A brand’s image was once developed almost exclusively by a marketing team alongside a company’s most brand-savvy senior executives and partners. Brand image was carefully developed and managed closely.
Today, it’s a company’s employees and customers who increasingly make the brand, not the brand itself. It is through their point-of-view that a brand’s story unfolds. Employees and customers are defining a brand’s image, demonstrating what a brand stands for and visually story-telling on a brand’s behalf. And this happens, like it or not, every minute of every day.
As marketing smarty-pants Seth Godin noted, the conversation is going to happen with or without you. It does not matter if you are a B2B or a B2C brand: your brand advocates, or lack of them, can make or break your brand.
The take away: everyone in an organization needs to be a brand marketer, and you as a marketer should enlist your employees as brand advocates!
More and more, employees are empowered to define and articulate their brand (employer) through shared media channels such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Vimeo, etc. Employees may be among your very best brand advocates. An employee post or share reportedly gets 20X the traction that the same content post or share from the brand itself. Why? Employees humanize a brand. When an employee is a brand advocate they believe in your brand’s success. Don’t buy it? Consider how employees have impacted the Market Basket brand in the last several weeks.
For brand marketers in small and mid-sized organizations, the importance of the employee advocate is especially apparent. Smaller marketing departments are overwhelmed by the need for continuous, quality content and often lack the departmental resources they need to drive “always on” impactful content marketing programs. Marketers in these organizations need to rely on their employees to help carry the brand mantle for them.
So once you decide to ask employees to help promote and define your brand to would-be customers and the public at large, you need to consider how you plan to manage your employees and how they talk about your brand. How do you help them story-tell for your brand in the most positive manner and in a way that is consistent with company values? And how do you navigate those employees who may have an axe to grind? There are a number of ways to approach this, but here are seven simple steps to empower your employees without losing your brand in the process:
Develop a plan. Create a plan to provide your employee -brand advocates. Articulate what the overall vision is and how it aligns with your greater corporate branding. Divide the platform into the channels to be “managed” and driven by employees. Consider creating a one-page platform showing how each marketing channel and the relevant messages communicated ladder up to the company’s overall vision. And make sure you have C-level buy in. While it can sometimes be a challenge, remember what Seth Godin said, these conversations are happening, with or without you. Let your management know that.
Find heroes. Look for employees who have a special passion for your brand and truly understand how social media works. Then make them the champions of different channels. Do not overwhelm them—but give them a clearly defined role to help manage and promote your brand through these channels. Instagram is one channels ideally suited for this. It’s a platform that can help your brand visually tell its story. As an example, one client only recently launched its Instagram account to tell its brand story. With the help of a hero employee who understood the channel, it grew to almost 150 followers in less than six weeks. Now other employees are now lining up to tell this brand’s story via Instagram.
Provide a vision. Fill your heroes in on what your vision is for the brand. How do you want the brand to be perceived? What kind of images do you want to portray? What is the goal of your marketing efforts and how can your heroes carry out your objectives? Get everyone in the same room and communicate the brand’s story. Ask them to add to your vision while staying true to the brand’s core marketing objectives. What are the stories, experiences, images and words that provide color to the brand’s core marketing?
Further, communicate your expectations. Let your employee brand advocates know how often you would like them out there talking about your brand Help them understand the best times to post content and engage in social channels to maximize engagement.
Create guidelines. Every brand should have guidelines to help its employees successfully navigate shared channels and post appropriate content. Your employee brand advocates need to understand the channels that your brand is on and what makes for appropriate content on each. There should be definite do’s and don’ts. Stay away from controversial topics. Do not become social media road kill with an errant tweet. Employees need to understand the value they bring and be empowered to engage in social channels, but they also need to understand the grave results of a social media mis-fire.
Check in with your heroes frequently. Make sure that all is working according to plan. Do they understand the brand essence you are trying to convey? Is the imagery that they using—visual or text—consistent with your brand image? What are they sensing from their online engagements on behalf of your company? Are there any reportable insights that may impact your brand’s sales and marketing efforts?
Monitor your channels. Look for any potential content or posts that may not be consistent with your brand. However, if you work with your heroes closely, the last thing that they will ever want to do is harm the brand or risk its reputation (or their own). Employee advocates can be as vigilant as the marketing team in protecting and promoting the brand. Also be sure to have a plan when an engagement uncovers a customer service issue; make sure it is delegated to the right department to handle immediately.
Reward Your Champions. Invite your senior executives to recognize the contributions of employees who are brand champions. Not everyone in a company will see themselves as a marketer, so you need to reward to inspire those who post content. Public recognition is one way to inspire. Consider an award such as “Blogger of the Month” to encourage participation. Helping employees understand that promoting the company brand through social channels is also a great way to grow their careers.
Employee brand advocates are one more part of the online conversation that your brand can’t ignore.