The Dangers of Employee Advocacy

Before I get into the dangers, let’s first understand what employee advocacy is. It’s getting employees involved in amplifying your organization’s brand message through their own personal and social networks. They can share company news, success stories and promotions. Many companies have a social media program to engage consumers such as initiatives that drive the number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers. Taking it even further, they can track their most engaged fans and followers and get them involved in their promotions. Now, companies are realizing that the employees, beyond the marketing team, can also bring value to their social marketing strategy.

It sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want their employees out there advocating for the brand? Well, I don’t want to name anybody, but think for a moment about a company that you absolutely hate, or a place you would never want to work. Now, picture yourself working there as an employee and being told that you now need to participate in an employee advocacy program to promote the products or services. Just think about it. Now, I know this is an extreme example, but I hope it illustrates my point: Not every organization is ready for an employee advocacy program. If they build one prematurely, it may backfire. There are also dangers even if the organization is ready for such a program. For example, it may not genuinely connect with how employees want to promote the brand or what they want to promote. Each employee is different and can uniquely contribute to the advocacy program.  In my book, The Brandful Workforce – How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand, I address these issues and much more. I describe six channels through employees can help the brand; it’s not just about employee advocacy but the entire organization and setting the right business foundation and internal culture that will naturally be excited about an advocacy program.

Does your company have a successful employee advocacy program? I’d love to hear about it. For previous posts on The Brandful Workforce, click here.

Is Your Effort to Involve Employees Backfiring?

What company does not want their employees to promote their brand? Some go about it the wrong way. They jump right into providing the tools and training for employees to be able to shout out their favorite messages about the products and services. Or they launch new employee programs such as internal online platforms where employees can share and create innovative ideas for new products. Sooner or later, they start to wonder why nobody is participating in these new programs. Or even worse, they start to hear buzz from the employees that they don’t like what’s going on. They feel that the company is pushing them to participate in a way they really don’t want to.

Instead of feeling inspired, employees can feel tricked. This situation may indicate that something is missing. That something is what I call, The Brandful Business Basics.  This means companies don’t have what it takes for their employees to get behind their brand and promote it genuinely. The Brandful Business Basics is an integrated combination of a successful business model, a defined customer promise that employees can fulfill, and a transparent employee promise that works. If your employees can answer these questions favorably, then you have what it takes for them to be brandful:  How does my organization make a profit? What is the higher purpose for why my organization exists? Am I genuinely behind this purpose? What do we consistently deliver to our customers and how do we deliver it? Why do I work here and are these reasons being fulfilled?

In a previous webinar that I conducted, of about 300 companies less than 25% of them indicated that they had the Brandful Business Basics – or what they need for their employees to truly get behind the brand. Do you believe your company has what it takes? I’m conducting a anonymous poll. Please click the following link and vote here.

To check out my other blogs, please click here.

 

Facebook Not Good Enough for Marketing Execs?

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This week Forrester,the marketing research group, released results from a recent  survey filled out by almost 400 marketing executives. The main question was:  How satisfied are you with the business value your company has achieved by using each of the following marketing channels? Executives were asked to giving a rating for each channel. You can gather from the title of this blog that Facebook did not receive the most favorable ratings. So, are we to conclude that companies should abandon marketing efforts via Facebook? I don’t think so.

I’m not defending Facebook. In fact, I don’t have any particular interest in any paid marketing channel. What rubbed me wrong here is the approach. Why is the conversation still around paid media, like advertising, when it’s the earned media, like employees or customers sharing content freely and genuinely, that can create longer-term business value.  Some of the marketing dollars should be allocated to improve the actual products and services so that marketing efforts can really pay off.

Message to Forrester: If you don’t ask the right questions, you will never get valuable answers. The biggest question that I’m focused on right now is: How can employees bring value to the brand?  By investing marketing dollars internally, it can pay off externally. The internal and the external organization cannot continue to exist separately. While it may not pay to invest marketing dollars directly in Facebook, but it may pay to invest these dollars internally with employees who spread your brand message through their personal Facebook pages. Don’t be fooled. Employees talk. Wouldn’t you rather them spread positive authentic brand messages? Not just Facebook, but any marketing channel, can stand to be leveraged by internal, engaged employees who truly love the products and services they deliver every day.

(see the article about Forrester’s research)

How Much Is a Brandful Employee Worth?

