Why employers need to build a brand advocacy program now
There's a fine line between stacking the deck and putting your best foot forward — but employers that rely on genuine employee attitudes will see the most success.
It doesn't matter if you're the mom and pop store on the corner or an international mega-conglomerate; no business can afford a bad brand and online presence. In today's always-online world, everyone has an opinion and several vehicles through which they can express it. Didn't respond quickly enough to a job seeker? You risk a negative online review about your recruitment practices. Let someone go? They're as likely to diss you online as not.
Most businesses have found it almost impossible to prevent online reviews and some have gone so far as to sue the platform that publishes them, but to no avail. So what's a business to do? A brand advocacy program can help dilute any negative comments you receive, putting your business back in a good light for job seekers, clients and colleagues.
"Peer reviews are invaluable in every industry," Amanda Shaker, director of PR and communications at Shaker Recruitment Marketing, told HR Dive in an email. "We rarely purchase something without reading someone else's experience with the product, and considering a new job is no different."
If anything, it's more critical, she added, as candidates want to understand as much as possible about life at that organization.
Before you start requiring your employees to boast about your company en masse, however, consider whether or not those posts will be considered genuine. There's a fine line between stacking the deck and putting your best foot forward, so HR Dive spoke with some experts to outline how a genuine brand advocacy program reaps rewards for business.
Planting the seeds
"Companies inspire brand advocacy in their workforce by consistently and authentically sharing their brand promise with employees," Harold Hardaway and Shannon Hernandez, both principal consultants at Cardigan Communications Group, told HR Dive via email. Employers must use a strong employer brand to attract employees who fit the culture, they said. That culture must be underscored with a strong internal brand and communications program that reinforces the values and celebrates the behaviors that lead to the fulfillment of the brand promise. They recommend onboarding programs, internal storytelling, and reward and recognition programs as great places to start.
New product releases or exciting company news are great places to start, Hernandez and Hardaway said: "Who doesn't love to be in the know? Bring your employees in on what's new and next for your organization." In addition to outlining the benefits of the new product or service, you can prep them with language about how to talk about it. This gives employees the chance to be advocates and you the chance to shape the narrative right from the beginning.
Taking the reins
HR Dive spoke with Liz Gelb-O'Connor, VP, global head employer brand & marketing at ADP, about building a brand advocacy program. The company was proactive in creating a space for employees to be brand ambassadors through a program called Life @ ADP and are watching the program grow. With a clear mission; fun and engaging challenges driving to desired outcomes; training, networking, and continued connection touch points; and a gamified approach, the company is aiming to inspire brand advocacy in the workforce.
"Participation is voluntary," she explained in an email, "and we've grown mostly organically through associates referring other associates to join the program. We've also invested resources (tech spend and people) to help manage, grow, and sustain Life @ADP. This is just one way in which ADP inspires brand advocacy in our workforce… and it's the one we're driving, so our responses focus mainly on this aspect."
The most influential and credible feedback on a company for job seekers comes from its employees. "When employees share their experiences with their employer," Shaker said, "it impacts a jobseekers perception of the organization and, therefore, their decision to pursue an opportunity."
Does it work?
"Yes, without question," Gelb-O'Connor said. Associate referrals for their Life @ADP advocates are up, and referrals are a more cost effective source of hire. "Keeping associates engaged — and retaining them — also has a direct impact to the bottom line," she added.
They see two main benefits at ADP. First, the program drives associate engagement, keeping staff up to date on what's happening company-wide and offering networking opportunities to meet others within the company for personal and business connections. ADP also offers training geared to help advocates build their personal and professional brands.
"Second," Gelb-O'Connor said, "our advocates are helping ADP to attract top talent. Advocates are asked to continually think about referring new talent to join ADP, and are asked to share content on their personal social media channels that highlight ADP as an employer of choice."
It's important to note that the goal of employee advocacy shouldn't be to offset any negative reviews, Shaker said. Its purpose is to provide a wide variety of perspectives and experiences, so candidates are as informed as possible.
Where to start
In addition to highlighting employee success stories on the company's career and social media pages, brand advocacy can get personal. ADP believes social media is an easy way to spread the good word. Associates can promote the company to their own connections who likely don't follow the company's social media pages and showcase the company's culture, awards and innovation.
"They can share authentic stories of their experiences, invite their networks to join a Talent Community and/or explore open roles, and more," Gelb-O'Connor said. They provide training to advocates around "social story starters" as well as examples of how to advocate online. Their platform also makes it easy to share content on social media with the click of a button.
But offline opportunities abound, too. ADP asks advocates to keep associate referrals top of mind wherever they are, at personal or professional events. "When an opportunity arises to talk about what it's like to work at ADP," she said, "Life @ADP advocates are well versed in our Employer Value Proposition."
"Brand advocacy isn't limited to a platform," Shaker said. "It's anytime and anywhere an employee speaks authentically about their experiences with their employer." Opportunities, she said, are really endless – from group activities, like a volunteer event or sales meeting to more personal milestones, like being recognized or promoted. Employers should actively encourage their employees to share, and that can come in a variety of ways, from a universal hashtag or Snapchat filters during an event.
"When employees understand the importance," she added, "they'll be more inclined to share."
Watch out for potential pitfalls
Hardaway and Hernandez warn that brand advocacy can take a turn for the worse when "the information provided to employees is 'spin', not accurate, or is counter to the customer feedback that your employees have provided." This could break an employee's trust, which directly impacts brand loyalty with your customers and potential customers.
At ADP they make sure to provide training for their advocates "prior to unleashing them on our behalf," Gelb-O'Connor said. "And, we plan to continue investing in sustaining the program — continuing to keep it fun and engaging for associates."
For most companies, a brand advocacy program is a low or no-cost way to spread the good word about your mission, your employees and your culture. When coming from an authentic voice, such work can influence customers and bring potential hires to your door, as well as encourage active conversations with staff — and that can lead to better engagement and retention.