How to convert employees into brand ambassadors
Nowadays, the truth is that when it comes to brand marketing and brand strategy, human validation matters most. Ads can pop-up all day in the corner of your screen (or even smack-bang in the middle), but 63% of us ignore them altogether. If we’re being honest, most of us use ad-blocker software to make it even easier to bypass pop-ups and sponsored posts.
For a startup struggling to gain recognition and become a household name, this is not good news. Paying for online advertising arguably has lower returns compared to a few years ago. The new way to do things is via influencer marketing – paying for someone with a large social following to endorse your brand online and encourage their followers to buy your product or service. This is especially effective with millennials, as 40% of internet users aged 16-24 say they trust what people say online about brands more than official sources of information.
What the rise in influencer marketing teaches us is that people are more likely to trust the validation of another person over a brand. Brands now appear pushy and inauthentic, so what really matters is someone you trust advocating that something is worth buying. For example, 60% of YouTube subscribers say they would they would follow advice on what to buy from their favourite YouTube creator over a traditional celebrity – this stat alone is enough to show how much influencer opinions are valued.
There is still something better than influencer indorsements though. With the increase in paid posts by social media stars comes an increase in the ability to recognize when a post is not as authentic as it seems. The public is growing wise to brands paying their favourite stars to promote products. So, the best form of advertising now is via word-of-mouth of those you really do trust, otherwise known as validation via friends and family. It’s that simple.
Startups that need to be propelled out of obscurity as fast as possible will know the struggle of getting ordinary, everyday people to talk about your product or service straight away. It is slow-going. Give yourself a head-start by enticing the people nearest to you to talk loudly about how great your company is verbally and online. Your mum is probably already doing that at her weekly yoga class, but what about the rest of your social circle? What about your team?
The people working at a startup are the most likely to talk about the place that they work, because it will undoubtedly come up in conversation often. What you want is for your employees to talk passionately about the brand they work for and tell all their friends that they should convert into customers. Not because your employees get paid to bring in customers, simply because they are brand ambassadors of their own volition.
It isn’t easy to cultivate an environment that entices employees to become brand ambassadors, but it can be done, via a few easy tweaks to your culture.
Firstly, your employees should have a sense of autonomy over their work. If they are aware that they are the ones driving their job, then they will feel that sense of achievement when tasks are completed or goals are met. If your company is giving off the impression that the boss is micro-managing everything and only cares about targets, then they will quickly lose motivation. If you are the type of person who needs to have a fixed handle on things, then at least involve your employees in the conversation about their workload and the direction of their role.
Startups are famously collaborative and there is usually an element of everyone pitching in and having some say in the way that the company is being built. Ensuring that you encourage this is important to let employees know that they are fundamental in the growth of your company, and their work isn’t just being used for the greater good without their input on how. Incorporating things into your company that push for more conversations about how to grow the business is one way to involve employees and make them feel as if their voices count.
Allow your employees to work on projects that they feel passionate about. Instead of pushing them towards a particular position in the team and telling them to get on with the work you set, why not let things evolve more organically? If an employee has a creative idea, then think carefully about whether it would add value to the company and, if so, whether it would be appropriate to let them lead it.
The final way to increase employee engagement is by putting together an employee development plan. The best thing that you can offer those that work for you, is a driven focus on moving forwards and developing an employee’s portfolio. To keep an eye on their professional development you should schedule regular appraisals with a formal structure to be able to measure progress accurately. From an employee perspective, this will signal that their employer cares about their wider career prospects, which is the mark of a good boss. While this tactic might not get your employees to rave about your product or service, they will talk about your company with pride and (hopefully) no animosity, which is still going to be a positive review for you.
Ultimately, the only foolproof way to turn employees into brand ambassadors is to instill a sense of ownership over the company, so that they are just as invested in its success as you are. They will become brand ambassadors by default simply because they believe in the company and want it to do well.
Once you have a team of fully-functioning brand ambassadors, chances are you will want to continue to grow and hire more. Refer-a-friend incentive schemes are popular nowadays, because it saves hiring managers a lot of time and effort in sifting through CVs. Candidates that are vouched for by current employees are a great way to bring in people on a similar wave-length, but this is only likely to happen if your employees are fully engaged and happy in their role. No-one will refer their friends if they aren't having a great time at work, but if you have spent time in converting your employees into brand-ambassadors, then it will be easy - your employees will be telling everyone about their company and why it's a great place to work. Simple and easy hiring tactic, right? You're welcome.