Celebrity endorsements have been used to build brands and increase visibility since the late 19th century. But lately, companies are getting wise to the fact that some of the best advocates for the business are already on the payroll.
So, why tap into your own employees instead of enlisting Beyonce or Beckham to spread your message? Not only can you help your bottom line—in more ways than you think—but employees are also seen as the most credible source of brand information.
According to the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer, “regular employees” outrank higher in public trust than a firm’s PR department, CEO, or Founder. 52% of us believe that employees are the most credible source of information regarding their business. So whether you’re looking to generate buzz, attract new talent or simply create a face for your company, take a look around the organization to find some of your best ambassadors.
Follow the “Four E’s” below to get started:
Establish a Company Culture
One of the most critical steps to building an internal taskforce of ambassadors is to make sure your company has a mission statement that resonates with your employees. Without it, the program lacks the foundation to launch.
In a 2013 Gallup poll, only 41% of employees strongly agreed that they knew what their company stood for and what makes their brand(s) different from their competitors. Another 24% either disagreed or had no idea. While companies still have a lot of work to do in defining what they stand for, building a strong brand platform helps workers understand what sets their company apart and makes them better than the rest so that they can in turn, spread the news to others.
Engage the Right People to Rep Your Brand
A brand ambassador is someone who represents the brand positively and embodies the brand or company’s culture in all ways, from appearance to demeanor to values and ethics. In short, they walk the walk and talk the talk of your brand mantra. Honesty and authenticity are the pillars of a successful ambassador program and contribute to why, according to Nielsen, consumers are 77% more likely to buy a product when recommended from someone they trust.
While it might seem like a no brainer to look at your PR, Communications and Marketing departments, your best advocates might be outside of those traditional roles. Think about other positions who are already engaging with your customers, from the front desk to Client Success. Take a look at employees who are running your company’s social events, kickball teams and volunteer days. Your best evangelists are the ones who are passionate and committed. They are already highly engaged internally, so capitalize on their passion by enabling them to communicate it externally.
Next, look for employees who already have an established personal brand and a solid social media presence. If they’re good self-promoters and understand your company’s core values, they already have half the tools they need to endorse the company. In a Forbes article, author William Arruda says, “The most successful companies help employees understand their personal brands, capitalizing on the integration of these individual traits with the broader corporate objectives.” The author describes this integration “personal plus corporate”, the key to leveraging a brand message with a genuine internal voice.
The goal here should be to build a community of ambassadors who are excited and engaged to pass on what they love about the company to others. Candidates with the right combination of passion, personal brand and digital savvy will breed a winning arsenal of brand champions.
You’ve got the people, now what’s the plan? Allowing your ambassadors to have their own voice is a critical ingredient to successful endorsements, but providing them with the tools, guidelines, content and support they need will ensure they represent your brand in the most authentic way without being fearful of repercussions. In an employee ambassador survey conducted by Edelman, participants expressed that training was one of the top components necessary to run a successful program. Conducting brown bag discussions or roundtables creates an open dialogue and opportunity to run through your “dos and don’ts” so that your employees feel empowered to infuse their personality without breaking the rules.
Give employees a specific call to action. For example, if your goal is to attract new hires and you just implemented an out-of-this-world benefits package (unlimited vacation anyone?), review the details of the package with your ambassador team and enlist them to tweet, write a blog post or review on Glassdoor about one of the benefits that resonates with them most. An extended maternity leave benefit might be most effectively communicated from a new or expecting mother on the workforce than a recent college grad, or even Boomer.
Edelman shared a few tips to avoid when building your ambassador programs including the following:
- Corporate content – The last thing you want is for your employees to be stripped of their autonomy and given the directive to write ad copy. Let it be genuine.
- A heavy handed approach – These employees were hand-picked because of their passion for the business and unique ability to influence using their own voice. Micromanaging takes the fun out of a project they earned.
- Asking too much – Your employees still have full-time jobs to manage, so the program should be looked at as an extracurricular, not a part of the job description.
Execute: Use Social Media to Spread the Good Word
Leveraging social media networks is the best way to promote your brand. Before letting your employees run digitally loose, make sure your organization has a solid social media policy in place and that it’s shared with your task force. Remember, your employees are using platforms that will link them directly back to your company, so setting the ground rules will protect both the employee and the company from negative repercussions.
Use your ambassadors’ social currency to your advantage. If an employee has 10,000+ followers on Instagram, recruit them to lead the charge on a new product launch. If another employee is active in Linkedin Groups connected to your industry, enlist them to disseminate employee news or recruiting announcements.
Encourage the use of hashtags for your business. In 2015, REI knocked it out of the park with their #OptOutside campaign, which AdAge called “a massive shift in the way companies are doing business and marketing themselves.” The campaign hashtag, which encouraged REI customers to opt for the outdoors instead of shopping Black Friday sales indoors, had garnered almost 1 million endorsements and 10 times the traffic of any other retailer.
Abrosia Humphrey, Vice President of Talent for Hootsuite, a social media dashboard company, encourages companies to use hashtags to create a conversation hub for both employees and job applicants. In a recent AdWeek interview, Humphrey said, “It [hashtag] attracts conversation, and it helps you find everything and aggregate it.” In other words, hashtags can help keep a conversation active over time and help you measure its success rate for your business goals.
When employees are proud of what they do and who they work for (you!), they have the power to influence others to believe in your brand. Empower them to spread the word of your company’s core values and culture and reward them when the engagement spreads from the outside.