Employee Influencers Are Key to Building Brand Buzz in 2021

For years, employees have used their knowledge and the backing of their brand to become thought leaders and ‘influencers’ on various social media platforms. Companies such as Starbucks, Macy’s, and GE have all taken notice of the positive benefits employee influencers drive when it comes to increasing brand awareness, building digital communities, and cultivating genuine brand champions. And it’s paying off.

By using employee influencer programs as a way to support and reward employees for positively portraying their organizations on social media, brands are winning a loyal following while simultaneously reaping the benefits of employees embodying greater pride in their work. With newer platforms such as TikTok coming into the fold, individuals have an even greater opportunity to rise to influencer status and create opportunities for themselves and the brands they work for.

As workers continue to work from home well into the new year and beyond, organizations will need to find new ways to keep their teams engaged and passionate about their work. This is where embracing personal brands rather than seeing them as a threat becomes an important tool to not only retain top talent, but harness that talent to help further the brand’s message and mission in a more effective way.

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With that in mind, here are three ways employee influencers will benefit brands in 2021:

Authenticity drives loyalty

The business landscape is more saturated than at any other time in history, which means capturing Share of Voice and building audiences is also harder than ever before — especially in this age of ‘fake news’ and distrust.
While organizations across industries have flocked to influencer marketing in droves over the last several years, shelling out massive sums to tap into personal brands or third parties, the uncertainty associated with third party beliefs and portrayals can have the potential to backfire, leaving organizations with thousands of wasted marketing dollars. Alternatively, investing time and energy in employee influencers ensures closer alignment with a brand’s mission and culture, and ultimately provides a greater return while extracting risk from the equation. Employee brand champions often create a sense of trust with audiences that can be called into question with the use of third-party influencers, like when Listerine partnered with influencer Scarlett London and received backlash for portraying “unrealistic expectations.”

Employee influencers are a powerful piece of the marketing mix for brands when leveraged correctly, butthe mismanagement of them can have negative consequences. We saw this first hand just last year when a Sherwin-Williams employee and artist created a TikTok channel that portrayed his love for paint-mixing and the Sherwin brand which amassed an astounding 1.5 million followers. Instead of embracing the employee’s audience and capitalizing on his loyal following, the brand fired him resulting in backlash from his viewers. Marketing and PR experts deemed Sherwin-Williams’ decision “hilariously stupid,” sparking conversation around the importance of supporting employees on social media for organic social media marketing.

Instead of firing the widely popular employee, the organization’s marketing department could have easily collaborated with him to produce a series of campaigns around his viral content. This is an important lesson for marketing teams. Employee social media influencers create dynamic opportunities to capture new and old audiences in an authentic way. Don’t let them go to waste.

Turn rewards into retention

Employee influencer programs are not only beneficial for building loyal external audiences, but they can go a long way towards the increased urgency surrounding employee retention as well. With 2020 resulting in a drastic shift to remote work, employees find themselves with unprecedented flexibility, freedom and overall opportunity to carve out the careers of their choosing. Because individuals can now work where they want, when they want, it is critical for brands to go out of their way to show employees their value, and to create a sense of unity among distributed teams.

To do this, savvy companies are leaning into their resources to reward employees for becoming brand champions on social media with employee influencer benefits that support their careers. Dell, for instance, is investing in its employees by offering social media certifications to anyone who becomes an official employee influencer. Offering personalized benefits that encourage success inside and outside of the workplace has a lasting result on retention while also creating a prosperous program.

In fact, Adobe attributes the success of their employee advocacy program exclusively to its focus on employee benefits. They’ve cited thought leadership opportunities, getting more visibility inside and outside the company, connecting with colleagues, and growing and strengthening professional networks as some of their perks most valued by employees. These types of benefits undoubtedly make an impact by reinforcing a sense of trust with employees.

As remote work continues to transform corporate environments, employee influencer programs will serve as a useful tool for uniting distributed teams.

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Bigger network = bottom-line benefits

Leveraging strong personal or employee brands within organizations can create significant bottom-line benefits. In fact, 79% of firms reported more online visibility after the implementation of a formal employee advocacy program, while 65% reported increased brand recognition.
In light of the stress that COVID-19 has placed on brands, engaging employee influencers is a cost-effective way to enhance brand conversations online without spending inflated budgets on third-party influencers who risk coming off as inauthentic to their audience.

After all, more people trust a normal employee (54%) than a CEO (47%), and even more (68%) trust a company technical expert.

By tapping into the personal brands of their employees, organizations can unleash an army of micro influencers, without having to worry about CPMs or other opaque metrics, while aiding in achieving various campaign goals around social volume, engagement, share of voice, and building a global community.

By tracking the success of these programs and staying aware of what is being posted, employee success teams can understand what is successful, then pivot and update the program as necessary.

Regardless of the industry, one thing is clear: gone are the days where employees are bound by stringent social media guidelines. Brands who are able to adapt to embracing employee influencers will cultivate genuine trust with a wider audience than they could have done with brand channels or third-party influencers.

As employees become rising stars as LinkedIn thought leaders or TikTok socialites, increased reach, transparency, and expertise that comes as a result will do a world of good for brand messaging and social amplification for any company in 2021.

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