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Are Employees the Best Influencers for Your Brand?

The Influencers 358 Add to collection

Rahul Titus, head of influence and Marshall Katheder, content strategist at Ogilvy UK note the trend for employees broadcasting their working lives on social media - and suggest how employers should respond

Are Employees the Best Influencers for Your Brand?
Since the lockdown, many of us have been working from home, and so the degree to which we can compartmentalise our day-to-day lives has massively shrunk; as we commute to our sofas in our dressing gowns, the division between work and life dissolves. 
 
Of course, the distinction between these two worlds had already been eroding, even before Covid-19, largely because so many of us broadcast so much of our lives on social media, and so our followers are privy to a steady stream of everything we do, including work. 
 
Yet not long ago, most companies actively discouraged employees from sharing anything about work on social media. Or from accessing it at all. 
 
About ten years ago now, more than half of US organisations blocked employees from using channels such as Facebook and Twitter. (That same year, in 2009, a study from the University of Melbourne found that employees with access to such sites were 9% more productive than those without. But we digress.) 
 
How times have changed. 
 
Today, rather than discouraging social media at work, employers are breathlessly nudging their employees to become TikTok influencers. 
 
Here’s why. 
 

An authentic window into day-to-day life 

 
People trust people more than businesses. 
 
Brands know this, which is why so many hire agencies to craft that elusive ‘human voice.’ (This, regrettably, sounds more like a request from diabolical extraterrestrials than empathic marketers.) 
 
Historically, however, brands typically relied on creating a cartoonish caricature of their founder – or a downright cartoon mascot – to lend their company a face, as is the case with KFC and McDonalds, respectively. 
 
Today, in contrast, the brands hoping to feel ‘human’ are better off passing the mic to their employees. 
 
Case in point: Ricky Federici, who works for Wendy’s, an American fast food joint, has amassed more than 70,000 followers on TikTok with his ‘baconator’ tutorial videos, which instruct on the elaborate assembly of patty-laden confections. 
 
Retailers everywhere have caught on to this phenomenon: whether they ask them to or not, their employees are likely to post content that showcases their job duties. And these slapdash videos are making a bigger splash than whatever colossal programmatic campaign the brand had previously laid its hopes on.
 
Baristas at Starbucks, for example – under the banner #starbucksbarista – provide entertaining snapshots of their working lives. New recipes, invented by staff, garner many millions of likes. The so-called #TikTokdrink – made with three scoops of strawberries, three scoops of blackberries, and blended with ice or lemonade – wasn’t offered on the menu. Yet the video explaining how to make one has more than 50 million views. 
 
And so people kept asking for it. 
 
Social media users have an apparently ravenous appetite for this kind of content. And this trend is not limited to retailers – though that arguably is where it began in force. Beekeepers, landscapers and Google interns now attract millions of views with videos that provide an authentic and entertaining window into their professional lives. 
 
These videos are most popular on TikTok, the platform that itself skyrocketed in popularity because of its perceived authenticity. Launched in 2016, this channel now engages the eyeballs of more than 800 million users. When compared to the immaculately staged photos most of us see strolling through our Instagram feeds, the content that lives here does feel real. 
 
And feeling real is why influencer-advocates have so much potential. 
 
Thanks to websites such as Glassdoor, which receives 64 million monthly visits, employees now enjoy new power to hold their employers to account. Anyone can anonymously voice grievances – or sing praises. So there was already a new transparency into the working lives of most companies. 
 
And this dynamic, thanks to TikTok, has since been magnified. 
 
Employers of all sorts need to be prepared for the lives of their employees to be broadcast. (Whether this is seen as a blessing or a curse says a lot about the company in question.) 
 
This trend is already creeping into what were once called ‘office jobs’ where such shifts usually commence nowadays: Silicon Valley. Young employees at Microsoft and Facebook began posting videos on YouTube this summer that show a ‘day in the life.’ Without any brand sponsorship, both have mustered hundreds of thousands of views. 
 

Anatomy of employee-influencer advocacy 

 
Early this year, at the dawn of the pandemic, many companies had to relay tough messages. The savviest ones identified employees as the best conduit for these communications. 
 
But, by and large, brands’ framework for empowering their employees to be their advocates remains inchoate. Because while the idea of employee advocacy isn’t new, it has been recently reshaped by influencers – the answer to our appetite for authenticity on social media.
 
Employees are effective influencers because they are not spokespeople. Your employees are the real deal, and so the content they produce has the potential to resonate powerfully – precisely because their posts are not mere endorsements paid for in cash. 
 
This is why brands that hold the reins too tightly risk neutering the organic magic that makes this content work in the first place. But by identifying the right cheerleaders, employers can establish trust with these influencer-ambassadors and allow them to develop impactful content with stunningly wide reach. 
 
To get started encouraging employees’ development as influencer-advocates, brands need to communicate clearly what kind of content they hope to see. But this should be a true dialogue with a collaborative spirit. Fortunately, there are already purpose-built digital destinations for these conversations to happen, such as Workplace (from Facebook), where you can create, share and comment internally. 
 

Before you begin, here are 6 things to consider: 
 
 
1. Think about the value exchange. What do employees get for doing this well? Make sure you have a fair protocol to reward positive advocates of your company. 
 
 
2. Make it social. Make this kind of content easy for your employees to share. Dedicated hashtags and internal social media pages – where you can collaborate and share guidelines – are a good start. 
 
 
3. Identify your cheerleaders – carefully. The best people to engage are those who enjoy their work, perform well and otherwise exemplify the brand. Select people whose judgement you can reliably trust. (And an inbuilt following doesn’t hurt.) 
 
 
4. Define what ‘good’ looks like. It’s essential to present employees with a clear definition of success. This could be anything – from more positive social online conversations to higher rates of engagement. Whatever the target is, make sure your influencer-advocates know what they’re aiming for. 
 
 
5. Remember that employee-influence is a long-term game. As much as you think about the next month, or the next quarter, you should really plan for the shape your influencer-advocacy will take in the next few years. Investing in your employees is always a long-term proposition. 
 
Individuals take time to develop, but the rewards are worth reaping. 
 
 
6. Authenticity is key. Don’t over-engineer your programme. Your employees should have the freedom to create and express themselves genuinely. This is not your brand marketing campaign. Granted, approaching this all laissez-faire demands some bravery. 
 
But it’s worth it. 
 
When these projects succeed, they do so by providing an entirely original window into the workings – and character – of your brand. But this vantage point will only prove flattering if the content feels real and your employees really are happy.

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Ogilvy UK, Fri, 12 Mar 2021 15:56:48 GMT