Need Brand Ambassadors? Start Here: Cultivating Employee Advocates

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.Image
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”

― Confucius

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. 

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Everybody Talks… Everybody Talks… Everybody Talks So Much!

ImageThe average American organically mentions brands 90 times in their offline and online conversations each week. Yes, 90 times! Here are a few other shocking numbers:

  • More than three billion brand mentions occur in nearly 4.5 billion conversations, every day in the United States.
  • More than 65 percent of the U.S. economy is driven by Word of Mouth.
  • Personal recommendations are the #1 driver of consumer purchase decisions across multiple product categories.

This provides a lot of opportunities for brands to be publically praised (or shamed) among circles of consumers.

So what is this organic method of sharing brand information, recommendations, suggestions, feedback etc? Image

Word of Mouth… and, it’s here to stay.

Word of Mouth or WOM, is the most influential element driving purchase decisions today and social media is helping it to continue growing. Like with the concept of “social proof,” consumers often (and sometimes even unknowingly) look to their social circles for product suggestions, and reviews. Humans trust the suggestions of other humans.

By harnessing customer experiences, brands can use WOM as a way to propel engagement, increase awareness and drive purchases. It’s important to note that WOM is different than Word of Mouth Marketing or WOMM. While the two sound the same, WOM is often the outcome of WOMM. WOMM is the conversation starter driven by the brand. WOM is the actual conversations had by consumers about brands, products and companies. If done well, the two can be used in tandem can build buzz. In order to make WOM work for any brand, here are a few tips that marketers must remember:

  • Consumers want to be friends with brands. The golden ticket is building a real relationship between the consumer and the brand. It’s this personal connection that will lead to true WOM.
  • Transparency = Trust.
  • Friends and family are key motivators for purchase decisions, even more than experts.
  • Off-line engagement through events and product trials can be just as effective as online engagement. WOM happens in offline and online conversations – there is power and value in both.
  • Listen. Listen. Listen. By listening to ongoing conversations, posts and news media about the brand and brand-related topics, marketers can be more effective in integrating their brand, company or product into relevant and meaningful conversations.
  • Build the WOM tactic into every singly marketing strategy from advertising to digital to PR – get people talking.
  • Utilize influencers to tell epic stories. Consumer storytellers will advocate for a brand in a better way than any advertisement.
  • Praise fans and followers who share their negative thoughts. Constructive feedback can help a company to fix a problem, better understand a consumer perspective or in the end, build an even better product.
  • Engage employees! A workforce that shares a sense of purpose can lead engagement. Some of the most successful brands have involved employees in helping to forward the brand message. People who love what they do tend to speak highly about the companies they work for.

Need more tips? WordofMouth.org provides an ongoing list of how to positively use WOM. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) is also a great resource in terms of learning more about WOM and WOMM. This inforgraphic from WOMMA further illustrates the importance of WOM.

ImageAs the industry continues to evolve, WOM will continue to grow… giving companies and brands even more opportunities to leverage all that talking that everybody does, and turn it into a competitive advantage.

Storytelling to Build Social Proof

Even after tragic loss, it is possible to find hope. Raising more than $1.2 million dollars, charity: water continues to inspire individuals to act even years after Rachel started her initial campaign.

A true leader in using stunning visual storytelling to engage consumers, charity: water’s remarkable success in social advocacy and online fundraising is largely built through stunning multimedia. With more than 1.3 million Twitter followers, and more than 210,000 Facebook likes, charity: water has truly mastered the art of getting people to form personal connections with their brand. And, by harnessing storytelling through social media – they have turned followers into activists.

The brand has built a high level of “social proof.”

What is social proof exactly?

Put simply, social proof is the positive influence created when people find out others are doing something – and now, suddenly, everyone else wants to do that same something.

This third-party validation can be a very powerful motivator. As consumers, the psychology of persuasion influences every day choices, from where to eat, to what clothes to wear, purchases to make, and causes to be part of. While the concept of social proof isn’t new, this style of impact has huge potential to grow virally given the way that consumers interact today on social media. According to recent research 70% of consumers trust brand recommendations from friends.

ImageTech Crunch offers that there are five different types of social proof. These range from Expert and Celebrity, which leverage the approval of these individuals to build digital influence to Wisdom of the Crowds, which highlights the popularity or large numbers of users who like a product, service or brand. While both of the above work in some instances, by and large, the most coveted type of social proof is the Wisdom of Friends, because every marketer knows that referrals from friends are the way that consumers now make choices. Friendsreferred by friends ultimately make better customers, activists and givers – hands down.

One of the best ways to build social proof is by leveraging the power of personal stories. Real stories resonate with people and can catch their interest or engage their emotions. Stories are persuasive and more trusted by consumers than statistics, because they are able to transport consumers into the situation – engaging them and making them want to share… and then share again and again. This makes sense on many levels given that storytelling is one of the oldest and most effective forms of communicating.

charity: water uses content to align people with thousands of other people. Their stories and photos are hyper-localized, deeply connecting consumers to the impact they are helping to make. So deeply, that they then encourage others to participate in making impact too – Momentum builds and one by one consumers join the cause because of other friends who are engaged, thus building a dedicated network of brand advocates… or for charity: water, activists and donors.

Social proof IS the new marketing.

Any brand can engage social proof by being candid, authentic and letting testimonials speak for themselves. Through the sharing of compelling stories, brands can become equal partners, rather than corporate entities. It’s no longer enough to rely on pushed messages or advertising.

Through a continued commitment to storytelling via highly sharable digital content, charity: water has built a brand that incites the kind of loyalty, excitement, and inspiration most companies dream of.

It’s the stuff of fairy tales!