Let's say you're in the shampoo aisle at your favorite drugstore and you want to try something different from your usual product. You're between two brands: one you see plastered on every billboard and one that comes highly recommended by your friend. Which do you choose?
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If I had to guess, I'd say you're most likely to go with the brand that has your friend's stamp of approval. Numerous studies have shown that people tend to trust what other people have to say more than they trust brand messaging. This fact is exactly why your employees are such a worthy resource when it comes to amplifying your company's employer value proposition.
According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, employees are the most trusted source of information when it comes to how companies treat both their staff and their customers. If employees are excited about the work they're doing and align with your office culture, they can be your biggest advocates. The conversations they have with their peers will have a disproportionately positive impact on your employer brand.
You can see why it's so important to invest in your employees and make sure they have the tools, training, and content they need to gain a professional edge – while amplifying what your company is all about.
So what does this look like exactly? Here are a few examples:
1. Word of Mouth
Your employees have lives outside of the office, but even when they're not in "work mode," they never stop being reflections of your company. How will they act and talk about you when they're in other environments, like social and networking events? What do you want them to say? What core values do you want them to communicate?
These are crucial questions to ask because your company can build a reputation, good or bad, by association. Once you've nailed down your answers, you can help your employees understand how they should be talking about you and give them the material to do so.
At The Muse, we have a strict "no assholes" policy (yes, really) that helps determine who we hire and holds everyone accountable for their words and actions. We also make sure every employee gets involved in telling our brand story from day one as a key part of our onboarding process.
One of the first tools we give new Musers is our "Brand Book," which tells them all about who we are, what our mission is, and why our company was created. The Brand Book even provides an elevator pitch and helpful guidance on how to describe The Muse in certain situations, e.g., chatting with a friend or pitching to a prospective business partner. To make sure everyone has a sense of why we exist as a company, our founders, Kathryn Minshew and Alexandra Cavoulacos, also meet with new hires to share The Muse's origin story and the problems they were trying to solve when they launched. It works because when employees are connected to your mission and feel a real sense of purpose, talking about your company in a positive light and in relatable terms becomes second nature.
2. Employees as Thought Leaders
You know that feeling when you're so excited about something that you want to tell everyone you know? That's how your employees should feel about the work they're doing for your company – and it's up to you to provide them with the training and the platform to share their experiences.
Say your engineering team is working on a really cool new project. This is the perfect opportunity to set one or more of your employees up with speaking engagements like panels and conferences to talk about what they've accomplished and how. Having your employees share success stories and key learnings from their unique roles can position your company as an innovative place to work that fosters growth and experimentation. People in the audience get an idea of what it's like to work at your organization directly from a trusted source – someone who is not only thriving at your company but also becoming a thought leader in their field. At the same time, your employee gets to make a name for themselves.
General Electric does a great job of encouraging its employees to become leaders in their space through speaking engagements. Katrina Craigwell, vice president of global marketing innovation at GE Digital, is largely responsible for the company's ability to keep up with the ever-changing world of content creation and continually innovate its strategy successfully. As a result, Craigwell has become an important voice in the marketing space, representing the next generation of media experts and helping brands understand how to make lasting impressions. She has been a keynote presenter and appears on live webinar panels regularly. GE also has a section on its website dedicated to upcoming events, along with an on-demand webinar series featuring a number of the company's employees.
This kind of employee visibility adds to employer value while simultaneously supporting your staff and building interest among people who otherwise might not have considered applying to your company. If your employees aren't quite ready for this level of attention, you can send them to conferences for training purposes, rather than speaking opportunities. They'll have the chance to make beneficial business connections while learning new things they can bring back to your team.
3. Employees as Advocates
Enabling your employees to do in-person and online events is a great way to spread the word in organized groups, but there is also a huge opportunity to enlist your employees as advocates for the company among harder to reach audiences online.
One approach is to arm your team with something to talk about, whether it's company press, photos from team outings, or blog posts by their peers. At The Muse, we send out a "Weekly Wins" email with our recent media coverage, including a few pre-drafted lines people can easily copy and paste into their Twitter and LinkedIn channels. We use this tool as an employee activation vehicle to prompt advocacy, boost morale, and encourage people to feel comfortable talking about our company. We see at least a quarter of our employees posting articles that we've shared, many of them personalizing the message, which is even better.
Another approach is to create a separate outlet for celebrating your brand and culture. In a world where the natural inclination is to share everything from travel photos to fun with friends to your morning coffee, why not give your employees a place to spotlight their work lives? A great example of this is Pandora's social media handle @LifeAtPandora, where the company actively shares company updates, careers, and team culture. The company also uses the hashtag #LifeAtPandora to drive the conversation among employees who want to highlight their successes, events, or amusing day-to-day stuff at the office. Scrolling through these channels, you can clearly see the sense of community among people who work at Pandora and the consumers who use product.
One final approach is to amplify your employees' voices through a blog, and an excellent example is Buffer. The company maintains three amazing employee-centric blogs, one for social media (its business area of expertise), one for culture, and one for engineering. Everyone throughout the company contributes, giving employees a space to establish themselves as thought leaders online and bolster their personal brands. This is in line with the company's distinctive values, which include "Default to Transparency," "Have a Focus on Self-Improvement," and my personal favorite, "Choose Positivity and Happiness." Having these blogs as a platform for employees reflects really well on Buffer as a company. This shows that Buffer respects the voices of its staff members as thought leaders and as humans and wants to help them grow professionally.
Owning your brand and communicating your values through the strong representation of employees outside of the office is relatively easy, cost-effective, and scalable. It all starts with distilling what you stand for as a company and then using that to power your employees' personal brands. Their personal brands can be your employer brand's most valuable fuel.
Kara Walsh is chief marketing officer at The Muse.
Top photo courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.