How to convert employees into brand ambassadors
Nowadays, the truth is that when it comes to brand marketing and strategy, human validation matters most. Ads can pop up all day in the corner of your screen 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.
The rise in influencer marketing has taught us is that people are more likely to trust the validation of another person over a brand. Brands now appear pushy and inauthentic when engaging in self-promoting, so what really matters to consumers is someone they trust advocating that a product or service is worth buying. For example, 60% of YouTube subscribers said 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 influencer opinions are valued far beyond those of A-listers and are more convincing than traditional advertising.
Friend and employee hype
Have no fear, there is still something better than influencer endorsements. The increase in paid posts by social media stars come with 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 talking about your product or service straight away. It's 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 on her weekly call with her bestie, but what about the rest of your social circle? Most importantly, what about your team?
People who work at a startup are the most likely to talk about their workplace because it'll undoubtedly come up in conversation often. What you want is for your employees to talk passionately about the company and share this enthusiasm with their friends who could potentially convert into customers. This type of advocacy is only achieved when employees are invested in their workplace and are keen to be 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.
Give employees autonomy
Firstly, your employees should have a sense of autonomy over their work. If they know that they alone are the ones driving their job, this will provide that sense of achievement when tasks are completed and goals are met. With autonomy comes empowerment. If your company is giving off the vibe that the boss is a micro-manager and only cares about targets, then employees will quickly lose motivation and any desire to advocate for the company. If you're 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. This will do wonders for morale and show employees that real career progression can be achieved at your company. Ace this and staff may be more inclined to support you within and outside of the office.
Startups are famously collaborative with everyone typically pitching in and having some say in the way that the company is developing. Encourage this is extremely important as it lets employees know that they're fundamental in the growth of your company, and their work isn’t just being used for the greater good without their input on how. Pushing for more conversations about how to grow the business is one way to involve employees and make them feel more engaged and that their voices count - get some 'power hours' going, have monthly reviews of progress and changes, and perhaps allow them to get some equity in the company so they feel more invested (literally).
Allow role flexibility
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.
Create a development plan
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 laser focus on growing and developing their skill set. To keep an eye on their professional development, you should schedule regular appraisals with a set structure to measure their progress accurately. From an employee perspective, this will signal that their employer cares about their wider career prospects, which is the ultimate mark of a good boss. And what happens when you have a good boss? Worklife becomes a positive that employees will be more than happy to rave about.
Ultimately, the only foolproof way to turn employees into brand ambassadors is to increase engagement, encourage autonomy, prioritise their development, and instill a sense of ownership over the company. These elements create the perfect storm for employee advocacy which will see your startup into the public's good graces.