Never mind calculating your company’s brand value, let’s skip straight to your individual employees. Sure, they are hired to do a job, and getting that job done is first and foremost. However in this age of customer and employee engagement where success is built on authentic and on-going relationships, every employee can be doing more than getting their work done. That’s what a brandful employee is all about – being a part of the growing brand and adding value to it.

But how significant can one employee be to the brand? When you think about the thousands or millions of individual interactions that make up a company’s product or service offering, you can begin to understand and appreciate the value at the individual level. One employee can make or break the brand for any given customer. And this is where the focus should be.

Here are some questions to consider:

• Are your employees set up on social networks to best advocate for your brand? (either helping with recruitment or customer engagement)
• Do your employees participate in product or service innovation?
• Are your citizenship efforts integrated with your brand and the employee experience?

Once you know the value your workforce brings to your brand, you’ll also learn how to increase that value. The power of building a brandful workforce is that it simultaneously improves both customer and employee engagement. For more on this topic, follow my blog at www.brandfulworkforce.com/blog, follow me on twitter (@juliagometz) or join the LinkedIn Group (The Brandful Workforce).

Using YouTube For Employee Relations?

Recently I wrote about the different ways in which employees can leave their employers involuntarily or voluntarily. One employee, Marina Shifrin, quit by communicating through a viral video (now up to almost nine million views on Youtube). A few days after her viral video and departure from the company, her employer released a retaliatory video featuring her boss and fellow employees who all seem to enjoy working there.

Anyone following this may now start to wonder what really happened between Marina and her boss, and why this is happening on Youtube?  Many folks fantasize about how, when and where they will quit. They are envious of Marina. On the other hand, there are those crazy employees who just don’t fit in, and even though they hate work, everyone else seems to love it. These are probably in the minority however one employee’s actions do not necessarily represent the masses. Just think about a few postal workers that went crazy and gave a bad name to all postal workers. Apply this to Marina’s fellow employees and maybe she was the oddball out?

We may learn more details over time. Whether or not we do, this is an intriguing scenario. First, it’s interesting from an employee relations standpoint, in that it shows the use and power of video resignations, as well as organizational responses. The employer is a small company but would a larger company have done something similar? Will this end up being a net positive for Marina? If so, will it encourage other employees to attempt similar tactics?  Second, it reinforces the increasing power of individual employees.  It reminds me of why I’m a believer in being brandful – and having a strategy that places employees in their greatest potential to support the brand, rather than bash it. In a prior post, I wrote about the importance of continuing goodwill long after employees leave, regardless of the circumstances of their departures. Ongoing respect is part of that.

Will we continue to see more employee relations matters on Youtube? What do you think?

 

I Quit!

A long time ago, it was rare for someone to quit. People stayed in the same job for years and years, and even more years, until retirement or death, whichever came first. Today, the opposite is true. Change is so rapid that it’s hard to predict the future of any organization, let alone job or role.  So when I stumbled across this video, I thought: “Ah, a new way to say ‘Adios’ to your boss.” Quite creative, especially given the fact that the employer was a video production company…not surprising that the employee’s video of her quitting, went viral immediately. Maybe her boss was  happy that she finally produced a viral video, however maybe he or she wasn’t anticipating it would be her goodbye video that would get the most number of views.

But not everybody quits. Some leave unwillingly. Like the employee who was fired by the AOL Chief during a recorded staff meeting. She was taping the internal conversation, a big “no-no” if you listen to the recording, which shouldn’t have been recorded in the first place. What a way to go, publicly in front of the entire company and then later publicized to the world.

Some folks quit, but go about it in the wrong way, like the JetBlue flight attendant, who illegally deployed a slide. At the end of his flight, he simply slid down the slide and attempted to leave…for good.

Some folks do it the right way. Well at least, it is well-intended, like the Goodwill employee who was just trying to help folks pay for the merchandise by reducing the prices. The teenage employee was only wanting to help and do “good” as suggested by the name of his employer. But Goodwill didn’t see it that way, fired him and pressed charges, according to the news story.

How does this relate to our topic of The Brandful Workforce- which is a workforce that promotes the brand of the organization? In all of the cases above and in most employee departures, it is critical to keep in mind that the brand of the organization, that the employee leaves behind, continues. And it continues with or without that employee. It is incumbent upon every organization to ensure that every departure can reflect the brand integrity – and if it doesn’t, the organization should take a good look at itself. For more about brandful, read my other posts.

