Employee branding is one of the most misunderstood and poorly executed initiatives across the vast majority of companies that try it.
At the start everyone is excited and thinks it’s going to be a fantastic new source of business and opportunities for the company. Meetings are had, emails are exchanged, everyone is ready to go.
Want to know what happens when everything is finished?
Everyone associated with the project thinks it’s a huge pain, no one wants to spearhead it anymore, and the results are completely underwhelming.
The thing is it really doesn’t have to be like this!
Employee branding can work wonders for any business (yes any) that does it the right way. Unfortunately it seems like no one really knows what the right way is.
That’s why we’re going to tag in and help.
We’ve been helping companies with their employee branding strategies for years now, and it has taught us a lot. The biggest thing is that there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about the process, and that’s at the core of why most businesses fail when they try it.
What is employee branding?
Employee branding is the process of utilizing your employees as a potential way to grow your company brand online. While this might sound a little one-way in nature, when done right it can actually benefit both parties significantly.
Not too long ago people had the epiphany that the potential reach of their employees brands could be rather significant, and in some cases eclipse their own. This led to tons of companies trying to find any way possible that would allow them to use their employees brands for profit.
As you might expect, these attempts didn’t work out so well for long list of reasons (we’ll get into them in a moment). As a reaction to this many businesses abandoned their employee branding initiatives under the misguided assumption that they’re ineffective.
What does this mean?
Most of what you think you know about employee branding is wrong. It also means that there’s a big opportunity out there for the businesses who get it right.
How most companies do it (the wrong way)
There are a number of reasons why so many companies flounder when they try employee branding, but most of it stems from a misguided focus on social media as the main promotional channel. We’re not totally sure why this started, because it rarely ever works for situations like this. Our sneaking suspicion is that it’s just because everyone loves to talk about how impactful social media can be, and they figured it would work for this as well.
Sure it has its benefits, but when it comes to employee branding it should never be the starting point. If you make it the primary focus your campaign will flounder, or never make it off the ground in the first place.
Why is this? What’s look at the main reasons.
Most employees don’t have an audience
This might seem rather obvious, but it’s often overlooked. Due to the rate of engagement social media has compared to email or organic search, you need to have a sizable audience in order to move the needle.
Unfortunately, most of your employees don’t.
This kind of employee branding is so reliant on the size of each audience that this alone will often sabotage any efforts you make going forward. However, even if your employees do have some good reach there’s another thing you need to worry about…
The audience isn’t your target market
Another common mistake is the pursuit of audience and reach above all else. So many of these kickoff meetings start with everyone looking at the combined social following of all employees and getting extremely excited, without thinking about who makes up this audience.
Just take a second and think about this. Most of your employees aren’t social media influencers or thought leaders who have thousands of people eager to hear their opinion on topics in your industry.
The bulk of the this “audience” everyone is getting excited about are just friends and family. They follow your employees because they want to stay connected, not because they want to see your stuff.
This means that even if your employee branding campaign does have a large audience to go after, your message won’t be received very well (no matter how subtle it is).
Your employees don’t want to promote your business
This is probably the biggest roadblock you’ll face when trying to do things this way. Funny enough, this concept rarely enters the minds of business owners or marketing managers.
There are definitely some companies out there where most of the employees would like nothing more than the opportunity to promote the business they work for. However, that’s pretty darn uncommon.
Realistically, you can’t rely on this level of dedication to carry any employer branding strategies you try to implement. Because of this, most of your employees will either drag their heels or flat out refuse.
This simple fact is why all successful employee branding efforts provide something of value to both parties. The employee get something, and the business gets access to another growth channel. If you’re not providing something of value to the staff who participate in your program, you’ll never get out of first gear.
It’s hard to implement logistically
This is often underestimated and made even worse when everyone participating is lukewarm on the idea. Even if all employees are chomping at the bit to help your business grow, there are a lot of moving parts you need to manage.
The best way to avoid this hassle is to stay as organized as possible and value your time. If you require more one-on-one time with each employee to get the campaign started make sure you start with the employees who will have the biggest impact. If it’s more of a general program, make sure you can scale it in a time efficient manner and measure success quickly.
The right way
As we mentioned before, two of the biggest reasons why employee branding campaigns fail are a misguided focus on social media and not providing anything of value to the participants in return.
So how do you overcome this?
This requires a shift of focus and mindset more than anything else. As a matter of fact, once you understand what to do it can be rather simple to implement and scale.
The right channel
Instead of only considering social media as the employee branding channel you want to use, zoom out a little bit. If we know that the majority of an employee’s audience is made of friends and family you want to go where your target market is.
It might surprise some people, but search engines are the answer here. On average employees get searched 10 times more than the company itself!
Yup, you read that right.
