Brand management is a key concept that can significantly contribute to a company's success. One integral part of an effective plan is identifying and leveraging brand advocates, or ambassadors, who are passionate about a company's product or services. These consumers are familiar with the product, have used it, and actively recommend the company to friends and colleagues. Whereas a company markets to existing customers to sell more products, brand ambassadors attempt to relay their passion for the brand to new buyers.
Although branding is largely aimed at external audiences, it also has important internal implications. Employees have always been some of the most influential brand ambassadors, and now this group has truly stepped into the light thanks to the proliferation of social media. Social media enables a company to capitalize on an existing asset -- employees -- and make them active advocates who promote and demonstrate the key elements of the brand promise.
Employees now use social media outlets such as Twitter, blogs, and Facebook to continuously update their professional and personal networks on what is going on in their daily lives. Why not use their powerful voices to become agents of the brand? The thinking goes that if a company employs intelligent, happy, and satisfied people, then that adds to an overall competent workforce and positive reflection of the corporate brand.
To receive maximum benefit from these ambassadors, and ensure that employees showcase why they are your company's "biggest fans," it is important to maintain a balance between freedom of expression and an expectation of professionalism. Below are five tips on how companies can bring employee voices together to create a powerful, organic brand ambassador program.
1. Develop a social media policy
I would never suggest that employees be forced to blog, tweet, or chat about the company. The posts would appear both insincere and forced, and may lead to disgruntled employees.
Instead, employers should develop a social media policy that outlines corporate guidelines and principles of communicating in the online world. By providing structure instead of a steadfast direction on what to say, you'll give your employees the ability to speak with authenticity and a feeling of comfort when it comes to engaging online.
2. Offer training
The social media universe can be incredibly daunting to those who aren't familiar. For this reason, providing training for employees unsure of how to participate is an important part of developing effective ambassadors.
In order for employees to start a positive conversation that revolves around your brand, they first must know how to start the dialogue. One way to do this is to offer webinars or group trainings that can teach employees which social media tools are the most effective for their communication goals, and the appropriate way to communicate with their target audience. Examples can also be provided by employees who have appropriately participated in online discussions of the company or its products.
3. Provide employees with a centralized site
Giving employees an area where they can communicate both internally and externally easily opens doors of communication. Employees can engage by building off their colleague's participation and create a unified front. It also gives the company a single portal to communicate major initiatives and events, providing employees with the information to make accurate posts to social media sites.
Further, such a portal can provide a company with valuable insight into what employees think and feel about the brand and what keywords they use in discussions about the company, its products, and services. A centralized site can also be used to survey employees about their online habits and most-used channels to make dynamic changes and recommendations.
4. Lead by example
It's easier to reinforce a culture of openness and demonstrate appropriate engagement if management actively participates. Encourage high-level employees to set the example and provide them with information about cutting-edge tools and new trends so they can be passed down throughout the organization. With management involved, an organic internal conversation can begin, providing additional guidance and direction for employees who want to join the online discussion.
5. Reward influencers
While not all social media engagement needs to be insightful, industry-driven thought leadership, it is important to reward those who build influence. Reward them by providing them with what they want: valuable, exciting information about what is going on in the company.
Ask your employees for their insight into services, projects, or products. Show them you are listening, and that you are pleased and impressed by what they are saying. Some of your most influential ambassadors should have the opportunity to serve on a company task force or be recognized in internal communication materials, which can encourage others to join the discussion, adding more voices to the company's overall desired outcome.
Striking the perfect balance between strategic direction and organic thought from employees is crucial. Company ambassadors are there to help connect a brand with its audience and carry the conversation, not constantly push corporate-driven messaging. Additionally, brand ambassadors can listen and learn from ongoing conversations and then engage in them, forming bidirectional interactions. The result is a group of brand representatives who appear more like trusted friends, and less like corporate mouthpieces.
Steve McAbee is the president and founder of Wunderkind Public Relations.
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