Canadian Brandful Workforce

Having spent part of my summer in Canada, I have to include one of my favorite Canadian brands in this week’s post: Tristan, a men’s and women’s apparel company. I first discovered Tristan in about 1998 when I was working in Times Square in New York City. They had a location on Avenue of the Americas and 49th Street, that I would frequent in between meetings. And then one day, it was gone. This summer, while I was in Toronto having dinner at The Pickle Barrel across from The Eaton Center, my waitress started talking about her second job as an assistant manager at Tristan. I asked her why they closed the New York store and she explained: “We realized much of our customer base, not only loved our line of clothes, but were dedicated to buying Canadian. This didn’t necessarily work in New York.” I thought about Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue and all the major clothing stores, and could understand the difficulties that may have hit Tristan.

But it wasn’t just the branding toward consumers that could have been tough. I wondered if it would have been possible for any non-Canadian employee -like an American – to be equally as passionate and proud. I could tell how passionate my waitress was about Tristan, and how proud she was that it was Canadian. She told us all about the new technology that Tristan was putting in its stores whereby customers could virtually try on different combinations of clothing to see how it would look instead of going in the dressing room. And she told us about the expansion of the company and her face lit up with excitement as she spoke. Could that have been the reason for the failure of the Tristan store in New York? That the employees were not as good brand ambassadors as those from Canada? Or was it that the competition of other international apparel brands was too fierce?

I guess I’ll never know for sure. But judging from the Tristan employee I met in Toronto, the company is alive and well – with a Canadian brandful workforce.

Companies Should Be Clear On What They Are Not

When was the last time you had an interview or heard about an interview in which the employer highlighted what they are NOT? The usual pitch is what they offer in terms of benefits, pay, perks and all the great enticing things you would expect when a company is trying to whoo you over. How would you react in an interview in which the recruiter or hiring manager told you specifically what you should NOT expect?  Would you be more inclined or less inclined to be interested in the position? Maybe it would depend on the details. At any rate, I believe it would help employers and employees make the right employment decision, whichever side of the table you are on.

Sometimes, companies forget that hiring the wrong folks can be more damaging than not hiring any folks at all.  One way to prevent this, especially when we are talking about the brand (internal and external), is to be completely open about who you are, as well as who you are not. I recently saw that Ikea communicates in their recruitment efforts: “leave your ego at the door.” They specify that they don’t have tolerance for anyone with a big ego, as teamwork and humility is part of their success. Think about your organization and what you can relay to potential candidates that would help you prevent hiring the wrong employees. Send me a note and let me know or post your comments here.

Don’t Tell Me A Story – Do It!

A colleague of mine who is a brand strategist, launched a book this week about story-doing – as opposed to story-telling. What’s the difference you may ask? Story-telling seems to be more about what a company wants to be, rather than what it actually is – which is what you get with story-doing. The company’s story gets defined by actions, not words. I like Ty Montague’s inner message which is about authenticity, which connects to my approach, The Brandful Workforce.  For a company to be good at story-doing, they would necessarily need to have their employees onboard as part of those who are actioning the story.

I agree with Ty when he says: Instead of building a business around a product or message, you have to think about building your business around people, and what they want to share with their friends. And I would define “people” as both consumers and employees. In many cases, employees are consumers and I would argue that some companies can aim to have all employees as consumers (provided it’s the right industry like retail or hospitality). When both employees and consumers are equally passionate about sharing information about a product or service with a friend – this action – repeated many times over – is quite powerful because it’s authentic.

Stop Employer Branding!

What’s the deal with employer branding anyway? Basically it attempts to define the organization as an employer for potential employees so they can decide if that’s the kind of place they want to work. But shouldn’t the employer brand be part of the overall brand of the organization? Not only should employees be looking for the right environment, they should be looking for the right consumer brand that they love.

According to those in marketing, a brand differentiate itself from others however I have rarely seen an employer brand that looks different from another. I agree with Mark Ritson when he points out in this opinion piece that employer brands all look the same and have similar values like “integrity,” “excellence” and “innovation.” He also points out that consumer branding efforts identify negative and positive associations so the organization can constantly evaluate whether the organization is delivering its brand promise. This kind of work is also rare in employer branding work. Is your experience in the workplace what we said it would be?

I believe that the type of employer branding work that’s being done today should stop. It should be integrated with the overall branding work of the organization and it could be a lot more effective for both employees and consumers.