Employee advocacy is a critical element of any brand’s success. By turning employees into trusted brand ambassadors, companies bring their strongest assets and their most vocal internal advocates into direct contact with their customer base. Having an adoring employee base isn’t just great for word-of-mouth marketing, but it’s also good for the bottom line – impacting everything from brand awareness and online word-of-mouth, down to the recruitment of new employees. Empowered employees can be brand advocates and industry thought leaders who can help to increase a brands positive digital footprint. While there are many ways for companies to cultivate employee brand ambassadors, here are five things to start with:
- Encourage social media interaction and advocacy. While many companies have limiting social media policies for employees, Zappos is one company that feels that their employees can (and will) use social media for the good of the company. If employees are online talking about how much they enjoy their work, it is probably a good thing for the company! Which has been proven true by Zappos in terms of business development and new employee recruitment. In an article from Mashable.com, according to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who often talks about using social media in ways that foster happiness, “We have about 500 Zappos employees on Twitter, and we’ve aggregated all their tweets together. It’s a great way for to help build the company culture and for employees to connect with each other.”
- Reward good work. LUSH, a fresh handmade cosmetics company in North America spearheaded a recognition program that builds on the company philosophy of employee interaction and volunteerism. Using a program called Kudos, LUSH encourages employees to reward each other for good work. Each staff member is given 50 points a month that they can use to reward each other with. In addition, LUSH team leaders have a larger pool of points to give out so that they can reward staff for positive things that they see each day. Employees can earn points by exemplifying LUSH values or for great customer feedback, leading by example, learning skills in new areas, perfect attendance, and random acts of kindness. Once received, the employee can exchange Kudos points for chocolate bars, movie tickets, gift cards, and even a big reward: a day off with pay. The goal of the program is to encourage staff to live in LUSH core values, participate in volunteer opportunities and find ways to thank each other each day.
- Invest in employee wellbeing. A little goes a long way when it comes to showing employees how much they are appreciated. Zappos celebrates with impromptu happy hours, free t-shirts and props emails, and Starbucks employees receive free coffee and are given the opportunity for flexible work schedules that fit around their other commitments. As described above LUSH uses Kudos points and fitness company Lululemon Athletica, offers goal setting and encourages free fitness through local gym partnerships. In each instance, the company takes an interest in its employee wellbeing and encourages them to live company values both in and out of the office.
- Engage employees in building the brand mission and company culture. Create a sense of shared ownership in the goals of the company, and focus on using employee experience and feedback to improve products/services and customer service. Seventh Generation, a green cleaning company, included employees in both setting goals and accountability for achieving them. In 2012, a group of Seventh Generation employees came together to help simplify the company mission into four aspirational principles: Nurturing Nature, Transforming Commerce, Enhancing Health and Building Communities. The principles help to provide year-to-year goals and business plans across all company units and is used as the road map for long term company planning. In addition, the company launched an Annual Incentive Program that tied annual bonuses to company sustainability goals. This was done to help to insure that the company could measure and reward employees that stood for the core corporate values. It also created interest, pride and ownership from employees in the core company mission.
- Cheer on Volunteerism. There is a recent trend of companies offering volunteer opportunities and incorporating those opportunities into the company mission. LUSH, Seventh Generation and New Belgium Brewing Company are only a few examples of companies who have volunteerism baked into their corporate culture – offering benefits to those employees who volunteer their time within the local community. The outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia has also been successful in building a loyal employee base for not only the laid-back work environment of the company, but also the emphasis the company places on social and environmental causes. Through the Patagonia Employee Internship Program, employees can take paid leave for up to one month to intern with environmental organizations around the world.
Employees are not only the face of a company, they ARE the company… from internal culture to consumer engagement and brand image. Employees are the most trusted source of information for customers, so it’s vital that a company’s employees are encouraged to participate in nearly every aspect of company communications – just think of all the great employee social content that could be generated via the suggestions above. The return on investment for the positive online buzz generated from employee social media or from being named one of the “Best Places to Work” may not be as clear-cut as measuring ad value, but the benefits can be extraordinary.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
When employees love their job, it shows, and the ripple effect of that honest and organic company love can be greater than any pre-planned marketing campaign.