Not only that, leads or referrals that come from your employees brands convert seven times better than leads through your normal channels. It’s not about reach, audience, or large number of impressions. It’s about quality over quantity.
What’s even more exciting is that there’s typically a ton of upside and room to grow for each employee who participates. Not only can you build up and optimize a series of great websites and social media profiles so they rank well in search engines, the trends are in your favor as well.
More and more consumers are going to search engines like Google to look up the names of individuals they might want to do business with. This number increases significantly every year, so it’s time you take it seriously.
How it helps them
This shift of focus also solves your one-sided employee branding campaign problem. The buy-in will be much higher for this reason alone.
This is because way more employees want to have a nice professional online presence, than badger their friends and family with your company message. It’s a pretty obvious choice when you compare them side by side.
A lot of your best employees are likely professionally driven but simply haven’t had the time to take care of their online presence. If you can step in and give them a hand they’ll be grateful, and you’ll gain more opportunities as well.
When an employee who participates moves on to work somewhere else, the great personal brand that you built for them will be something they can use throughout their career. Do right by them and they will do right by you.
What does the actual strategy look like?
There are many factors you should focus on when trying to implement this employee branding strategy in particular. Because of this, we’ll highlight the most impactful ones so you can see some results quickly.
Start with the right people
The first step before you get started with employee branding is to identify the right staff to start with. You don’t want to start by spending a ton of time developing the online presence for an employee isn’t searched as often.
Ideally you want to roll this out for any employees that can have an influence in your ability to drive business, either as a direct part of their role or due to them being the targets of a search online. For example, account reps in all industries are commonly looked up by potential or current clients.
Even though they were likely not involved with the process of bringing on the new business directly, the customer wants to know who they are working with. Having them find a fantastic online presence that positions the rep as an expert will not only keep the client happy, but make the overall campaign go a lot smoother.
Some other obvious targets are leadership roles. CEOs and other members of the C-suite are looked up by potential customers quite often. The same thing goes for anyone in sales.
We recommend starting there and then working through your business to prioritize other good opportunities to implement some employee branding. We can’t give you an exact formula on who are the “right” employees to go with (because every business is different) but using the information above will get you headed in the right direction.
Get each of your employees set up with their own personal website with a domain name that matches their full name. This will be the cornerstone of the presence you build for their employee branding campaign, so don’t shortcut this.
A domain will typically cost you only ten dollars to register and you can get a WordPress theme from basically anywhere to get it up and running without too much effort. If an employee wants to be a bit more involved when picking their design and layout let them run with it!
Remember, the better these look the better chance your business has of converting leads from people who find your employees online. If you have the choice between doing things the right way and have every site look fantastic or rushing it for the sake of saving a week or two, you know which one we advocate.
On this website there are a few features that we highly recommend you have:
An in-depth bio page that showcases the strength and backstory of the employee is an absolute must for a couple reasons. A well-optimized page like this will help the overall website show up when someone searches for their name online. If the site doesn’t show up then the effectiveness of your employee branding will be greatly diminished.
It’s also a great page to have on the site because of the value it offers to the visitor. Anyone looking up your staff wants to learn more about them and be reassured or encouraged that doing business with them (and the company they work for) is the right call. By having a page that directly provides the information that they’re looking for right on the homepage, any potential business prospect will be able to move on to converting very quickly.
It’s also great to have a blog section where your employee ideally contributes some content that highlights their thoughts on the industry or their subset of it. This helps bring more depth to their website (helping it rank better in search engines) but can also position them as an expert in their field.
Well optimized social profiles
Even though we bashed the blind dedication to social media as the primary channel for an employee branding strategy, there are definitely some uses for it. The way we advocate is geared toward improving the online presence of the employee when someone searches them, as opposed to pushing your message to their followers.
To start, you want to make sure your employee has the proper social media accounts. Some general places to start are LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. After that we recommend you look into some industry specific profiles such as StockTwits (if you’re in finance) to have a targeted approach.
Once these accounts are created you can jump into making things well-optimized and presentable. Make sure they use their full name (what they go by professionally) and include some information about what they do in the bio of each profile. A great profile picture will go a long way too!
The last step you need to take with these is to have each profile link to the employee’s personal website that you created earlier. If you want to do employee branding properly you need to be sure their entire online presence is connected. This step will tie together all of their web properties for user and search engine benefits.
What to do next
Now that you have the basics on how to get started with employee branding it’s time for you to get started.
If you’ve read all this and you’re thinking that it might be a little time-consuming to implement, you’re definitely correct. Doing this the right way takes time, and it’s not a process you can shortcut.
If you’re in a position where you want to roll out an employee branding campaign across your company but don’t have the resources to do it yourself, reach out and schedule a call with a Reputation Advisor.
Our employee branding services take the combination of our experience implementing this for other companies with our in-house resources we have for campaigns like this.