How to turn your employees into Brand Ambassadors
The days when employees would fearfully log onto LinkedIN lest their employer or direct manager find out they were looking for work are gone. Today’s employees are becoming social media content creators, growing their online communities based on their professional interests or passions, being active and for many, the first contact, the first handshake with an employer or potential client – happens online first!
On the other hand, companies have realized nowadays that their employees “bring” not only previous professional skills and experiences but also online communities in which they are active and sometimes have strong personal brands. In this digital era, businesses, – especially those in the services area – no longer target the individual but their entire network of contacts as everything is now easily interconnected online.
Can companies nowadays leverage their employees’ personal brands by co-involving them?
The answer is yes, but not randomly. Many multinational companies have seen in the online presence or the presence in various communities of their employees – an opportunity worth exploring for the benefit of everyone involved. In the past two years, as a Personal Branding Strategist I have been involved in designing several “Employee Brand Advocacy” programs for various industries, or in other words, “Brand Ambassadors” – programs carried out not with the involvement of local influencers, but with direct involvement of internal groups of employees, passionate about their jobs and the brand of the company they work for.
An Employee Brand Advocacy Program involves the voluntary participation of a group of employees with strong presence in social media or various communities of interest in a combined and unique effort to promote the employer’s Brand. Selected internal volunteers are trained and can be helped to position themselves as experts in their fields while the company opens a unique window for the public to the best stories/initiatives of its work!
Employee Brand Advocacy – here are some arguments in favor of this type of program:
- According to a study conducted by Edelman 88% of potential customers value their trust in the brand more than their passion for the products and services offered by that brand. And employees have the power to pass on the most useful stories, examples, cases – from the inside!
- 93% of people have greater trust in information shared by their friends or online community.
- According to a study conducted by Hootsuite, nearly 86% of employees involved in Brand Ambassador programs felt a positive effect in accelerating their careers.
- LinkedIN studies show that employees who supported their employer’s brand with appropriate content on LinkedIN had 600% more profile views and were able to grow their online network three times faster.
- Gallup mentions in one of its studies that brands/companies that use internal brand ambassadors – can expand their organic growth by 200% and profitability by 23%.
Brand Ambassador with Internal Resources – here are some of my learnings:
What works well:
- Many companies choose to pilot first and offer the initial Brand Ambassador role to either members of the management team/Sr. Leaders with an active presence or to specialists with a rich online activity. Later on, some companies extend the invitation to other employees.
- Clarifying expectations – it is essential that invited employees understand this is a voluntary effort, that they will need to follow certain social media communication rules in line with company policies, that they will receive support not only through personal branding training but also in positioning themselves as experts in their industry or field.
- The project is even more successful if directly supported by the CEO and providing direct employee exposure to Board/Sr.Leadership.
- Companies implementing such a program have realized the need to train employees in personal branding, team branding, effective social media communication and provided them with such programs.
- Since it’s not important as an ambassador to communicate on whichever social media channels you like, but on those where your brand’s community gets its information – many programs target not only social media platforms but also ambassadors’ participation in face-to-face events as speakers or moderators.
- Non-cash reward programs for Ambassadors provide a positive boost to program development. Employees feel the need to be supported and stimulated by the company in their voluntary endeavour, they feel the need to be acknowledged for their effort and very importantly to be allowed to remain authentic.
What works less well
As managers/leaders we are used to operating in teams, that’s how we were brought up. This is why those who are initially responsible for leading such an initiative manage it as a Team and not as a Community of Ambassadors. And that can be an error.
Communities are built by aligning teams as pieces of the code that come together to form a single program. They are interactive, they require INVOLVEMENT, they rely on their members and everyone is an equal! There are no hierarchies. And there is also the freedom to walk away whenever you feel you can no longer serve the common purpose. To truly build a community we need to accept that we need to educate ourselves about it and that we can successfully learn from the examples of other initiatives in other industries.
- In their wish to have control over social media communication many companies dictate to their internal Ambassadors what content to share which can demotivate project participants, they want to remain authentic in what they share, they feel the need to constantly negotiate their level of empowerment.
- Not all the companies measure ambassadors’ efforts, these are not reflected in KPIs like “Reach, Engagement rate, Virality rate, Video views, Social share of voice, Top Contributors, Traffic” etc. Or, it is known that you get what you .. measure.
- A program like this works more slowly if it is not supported internally by a culture that encourages employee engagement.
What are the best international practices when it comes to Employee Brand Advocacy Programs?
- Such projects are managed as Communities, not as hierarchical Task Forces. The community meets regularly, shares best practices or vulnerabilities, transparently makes its efforts for the good of the community. The procedures for entering and leaving the community are clear and agreed upon by all participants as are the operating principles of the community.
- Internal applications where Ambassadors are highlighted with their profiles, interests, number of followers, preferred channels of communication, public speaking engagements, etc. are useful in using the group’s resources efficiently.
- Ambassadors are often invited to create the company’s social media strategy and are empowered to become content creators based on their passions and skills. On the other hand, the company supports the promotion of its ambassadors as experts in their fields.
- Some companies provide Ambassadors not only with important guides such as the Brand Ambassadors’ Social Media Guide and an online Content Library, but also with texts written by the company’s communication team that Ambassadors can use in their social media communication.
- In the great majority of Internal Resource Brand Ambassador programs, companies also link them to Reward & Recognition programs with an emphasis on non-cash motivation.
Examples of global companies that have successfully implemented such programs include Starbucks – where employees are called “partners” and have an active role in internal communications, Electronic Arts – which has grown its online community to over 1M also with the help of employees or Dell where Ambassadors post about 80% useful, educational information and only 20% about their employer’s brand – just to name a few.
For more ideas on the usefulness of these programs you can contact me as usual on firstname.lastname@example.org until then: Tell your story in an authentic way!