how Gingiss approached creating a cadre of employees that the company was comfortable having represent the brand.

1. Ask employees to represent the brand

Humana already had a strong participation with its internal social media network. This included a 90 percent sign-up rate with roughly 40-45 percent of employees logging in monthly. Gingiss believed that they would be able to leverage this connected staff in public channels like Twitter.

In starting a pilot program, Humana reached out to employees who were already the most engaged on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. It started with 500 staffers by the end of January with a goal of 2500 by the end of 2016. But Gingiss realized something important – if they could reach their year-end goal by the end of the first quarter, they would be able to tap the reach of these employees for an additional nine months of the year. The program recruited 2,700 employees by the end of first quarter and today approaches close to 3,000.

2. Teach employees how to represent the brand

Humana has invested a fair amount in training employees for the program. However, not everyone gets the green light to be a brand advocate through social media. There’s an art to what the brand wants to accomplish.

First is authenticity. Gingiss knows people don’t start their day thinking, “I want to hear from a health and wellness company on social media today!” That’s why the first step is to impress that the message is about healthier living, not about Humana as a brand.

When it comes to regulatory issues, Gingiss worked with the legal department. It was critical that the program itself and the content that employees shared complied with Federal Trade Commission guidelines. For examples, every post includes the hashtag #HumEmployee to make it clear that the person sharing information works at Humana. Associates also have to make sure that they comply with privacy regulations as outlined by HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). This means that they are not allowed to acknowledge someone’s health situation publicly, even if they reach out to a Humana employee directly. The training teaches them how to point the post to someone on Humana’s social media or corporate communications team.

Humana trains all of the employees who use the program to make sure they know the ins and outs of social media and what’s appropriate to share. Gingiss is also working with the human resources group to give new employees a choice of whether or not they would like to sign up and be a Humana Advocate when they start working for the company.

3. Make it easy to represent the brand

Humana worked with Dynamic Signal, which builds employee advocacy programs, to present employees with pre-approved content to share through social channels. To keep things audience-centered, the content focuses on health and wellness. Humana-focused content is sprinkled into the mix, but most pieces are about health and wellness, some of which are created by Humana and others from third parties.

Creating citizen storytellers

The biggest benefit of taking advantage of employees willing to speak on behalf of the brand is the exponential reach for Humana’s message. Gingiss referred to a Cisco study that said employees have ten times more followers than corporate social media accounts, and they are different followers. For example, there’s only an 8 percent overlap between brand and individual followers on Twitter.

“We’re tapping a large audience just by using employees who communicate with their followers,” said Gingiss. “If you add to that the shares and retweets, that expands our reach even more. We want to look at what content employees will gravitate to and share, but also what resonates with their followers.”

When it comes to outcomes, Gingiss looks at how often employees share content and what they share. It’s a continual learning process of what connects with employees. The platform also allows employees to upload their own content and submit it to an approval process.

“About 10 percent of all social media mentions are from advocates,” said Gingiss. “That’s huge, especially when we think about the fact that we’re at 3,000 advocates now and we have an employee population of 50,000 people. We have a big potential for growth and expanded awareness.”

What advice does Gingiss have for others considering a similar program?

“It really comes down to culture, that’s the first part,” he pointed out. “You have to have employees who love the brand and the company and want to tell people about it. And then you have to have good content. There’s lots of great social media content on health and wellness. In another industry, find content that’s shareable, likable and interesting, especially to employees so they want to share it. Look at the audience your employees are connected to. It’s quality over quantity…you don’t need thousands of pieces of content, you just need really good content.”

Are you interested in helping your employees better understand your brand story and then live it? Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help. Or follow me on LinkedIn, and  Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.

Photo credit: How to Start a Blog Online

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.