Internal Advocacy: Activating Your Employees to Extend Your Brand
We’ve all seen them: Facebook posts written by someone at work, counting down the hours till the weekend and complaining about their boss/colleague/job/coffee facilities.
It isn’t a great advert for the company, is it? It’s so easy for employees to spread negativity about their workplace, to share their lack of enthusiasm and to indirectly tell friends not to buy their company’s products.
Contrast this with companies like Zappos, Google, Apple or any number of businesses with highly engaged employees. It’s not just about positivity: in one of its studies, Gallup showed that companies with high employee engagement levels earn 3.9 times as much per share as their industry peers or competitors.
Remember that employees aren’t just people who work for a company – they are advocates and ambassadors whose enthusiasm for the brand can generate vitally important positive word of mouth. The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, a trust and credibility survey that collects data from more than 30,000 people, found that regular rank-and-file company employees have more credibility than executives.
By turning employees into trusted brand ambassadors, companies bring their strongest asset and their most vocal internal advocates in direct contact with their customer base. But most companies do not encourage their employees to serve as ambassadors.
So how can a business activate its employees and convert them into advocates?
Be clear what your brand stands for
As a company grows, its direction will change, but its purpose – its reason for existing – should always remain the same. The most successful brands can state their purpose in one short phrase: a mission statement.
Ethical shoe company TOMS was founded on a simple principle: for every pair of shoes or eyewear purchased, the company would donate one pair to disadvantaged children around the globe: the One-For-One mission statement. Founder Blake Mycoskie says that his driving force was his desire “to eliminate unnecessary human suffering through the distribution of new shoes.”
TOMS’ mission statement isn’t just about marketing: It makes the company’s employees feel like they are a part of something bigger and that their work is contributing to a higher purpose.
It’s important to not only build a culture around purpose but ensure you are hiring talent that is the right fit. You also have to communicate your values internally.
Make sure your internal communications are effective
A firm’s internal communications manager holds a pivotal role in connecting a company’s employees with the brand as a whole, and with its mission. He/she is responsible for communicating up and down the levels of management, and ensuring everyone feels joined to the brand’s philosophy.
Depending on the size of the company, internal intranet systems, internal newsletters, awards ceremonies, regular all-employee briefings and events and training sessions can all contribute to getting everyone on the same page.
The end goal, of course, is to make everyone on staff feel a part of something bigger.
Build internal networks
The larger the company, the more likely it is that it will start to fall into a “silo mentality”. Siloing – when departments develop a culture of their own, information flow is restricted and projects are duplicated because communication is lacking – adds inefficiency and can cause tension between departments.
Inter-departmental networks can help to break down barriers between areas. These could be knowledge-sharing networks, best-practice working groups, training networks or innovation networks. Secondments between teams can also help staff get a broader knowledge of the organization, as can training schemes that encourage job-shadowing and placements in a variety of areas.
On a practical level, managers are often responsible for agreeing to many of these types of networks – and manager support is necessary for them to succeed. This is where senior management and internal communications are vital.
Hire the right people
If you have a strong sense of purpose as a brand, you will know the key characteristics you need to look for in an employee beyond his/her skills and experience. You are not just looking for staff who can perform: You need to find people who share in your company’s vision.
Threadless, an online community of artists and an e-commerce site, looks first and foremost for passion when hiring. Every single Threadless employee participates in the community, responds to questions and even submits designs. So without that passion and sense of purpose, employees’ skills would be meaningless. The company’s internal community is so strong that it helps drive the brand forward.
Empower your employees to speak for you
When you are confident you have put together a team who share your values and passion, you can feel assured that they are able to speak on your brand’s behalf without a script or press release. After all, is a brand’s message more convincing when it comes from your rank-and-file employees or your PR team?
This is a belief held very strongly at Zappos: Zappos gives its employees full freedom to talk on behalf of the brand in front of customers and vendors. Zappos employees even speak at industry events to talk about the things they are most proud of.
Your employees will need the information and tools for sharing, so provide them with all the materials, facts, visuals and technology they need to talk to the wider world about what your brand does so well.
Brand advocacy and brand passion stem from a clear sense of purpose behind your brand. From that base, you can build a team of people who share your values and your vision.
To make sure you continue to move forward as your brand grows, you need clear communications and strong internal networks, with managers who will push for the best outcome for the organization as a whole. Finally, you must empower your team – and your biggest customer advocates – by providing them with the tools to use their voice to speak on behalf of your brand.