You’re probably familiar with the basic concepts around branding — whether it’s personal branding or organization-wide branding. But what about employer branding? It’s an old term in the HR world that’s seen a resurgence in popularity the last few years. In fact, a 2015 survey found 75 percent of job seekers consider a prospective employer’s brand when deciding where to apply, yet only 57 percent of employers say they’ve worked on their employer branding.
The recovering economy and an increasing focus on employee retention, along with the lasting effects of social media on brand/consumer interaction (and increasingly desperate ploys for job seekers’ attention), has a lot of organizations thinking about the ways they brand themselves to potential employees. Done well, employer branding can be a powerful tool, but done poorly, it can harm the employer as a whole.
So what are the best practices for this kind of branding? How does it differ from organization-wide branding? And what should your organization be doing to stand out against all the other employers vying for top talent?
Broader company branding isn’t enough
To answer these questions, we spoke with Lisa Holden, an Employer Communications Manager at Glassdoor, who says too many companies make the mistake of thinking their overall organization branding will take care of any employer branding needs. It won’t, she says. And what’s worse, it can hurt your image and hobble your efforts to attract and retain great employees. “If your employer brand is strong, it gives the right hires enough information to make better decisions about working there, but if your employer brand is weak or non-existent, it can hinder your ability to hire top talent.”
You have to make it clear that your organization has a distinct voice when it comes to who gets hired and the ongoing work culture and values, says Holden. “When people know what they are getting into it’s a lot easier to make a decision.”
That’s not to say you should simply be noisy, though. You’re building a reputation in order to attract the right people, not necessarily the highest numbers of applicants. “When your employer brand is not really saying anything, one might argue that it might as well be a negative employer brand,” Holden points out.
Crowdsource your employee experience
And in order to begin defining your employer branding, you need to get an employee’s view of your company.
“There are two voices you need for any strong employer brand,” Holden says. “You need the employee voice and also the organization’s voice.” Most organizations assume it will be distinctly one or the other, but Holden says that Glassdoor has found potential employees are looking for a mix. “We surveyed our site visitors in January 2016 and found that 90% of Glassdoor users find the employer perspective useful when learning about jobs and companies. Which makes sense — they’re visiting Glassdoor not just for the employee reviews, but to hear what employers have to say about themselves too.”
And that’s challenging. Many organizations know how to craft the message from a leadership perspective, but when it comes to how they showcase that voice while still leaving room for the employee voice, they’re stumped.
“You can you sit in a room with your CEO and your senior leadership team and you say, ‘Okay, what is our culture and our employer brand and craft a message around it and send it out to the world. But if what you come up with doesn’t reflect what’s happening on the ground, you’re really just telling a story.” A story that could cost you in attrition rates as new employees pour in, but leave shortly after when they find the culture presented to them in interviews differs from their day-to-day work experience.
If you’re a large enough organization, tools like Glassdoor can give you an anonymous view into your employees’ experiences. You’ll learn what they love best about working at your organization as well as what frustrates them. To help organize this information into useable data, Glassdoor offers brands a peek into their own profiles, including demographics, trends over time, and other useful tidbits that can help build a more accurate employer brand.
Employer brand isn’t universal
But, if you’re a smaller organization, it’s going to take some more creative work to get your employer brand. “At a smaller company, your resources are tighter, and there are fewer people to do the work,” Holden says. “You can’t necessarily assign a team to research and craft your employer branding message. So we’re seeing this trend where it’s becoming a collaborative effort between teams like marketing and HR.”
And that, Holden says, often means the one or two employees devoted to marketing as well as the (often sole) employee in the HR role. And that’s okay. For a smaller company, combining the expertise and skills from these two departments, along with some crowdsourcing employees and clever use of social media platforms can do a great job communicating your unique appeal as an employer.
And then, on the other extreme, larger organizations have unique hurdles to overcome in order to build their employer brands.
“When you’re branding an enterprise that has thousands or hundreds of thousands of employees in countries all over the world, you are literally communicating with them in different languages,” Holden says, “So your employer brand message in Paris might be worlds different than your employer branding message in Ohio.”
That’s because the employees in the largest city in France are coming from a different culture than the employees in the midwest of the U.S. The work cultures will be unique from one another, and it’s important to be aware of those differences and present those branches accordingly.
Figure out where your future leaders spend their time
It’s true that many companies are struggling with hiring, but the bigger issue in HR right now is retention. A survey from 2014 found as many as 30% of new employees only last six months at their new job, while 15% don’t last the first three months. As company leaders search for the answer in keeping employees around long term, how they present themselves to the world will play an important part.
Employer branding is as much about communicating clearly as it about marketing. When you’re looking for new employees, you’re looking for your company’s future leaders. This isn’t about casting a wide net, insists Holden. It’s about finding the best fit. Employment branding is about showing potential employees what it would really be like to work at that organization. You don’t need to appeal to everyone, in fact, you don’t really want to appeal to everyone. That would drown the HR department in applications that have no hope of turning into future company leaders. Instead of going for mass appeal, it’s wise to get more targeted about your approach.
Successful organizations are reaching out to future employees where they live, on the platforms they use. It’s a simple plan, but it works. If you’re looking to recruit recent college graduates, it’s worth putting some energy into Snapchat and other social media platforms that appeal to younger groups. GE, to use one example, reaches out to potential hires by hosting Campus Meets Cloud “pitch days” on college campuses, where students pitch engineering ideas to the company for the chance to win scholarships or internships. Then, the company uses Snapchat to promote the event. It’s a win for everyone.
When crafting your message as an employer, remember that you’re looking to attract the right talent for your organization, so get as targeted as possible. Leveraging social media and job search tools like Glassdoor, will only work for you if you’re using the platforms your ideal candidates use, and publishing the kind of content they’re interested in seeing. When it comes to the resources available to you, use what you have. For most small companies with limited resources, crafting the employer branding message is ideal as a collaborative effort between HR and marketing. And keep in mind that your employer brand is separate from your overall brand. The two shouldn’t be so different they look like they belong to different companies — they’re distinct, but complementary, aspects of your brand and you should treat them as such.