When your employees interact online, they leave an impression. They author or share articles, post comments or join conversations, and thereby they build their own reputations as thought leaders and experts in their sphere of activity. But in the process, they are also doing something else – they are building trust and influence with potential customers, partners and their followers. The kind of trust and influence that can give your company an edge.
Smart employers know this and are pursuing strategies to ensure that they can benefit from personal branding of their employees. Increasingly, companies like IBM, Dell, Intel, Coca Cola and Cisco are empowering employees to share marketing messages and increase their social engagement – anticipating a positive impact on sales for the company. It’s called Social Advocacy and there are several reasons why it works.
It’s Hard to Stand Out When We Are Overloaded with Information
In this age of information overload, it makes sense that employees are an efficient medium for disseminating a company’s brand proposition. It turns out that, every minute, Twitter users tweet 277,000 times, Facebook users upload 2,460,000 pieces of content, and YouTube users upload 72 hours of new video. The challenge is therefore set out for organizations: how will they stand out in such a deluge of data?
And even though 97 per cent of marketers are using social media and reaching out to customers through advertisements, its effectiveness is in question. In last year’s Forrester study, brand marketers complained that they are able to reach only between 2 per cent and 6 per cent of their fans organically.
And these results are despite an increasing ad spend in corporate social media: it topped $8.5 billion in 2014, and the number could reach $14 billion by 2018, according to Business Insider.
So the question is: if it’s only going to get more expensive to ‘advertise’ using corporate social media channels, is it worth the spend? Or is there another way?
Compare it with the reach that an average American has online. Pew Research Center did a study which found that the average American has 634 social media connections. So if 100 of your employees advocate for your company, you can reach 63,400 people. This phenomenon increases exponentially as you begin adding in highly connected advocates. Dell ran a study (cited by Social Chorus) where they found that in 9 cases out of 10, these social media connections tend to be new to the brand, i.e., those contacts are not currently reached by the corporate accounts.
Simply put – employee brands can cut through an information overloaded environment.
People Invest in Brands They Trust
But it’s not just about the reach. It’s about the authenticity of the message. When your audience hears about a new product, service or messaging from their friends or family members in the company they are more likely to believe it. No matter how much you emphasize a corporate brand personality, it’s not the same as hearing about a product or service from him or her directly. It all boils down to the human element in interactions that people cherish. And trust.
Digital media research firms are emphatic that you cannot transplant old-fashioned advertising and repurpose in the digital format for it to succeed. It’s just not credible: Nielsen’s research showed 48 per cent of people trust ads on social media, compared to 84 per cent of people who trust recommendations from people they know.
Strong brands help guide our decision-making because the element of trust provides ‘shortcuts’ to our decisions.
But the trick lies in getting the tone right. You can’t just dictate what your employees say in social media. Social media campaign gaffes can go viral quickly, doing unimaginable damage if they lack human authenticity. Rather than a shrill sales pitch, two-way conversations – transparent and grounded in reciprocity – are a good way to enter the hearts and minds of your audience, and avoid your employees coming across like corporate shills. This ultimately means that you really want your employees to speak from their hearts – using what they know, and who they are.
So Does That Mean That Thought Leadership Isn’t Dead?
Nope. It’s not, contrary to popular belief. It’s harder and harder to do, because more people than ever have ways to post, blog, blab, and periscope their opinions and thoughts. But competent thought leaders with powerful personal brands are attractive, and can offer expertise with élan to champion your cause. Inbound and content marketing is a key element in today’s corporate marketing toolbox, and more and more people are finding that it works for individuals as well as companies. Employees are able to advocate successfully for brands if they establish social media visibility, hone their content creation skills, publish prudently, and sustain their point of view.
So look around your own company. Is there a role for passionate, socially active leaders in building your brand successfully? Granted, he was focusing a little bit much on the C-suite, but in his blog post on Innovation Excellence, Braden Kelley asks:
- How much did Steve Jobs add to the value of Apple?
- How much value did Jack Welch add to the value of GE?
- How much value does Elon Musk bring to Tesla Motors?
Customer value can be delivered and gained in many ways. Thought leadership and powerful employee personal brands can be one way to drive that value, and should not be underestimated.
Strong Brands Can Reap Great Sales Rewards
Sharing content is attractive. In most situations when people see a good piece of content they tend to visit the publisher’s profile, especially younger people. So providing good content will make the publisher more ‘findable’ in search results. Along with their professional profiles, guess what pops up more often than not? Their company’s name, location, industry and specializations.
Are you still mad about your team members spending too much time on social media? You might be surprised to see that there is a connection between an active profile and the leads it can generate. Some studies show that 80% of people say they have looked up an individual online before a meeting, after a conference, or during a presentation. And when prospects click through employee profiles, they can see content that either builds or tears down the trust built for your corporate brand, and can therefore impact the sale, positively, or negatively.
When your employee’s brands are strong and visible, you nudge the odds in your favor during the critical research stage of the buying process.
There is no better time to invest in employee branding than now. The value of a strong brand advocate or a thought leader can be exponentially more valuable than the buzz created through your traditional corporate social channels.
So take the plunge! Give it a try with your most socially savvy team members. The time to learn and to act is now.
Bonus: Check out this short video from Common Craft about how employees can participate responsibly in social media. Ideal for HR and PR professionals, it talks about how honest conversations by real people in the company can help customers make better decisions and increase trust. Even though the video is short – almost everything is covered in terms of setting up guidelines, processes to follow, and things to watch out for.
- Why Struggle to Fit In When You Were Born to Stand Out?
- 10 Ways to Improve Your Personal Brand
- Some Surprising Benefits of Being a Little Bit Weird
MetaMorph Corporation is dedicated to creating the future of unique, personal branding. Find out more here.