How PayPal finds employee advocates to tell authentic stories

Story mining is labor-intensive, but the rewards can be enormous for workplace morale and promoting your brand’s vision. Here are essential tips from the team at PayPal.

Paypal comms lessons

If you want to humanize your brand, start with stories about your employees.

Your workforce is one of your most precious communications resources, whether it’s to help spread brand messages on social media channels or to source great stories about your company’s impact in the community.

However, connecting with these stakeholders requires long-term campaigns and close work with your internal communications colleagues.

Two communications leaders from PayPal shared how they turn employee stories into winning external and internal campaigns—and highlighted how internal and external communicators must work together.

At Ragan’s Writing and Content Creation Conference in New York this week, Ian Cohen, PayPal’s head of global content innovation and creation, and Lenore Feder, director of internal communications, spoke about how they are elevating staffers’ stories.

“Employees are one of the top brand advocates that we can have,” says Cohen.

Feder explains that PayPal turns to employee networks to source great stories. “We have a whole sort of network that we tap into as investigative journalists,” she says. “They find stories that are really compelling and out of the box.”

As just one example, Feder says, some PayPal employees in the San Jose, California, office formed a musical group, which the internal comms team shared companywide.

An especially fruitful collaboration occurs when external initiatives are combined with internal outreach.

That’s what happened when PayPal used a public campaign to work with social media influencers on gift guides as inspiration for an internal campaign. Working with small businesses is important for PayPal, Feder says.

PayPal asked employees to submit, via its Slack channel, names of small businesses doing great things in the community. Those recommendations, sometimes featuring side businesses run by employees, fueled external stories highlighting how PayPal works with community businesses.

Giving Tuesday

PayPal drew inspiration from staffers to highlight its expansion of the annual U.S. event “Giving Tuesday,” promising to extend donations all through December. To promote the campaign on social media, Cohen turned to employee stories, which could be packaged as short videos.

On PayPal’s channels, 60-second videos show how employees are living PayPal’s values and provide authenticity to that story of benevolence—a crucial element for Cohen.

“If we want to tell the world to give more, we have to show that we are doing it, too,” he says. The highlighting of workers’ altruism also boosts morale.

“How amazing is it that these employees are being featured externally?” he adds. “It builds such pride among our colleagues and in the company.”

Employees provide guidance

Working with employees to create brand stories also helps to keep your organization from looking opportunistic.

“People always want a human face to things,” Feder explains. “Employees are the human aspects of that. These are the faces. … It really humanizes and strengthens that connection.”

Cohen stresses that for PayPal it’s important to actively participate in cultural moments.

“We don’t want to just co-opt culture,” he says. “We want to be a part of it. That’s making sure that every day we live our vision and our values.”

Cohen cites the highlighting of military veterans within its organization: Vets were not only subjects of the campaign, but co-creators of the messaging strategy.

“You have to be organic in what you do,” advises Cohen. As he was planning the campaign, one employee said in an early call: “If these videos are going to be another ‘Thank you for your service’ video, we will end this call right now.”

It was this input that helped PayPal engage with the veterans and find a resonant message.

Running a news desk

Long a foundation of journalism, this staffing structure helps the team filter which stories might be shared widely on company channels or even become the basis for bigger campaigns.

Consider its regular profile series, “People of PayPal.”

“We have an internal editorial committee,” Feder says, “and almost like a newsroom, our teams are a gatekeeper for that.”

Those profiles are featured internally and on external channels, such as an Instagram account called PayPal Nation.

If some aren’t a fit for wider distribution, there’s another option. “We have Slack,” says Feder. “We are constantly looking at technologies to give employees a platform to share their stories.”

Real-time engagement

One of the most powerful tools for the PayPal team is broadcasting live.

“I’m the biggest fan of live,” says Cohen. “If you do something live, everyone gets the information at the same time. It’s a really great way to communicate.”

For the PayPal Expo, where PayPal employees share the project and new technology they have been working on, PayPal created a live broadcast based on the “College Gameday” broadcasts that ESPN produces to cover college football.

“We streamed live for eight hours during one day,” says Cohen. “The best part of live is unscripted moments, having an employee host a live broadcast and ask executives questions.” The interviews allowed executives to offer unscripted, engaging answers to educate viewers about the company and its objectives.

The live content should also be repackaged after the broadcast. For PayPal, the content was housed online so employees could access clips on demand, and it was broken into modules so you could easily find information on specific topics.

Were executives worried about being so open and unscripted for a live broadcast?  Feder says many were ready for the challenge. “I was surprised about how open people were,” she says. “Because it was positioned as an experiment, people were open.”

However, Cohen warns that live broadcasts require lots of preparation. “Anything live requires rehearsal,” he says.

That’s how PayPal does it. How are you sourcing new stories from your employees for internal and external campaigns?

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