9 Steps to Transform Employees Into Brand Ambassadors

iStock_Brand_LargeThe role of brand promotion no longer rests solely on the shoulders of the marketing organization. The proliferation of social platforms and technology tools parlays the voice of many with much greater ease and impact. The active role employees can play in brand visibility and transparency is profound. Organizations now want to partner with employees for greater brand exposure.

Getting our company profiles on social platforms, or launching a corporate blog and communicating to employees is one thing, but how can we go a few steps further to ensure our employees are an extension of our brand and that they proudly share within their own networks our greatest stories. We’re now asking employees to leverage their personal platforms and play the role of brand ambassador speaking on behalf of the organization. 5 to 10 years ago, this idea may have scared off most marketing and legal departments, but today this is a desired practice of the most successful and powerful brands.

How do we not only encourage our employees to spread the word, but to also articulate the brand identity in a meaningful and accurate way? This isn’t an easy overnight shift in behavior. Below are a few ideas to begin building a level of trust and transparency with employees to be an extension of the company brand.

  1. Begin with culture. Employees need to know that the culture supports a sharing environment. It’s important to look for ways to engage directly with teams and individuals to let them know their actions are encouraged. Building a culture of knowledge sharing must be visible and rewarded. Show employees examples of those doing this effectively and recognize this behavior as openly as possible. Provide them parameters so they understand what this means externally, but support the ideas of innovation and knowledge sharing as it relates to corporate brand.
  1. Communicate effectively. A culture of open and two-way communication removes fear and confusion. Good companies communicate often and openly about what’s happening in the company, what projects and programs are in place or coming, as well as why, and they share progress often. If there are difficult bumps along the way, they don’t retreat and keep quiet until the tough time blows over—they outreach to employees in multiple ways ensuring they fully understand the challenge, how the organization is responding, and how each individual can support the effort. They also directly engage with employees to create new ideas and build buy-in. When employees know they are part of the conversation, and part of the solution, they support company strategies and changes more positively.
  1. Share the vision. It is vital that every single employee understands the company vision, strategic priorities and goals, as well as the brand identity and position in the marketplace. They should hear about these priorities and strategies often and in a multitude of ways—almost to the point of over-communicating. Managers should also help each employee understand how these priorities align to their day-to-day responsibilities so they have a clear vision as to how their role fits in to achieving larger goals. The better employees understand this in a clear and actionable way, the better they can speak to the larger picture of the brand and where the company is going.
  1. Spell it out. Don’t assume employees know you want them to be active on social media or at events and share the good stories and successes of your brand. You must have a clear strategy and plan as to how to engage with employees regularly. Outline for them that the company encourages their social presence, explain the rules of engagement, and tell them when and how they can and should share information. You can even support them by providing some targeted training on how to build an effective profile, what sorts of content they should leverage in descriptions, how to represent their personal brands for their own benefit, and how to share or re-share company content.
  1. Ensure they understand policy. All companies should have an updated social media policy in place. The laws around social media are evolving and changing rapidly, and are quite different by country, so be sure to work with experienced legal counsel before advising employees of what they can or cannot do in regards to your organization. Once you have it in writing and approved by your Code of Business Conduct committees, ensure every employee knows where the policy resides, knows the content and what it means, knows what is considered unacceptable practices as well, and is reminded of the policy regularly. Try not to freeze them in fear, but ensure they clearly understand good and bad examples of social sharing on behalf of your company.
  1. Give good content. As communicators and marketers, we may think all our content is good content. But employees are very choosy about what they want to share in their own networks. They want to be proud of the place they work and show off the cool stuff the company is doing. We all want that.Rather than push all the sales type posts to them, mix it up. Begin with those things that engage them emotionally. Look to the organization’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs for ideas. What volunteerism or charitable activities are occurring? How can employees share the community and humanity efforts being put forth by the organization? Give them material to use with lots of images and employee-based activities—these are most important to them.

    Next look for things related to sponsorship and events. Employees want to show their friends and family when and where their company is investing money into things like sports sponsorships, or industry event sponsorships. If the company is speaking or has a booth, they like to show these activities as well as it means they are working for good organizations that are financially stable and doing great things in their markets.

    Blending in more business focused content can then begin to come into the mix, but use this wisely. Maybe there is a great product launch, an interesting interview with a tier one publication, or maybe there is a press release announcing some company news. When you ask employees to share this information, it’s worth explaining why it’s important and what the company hopes to gain so they know what role they play in that goal. Don’t ask them to share everything—be selective.

  1. Make it easy. Once employees have a good grasp of how to leverage various profiles and clearly understand policy, make it simple for them to share information. Presumably your employees are very busy working with clients, meeting their own deadlines, and trying to get home to their families and friends. Make sharing information as easy as possible by providing them regular pre-packaged sound bytes they can leverage.For Click-to-Tweet tools, there are a number of plug-ins available for WordPress Blog posts. In this post by Social Media Examiner, they outline their top five tools for sharing.

    If you’re sending a simple internal communication to employees, just outline the 140 character post with appropriate shortlinks and hashtags and ask them to copy and paste in their Twitter status.

    The same goes for Facebook and LinkedIn—simply provide the text, images, and hyperlinks for them to quickly post or share. If you want them to share or retweet from a company post, direct them to the post and ensure they know how to share. Spell it all out if necessary.

    If you’re running a longer campaign, explain this to employees and let them know how many posts from the campaign you’d like them to share. It may not be all for every employee—you may want to target certain experts to do more.

  1. Target the SMEs. As mentioned above, you should leverage your subject matter experts (SMEs) in a more targeted way, and likely more often. Work with them for campaign development, seek their advice for optimal posts, understand the platforms their target audiences leverage most, be sure their profiles depict them as significant experts, and work with them on regular entries. Not only is this good for the company brand, but it’s great for their personal brands as well. It also shows media and industry analysts your experts are engaged and in the know, making them more desirable for interviews and speaking opportunities. Work as closely as possible with these experts, and make certain that they are engaging their teams on sharing information as well.Read more on Launching a SME Program
  1. Share the impact. It’s assumed by now you are leveraging appropriate metrics tools in your social and brand activities. Capture those metrics as it relates to activities you’ve asked for employee participation and share them. Show them the impact of their efforts by bringing visible results to them in a timely manner. The more they see the value they bring to the larger picture, the more they’ll want to continue their personal support.

Are there other actions necessary or simply good practices you can think of when transforming employees into brand ambassadors? Have you tried something that worked well, or not so well? Share your experiences below.

Image Credit: ©iStock.com/Warchi

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