How to transform employees into brand ambassadors

Authenticity and trust are crucial in today’s business landscape. Consumers favor testimonials over ads and marketing campaigns. Tap into your engaged staffers’ enthusiasm for your brand.

Consumers no longer trust the marketing content that brands release into the world.

Recent research found that only 55 percent of consumers considered a company’s marketing materials to be a trusted source of information when making a buying decision.

Fortunately, you can get your marketing message in front of the right person at the right time and in the right way.

How? Employee brand ambassadors. Employees are well positioned to act as the bridge between a company and potential customers.

Benefits of an employee brand ambassador program

Although company employees will have a perceived bias for their company’s product or service, employee brand ambassadors from outside the sales and marketing teams will come across as providing a more authentic point of view. Additionally, their willingness to endorse a product and personally vouch for an organization validates the brand.

When cultivating employee support and advocacy on behalf of your brand through a formal employee brand ambassador program, the extra training provided to brand ambassadors—including ensuring they are kept up to date on the latest content and product enhancements—can benefit established customers as well as prospective clients.

The same cues that employees watch for with prospects can help them provide exceptional service to existing customers, including providing new tools for software adoption, adding a module to address a customer’s new business focus, or even delivering a hands-on refresher session on your product’s functionality.

The more employees know about the resources available to them, the better they can create a personalized and curated experience. This personalization can, in turn, strengthen and increase the longevity of their customers’ brand relationship.

Launching your employee brand ambassador program

Although employee brand ambassadors can be a successful part of marketing, you must do some groundwork to ensure success. Start by conducting an engagement pulse check.

If your employees are unmotivated, a brand ambassador program is unlikely to take off. Given that, according to Gallup, only 32 percent of U.S. employees were deemed “engaged” in 2015 (a number that’s been flat since 2000), it’s likely that most companies’ uninspired workers won’t support a brand advocacy effort. Disengaged employees are not ideal brand ambassadors.

However, once you’ve identified a core group of engaged employees, a small pilot program with internal brand advocates would probably bring others onboard. Pinpoint the natural leaders, regardless of title, who consistently drive collaboration on their teams. Gather their input on what a compelling brand advocacy program would look like, and put their suggestions into action on a small scale.

For example, you could start with a weekly email highlighting a few key pieces of content and provide click-to-share links that can quickly populate a message on the social channel of the employee’s choice.

The easier you make it for employees to share content and engage with prospects, the likelier it is that they will participate.

Common pitfalls

You have an engaged employee base and an outstanding product, so the employee ambassador program is guaranteed to be a raging success, right? Well, that depends on its execution.

I worked with one leader whose point of view around employee advocacy was, “If they (employees) don’t want to share our content, then they shouldn’t work here.” If that’s your point of view regarding employee brand advocacy, you should take a step back.

Is there significant value in an entry-level customer support employee’s sharing your sales analyst report in his Facebook stream? Possibly, but it’s more likely that he’s annoying his friends with irrelevant content.

Instead of having an expectation that employees are sharing all your content across their channels, ask them to share the content that most resonates with them. Some may choose to share projects they worked on and are proud of; others might share job listings or the latest blog posts. Allow employees to take on only what feels like a natural fit.

Avoid the cookie-cutter approach

Although employee advocacy platforms have the benefit of making it quick and easy for employees to share corporate content, they may also result in a deluge of status update spam. There’s nothing authentic or compelling about a prospect seeing four of your employees posting the same canned message and link in lockstep across several social media platforms.

Even worse is a company leader whose “set it and forget it” approach means she’s shared the identical generic pitch for the annual customer conference every day for a month on her social channels.

There’s a fine line between automation helping and hurting your brand. Whenever possible, make it easy for employees to customize their social media messaging when sharing content, so you don’t fall into that trap.

Last, but not least, make sure there’s something in it for the participating employees—above and beyond corporate profits. Reward the most active champions of your brand with a symbolic award or with something more enticing. Use a leaderboard to make each employee’s contribution transparent and to encourage friendly competition.

In these small ways, you can integrate brand ambassadorship into the company culture and increase its effectiveness.

Currently vice president, head of content for tech communications agency Highwire PR, Erika Heald has spent the past 15+ years helping technology startups and Fortune 500 organizations define content processes to drive lead generation and customer loyalty by leveraging compelling, shareable, targeted content. A version of this article originally appeared on the Meltwater blog.

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