An idea has emerged that staff is a useful tool to improve your brand ratings - both externally with customers, and internally with peers and when recruiting new starters. This isn't rocket science and it's not a new idea - every interaction that a staff member has with clients could make or break future client engagement. But a newer version of this is to get staff to use their social media exposure to your advantage. This all sounds great. However, there are pitfalls to this theory and there's a pile of work and thought that needs to go into a strategy like this for it to be successful. Add a good dollop of honesty. And a generous glug of time.
Is social media the silver bullet?
Anyone who's ever been an employee knows that the employee-employer relationship isn't necessarily rosy. Your staff simply isn't always going to be shouting your company's name from the rooftops. There's a good chance that you've worked in a job and had rather strong negative feelings about the place. Maybe for good reason, maybe because your mates felt that way. Either way, they're definitely not going to be tagging your brand on their personal platform. Or not in a good way, anyway.
But with the high probability that nearly all your staff will be on social media, it feels like a huge untapped source of spreading your news and flying your flag.
The starting point for employee branding, as it's known, is to get the buy-in from staff. Why not get them to do your marketing and to be your brand ambassadors? Makes sense, but for a project like this be successful, organisations need to think long-term and it might mean going right back to basics.
Although research is still scant on the topic, MIT Sloan Management Review has an excellent definition of what employee branding is: "Employee branding is a process whereby employees internalise the company brand image and project that image to customers, job candidates, and other stakeholders. It differs from employer branding (which aims to enhance the organisation’s image in order to attract and retain talented employees) and internal branding (which focuses on employee motivation to achieve organisational objectives and provide customer satisfaction). What’s more, employee branding goes beyond internal marketing in that it motivates employees to communicate the brand image to multiple stakeholders, as opposed to merely satisfying their own needs in an employee-customer interface. We treat employee branding as the outcome of a process that begins with employees internalising the brand and that leads them to endorse the brand externally with both customers and potential employees."
The chicken-and-egg conundrum is of course, that you need staff loyalty and high motivation levels for employees to act as brand ambassadors. But the flipside is that having them as brand ambassadors has been seen to increase loyalty and motivation levels. Which comes first? It also helps to attract the right talent who is possibly already loyal to your brand.
Where to start?
Instilling the brand into the hearts and minds of your employees is probably a good place to start. (This is based on the assumption that the brand has clearly defined values and there's a good understanding of what your brand represents.) The brand message should be appealing to staff and they should feel they can relate to the values inherent in the brand. And then they need to undergo structured brand training.
Training employees to embody the brand through their interactions and behaviour will provide the platform for them to become ambassadors. This can be done in a fairly formalised manner to allow staff to practice these interactions regularly.
Communication about the brand is crucial, with both existing and new employees. Have a clear message across the organisation about what the brand represents and what values it stands for. The organisation should be driving these conversations and allowing employee input. Let them make the brand their own - within reason - and let them stand behind it, by ensuring the message is consistent and clear. While some of this would take a more structured form, provide more casual initiatives frequently.
Employee feedback should also form part of the communication strategy. This provides an opening into whether or not the whole process is working or why various aspects of it are not. And it helps to ensure that employees feel valued, which obviously feeds into how they perceive the organisation and brand as a whole. And as the values and mission are infused through employee behaviour towards clients, this then becomes a more externally-focused type of communication.
Pulling the right talent is a key aspect to all of this. This starts with the job description. Write it in a way that appeals to the type of employee you're looking for. So many job descriptions are dead boring and quite frankly, you're going to end up hiring someone desperate or otherwise unsuitable. This is the first impression you as an organisation are making on a potential hire. Make it good.
Proactively keeping the right talent is the natural next step. "Your biggest asset is your people," said someone once. How right they were. And yet, this is still overlooked and tremendous potential for organisations is lost. This touches on the point of general communication within an organisation, creating trust with employees and allowing for their feedback and input. But it's also about encouraging work-life balance and organisations respecting family commitments.
...and social media
As we mentioned earlier, why not tap into the employees' social media? Good idea. Sort of. Because when you think about what people's social media connections are made up of, is it really the target audience you organisation is looking for? Possibly not. And how would your employees tag your brand? What form would that take? A drunken party on a boat in Monaco? A product punt? The party shot, well, how does that relate to your brand or your product? Is that enough bait to hire brilliant talent? They might be looking at working for you for the wrong reasons... And the product punt? That's unlikely to cause a stir with the friends and family of staff, quite frankly. Also, is that your target audience? Maybe, maybe not.
But the search continues
Search engines can tell us a lot about people’s curiosity around your brand. And it's said that individual people are searched for more often than their organisations.
Although it's not a new thing that CEO reputations affect how a company is perceived, the availability of that information has become that much more accessible. The LinkedIn profile link for example of someone in the c-suite of an organisation might come up in the top three if you search for a brand. That's great for your brand and useful as employee branding.
If we're thinking in this direction, it then makes sense to help certain employees create their own personal website. On one hand, you're helping them to develop a slick professional presence online and on the other, you're helping your brand. It does need to be a two-way street, by the way. There has to be some reward to employees if they're to be your brand ambassadors.
Now, you don't want their website to be an extension of their Facebook profile. It's more of a professional page that should outline a strong bio, with experience in their field relating to your brand. It's also a good idea to have a blog offering industry insights, written by that staff member.
In summary, embarking on an employee branding project is no small task. It's still early days and research has yet to be expanded upon, but it looks like the way forward. Organisations will have to take a hard look at what they wish to represent in their market niche and at how they can compete on issues relating to the environment, sustainability and ethics. By adopting values connected to the community in some way, brands will up their appeal to employees - and customers. It really makes sense to have an army of brand ambassadors and the only way to accomplish that is to ensure staff is on board. That's the long, hard slog. Once that ethos is in place and kept in place, employee branding will be an ace.