The number of companies that use their employees as brand advocates or brand ambassadors is on the rise, and it makes good business sense.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer and Nielsen report respectively, everyday employees are twice as trusted as executives, and consumers are 77% more likely to buy a product when they hear about it from someone they trust.
Employees serve as the engine behind this movement, with content and marketing serving as the fuel to keep it going. Marketing departments are teaching their employees how to share a consistent brand story, how to leverage social media, and are giving employees the opportunity to represent the company.
It’s the perfect system, and one where everyone wins: Employees are building their brand and helping to move the company they love forward; they feel a greater sense of pride for their company as they read and share content. Companies are getting connected to potential customers. Also, consumers are getting insider information, in a good way, from a human source they trust. All is well in the world—mostly.
Having worked as an employee brand ambassador and later on for an employee brand ambassador program for Intel, I’ve realized that there is still a missing piece in this quest to build employee advocacy programs: actually advocating for the employee.
The first customer isn’t external, they are internal. So it's imperative to help them become a brand themselves, or a "brand inside a brand" as I like to call it, so they can have more impact for the company and for themselves. In fact, it’s the only way to maintain an employee ambassador program.
Helping your employee build their personal brand is one of the greatest investments you can make, and the greatest reward you can provide to an advocate. When I use the word "brand," I’m referring to being intentional about how one is known. Just saying that your employee is building their brand because they are sharing company content internally and externally doesn't fit with the definition of building a brand.
So here are four steps you can take to help your employee ambassadors become what I refer to as a "brand inside a brand:"
Get to know their values, their strengths, and their aspirations. Get to know their environment too. We share a lot about the company’s brand, but you have to take a moment to understand how the employees’ work fits into the overall company picture. The better you understand them and their environment, the easier it is help them be a better advocate for you.
Marketing author and speaker Seth Godin talks a lot about the "connection economy" and the need for people to be connected. This is true for your advocates too. Teach them how to make and keep connections, with individuals both in and outside of the company. With external connections you could help cultivate a future customer while helping your advocates build more fulfilling lives. And internal connections can teach advocates how to connect and stay connected with fellow advocates, allowing them to break down silos and solve problems that could lead to big promotions.
This is tied to getting to know your advocates. Look for opportunities to make their involvement about more than just sharing content. Align their talents, skills, and passions to create unique projects that allow them to showcase what they already know and learn skills that will make them better advocates.
For example, at Intel, employee advocates were used to successfully launch tablets through a "Tablet Smart Squad." Advocates with technical knowledge were able to share what they knew while learning how to amplify their voice on social media. The cool thing is that you could also have been someone who knew how to share a message, and learned the technical aspects of the product so you could participate as well.
This is the one aspect most programs are already familiar with. It includes educating your advocates on using social media, teaching them the skills to be a good storyteller or presenter and helping them to position themselves as thought leaders by using tools like Meddle.it to comment and amplify the content they are sharing with their followers.
Helping your employees build their own brand only makes them a stronger brand advocate for your company, and makes it clear what's in it for them when it comes to employee advocacy and brand ambassador programs. You now have the tools to build your employees into brands, so what’s getting in your way?
—Mike Ambassador Bruny believes that we are all Ambassadors (and stand for something). He helps companies build more employee-centric employee ambassador programs over at BrandInsideaBrand.com. Tweet with him at @AmbassadorBruny.
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.