EMPLOYEES AS BRAND AMBASSADORS
[This post is part 2 in a series of posts related to Social Media-Based Brand Ambassadors. This post focuses on the concept of using employees as social media-enabled brand ambassadors.]
Brand ambassadors are what current and potential customers see when they interact with an organization. Brand ambassadors provide customers and others with a real person with whom to interact when dealing with an organization. Instead of visualizing an organization as an abstract concept, a logo, or the image of an ivory tower, the brand ambassador humanizes the exchange or transaction. A social media-based employee brand ambassador program allows organizations to personalize the growing number of Web-based transactions into brand-enhancing experiences, resulting in improved reputation, increased sales, and other positive effects that strengthen the organization’s brand and provide benefits to customers, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders.
Ronald J. Alsop notes in The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation that “Employees’ behavior and comments outside business hours can carry significant weight. In many cases, people’s only experience with a company is through its workers. Word-of-mouth impressions gleaned from employees can be quite positive if they’re fiercely loyal to their companies – or deadly if they’re miserable in their jobs.”
Prior to the social media explosion brand ambassadors conducted their influencing activities during face-to-face social and business functions such as community fairs, chamber of commerce gatherings, Rotary meetings and other activities. An example of a successful “old school” brand ambassador program is the Oscar Mayer “Hotdogger” brand ambassador that has since 1936 travelled around the country in hot dog-shaped Wienermobiles.
While the Hotdogger brand ambassador served a purpose yesterday, and still today, social media has enabled brand ambassadors to use tools such as social networks, blogs, and other forms of social media to supplement traditional influencing activities. It is important to clarify, however, that a social media-based employee brand ambassador program does not replace but only enhances traditional brand ambassador activities. Social media merely provides brand ambassadors with an additional venue on which to conduct influencing activities. Today’s Web 2.0 environment requires that brand ambassador programs include both traditional and social media components.
Referring to today’s brand ambassadors, Inc. Magazine’s Markowitz says “They can be tweeters, bloggers, Facebookers – or they could just be the people you send to corporate events. More than your firm’s logo or an actor in your company’s commercial, your customers will come to know your ambassadors as true representatives for your business’s mission.”
According to Smarp blogger Roope Heinila (“Employees As Brand Ambassadors In Social Media”) “Social media has changed the impact that company employees can have on their employers brand image. While in the past only marketers, sales people and customer service have had controls over the brand image it has now become the responsibility of every employee with a presence in social media (at least to some extent).” Heinila further cites a study that claims that “61% of employees are proud of their employer and would be willing to share this information with others over social media.”
Evan Maier concurs on the Marketing Blog: FootPrints blog: “The key to successfully leveraging social media to boost a brand isn’t about targeted planning, million-dollar strategies, or figuring out some secret insiders’ trick; it’s about whoever has the loudest voice. In traditional media, that means ad buys. In social media, that means brand ambassadors regularly engaging your audience.”
So, do social media-enabled employee brand ambassadors differ from traditional brand ambassadors? The answer is “yes” and “no.” As noted above, social media is merely another venue for brand ambassadors to conduct their influencing activities. What this means is that brand ambassadors now use social media as an additional venue to conduct their influencing activities which includes strategy implementation, community development, and reputation monitoring.
· Strategy Implementation: Every organization should maintain a plan, whether formal or informal, that identifies management’s strategy for introducing and/or broadening the organization’s brand within its target market. In other words, brand awareness. In the big picture this may include activities such as advertising, event sponsorships, in-store announcements, etc. Social media-enabled employee brand ambassadors are responsible for converting the overall strategy into action through the use of social media platforms. Such implementation may include the creation of a blog. Other examples include the establishment of accounts on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. It is the social media-enabled employee brand ambassador’s responsibility to implement actions that are consistent with the organization’s overall brand strategy.
· Community Development: Organizations that understand how to use social media in a business setting know that its best use is in the development of “communities.” Wikipedia defines “community” as “A group of interacting people, living in some proximity (i.e., in space, time, or relationship). Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a household that shares common values and has social cohesion.”
In the case of social media-enabled employee brand ambassadors, creating a community means creating a group of formally or informally connected individuals that have an interest in an organization’s products or services. Such a community includes the collection of people that “friend” the organization’s Facebook page or that “follow” it on Twitter. It can also include those that register to receive news feeds from its blog or any other activity that keeps people “in the know” relative to the organization. It is the social media-enabled brand ambassador’s responsibility to engage these communities in activities that put a human face on the organization, thereby enhancing its brand value.
· Social Media Monitoring/Listening: One of the most important lessons of social media that every business must heed is to develop a social media monitoring or listening program. Due to the ubiquity of social media use, customers and non-customers may be making reference to the organization in one form or another. Without a social media monitoring program the organization is unaware of such activity.
Establishing a monitoring program can be as easy and inexpensive as utilizing Google Alerts or SocialMention.com. Both of these applications provide the ability to establish reports based upon key terms, such as the organization’s name, found on Web pages, blogs, social networks and other social media platforms. Larger and more complex organizations may opt for more robust and pricey options such as radian6 (www.radian6.com).
If good things are being said, it is always a good idea to have the brand ambassador recognize the compliment to demonstrate that the organization is listening and cares. If the information posted is less than stellar, the brand ambassador must inquire about the negative experience in an effort to correct the problem. At a minimum, even if there is no ability to repair the situation, the brand ambassador can offer an apology or at a minimum, acknowledge the situation.
In all instances, social media monitoring provides brand ambassadors with the ability to report the details to the appropriate individual or department within the organization in order for the organization to become aware of what works and what doesn’t work. The organization should consider all such instances as learning opportunities and a way to improve customer relations.
In the post-Occupy Wall Street era, consumers are skeptical of everyone. This is especially true of large organizations and financial services providers. Through honest, transparent, and consistent attention to the communities and their needs, social media-enabled employee brand ambassadors provide organizations with an effective tool to enhance value and/or repair reputational damage. They also act as proof positive for customers and potential customers seeking evidence of the organization’s brand promise.