Employees as Influencers: Crossing Brand Marketing and Employee Identity

In what has become a popular marketing approach, companies encourage their employees to become influencers and promote their brands through their private social media. What to avoid and how to do it right

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

Influencers have long been a popular marketing platform to share companies’ voices on social media. Yet, employee influencers have become a trickier marketing domain in recent years. While professional influencers are external to companies, getting paid to promote brands to their followers, employees-turned influencers are very different.

Like Intel, Mastercard, Starbucks, Reebok, Vodafone, Best Buy, Ford, Walmart, and more, many companies encourage their employees to become influencers and post content about their workplace. Companies encourage their employees to post independent content on social media, such as GameStop, Dunkin’, and Sephora. Other companies, like Hewlett Packard Enterprise, use employee advocacy platforms to promote specific content to teams and optimize the message. Some systems generate the content automatically; some organize and suggest topics and images. Some companies offer prizes and incentives to employees who gain traffic and likes in internal competitions. However, regardless of the differences in carrying out the task, the main practice is the same: employees are encouraged to share stories about their daily work, applaud their workplace, support recruiting, and promote their brand.

Employees are considered a more trustworthy sender. Their voice is perceived as genuine based on their experience, knowledge, and connections, and it is not immediately identified with corporate marketing. Research shows that buyers trust employees more than companies’ executives, spokespeople, or marketing teams in their purchase decisions. Cisco's research shows that employee posts on social media can generate eight times more engagement than those shared by the official brand channel. According to LinkedIn, employee-shared content is regarded three times more authentic and generates more click-through than that shared by the corporate itself.

Influencers are an effective marketing channel because they offer vast organic marketing space to amplify brands and their visibility at a relatively low cost. This kind of marketing overcomes ad blockers, establishes trust, and reinforces brand integrity. Employees as brand advocates share content that helps build brand loyalty, drive website traffic, ignite lead generation, hone business development, and amplify companies’ messaging.

It is also a valuable internal human resource and marketing practice to emotionally connect employees to their workplace. Hence, while employees create content about the company, they also develop more identification with the brand and deepen their relationship. They become involved in the process and gain more responsibility.

Employee influencers challenge the boundaries between employees’ work and their independence on social media. On the one hand, it is a trusted process where companies depend on their employees to deliver positive, constructive, and effective marketing. On the other hand, employees lend their cultural and social identity to their workplace marketing efforts. Simply put, companies take advantage of their employees’ knowledge, behavior, skills, networks, and relationships, as well as their identity, as an additional marketing resource for free.

The employees’ identity endows the brand with more confidence and authority, thus supporting its reputation, influence, and marketing position. Companies are essentially using their employees’ intangible valuables and labor for free and taking advantage of their identity.

In an era when a personal brand is a must for employees to find a career, brand engagement takes over employees’ private space, leaving little room for their identity and professional growth. Becoming an influencer means becoming a curator of unique content, continually editing, shaping, and reframing everyday life moments. When companies encourage their employees to become such curators, they add more stress and expectations on their employees’ identity and relationship with their workplace. Without clear guidance between the digital and private spheres, employees could find themselves being treated as a marketing commodity.

Companies can create effective marketing and strengthen their employees’ sense of identity. Employee engagement done right should not stem from corporate pre-designed marketing messages sent to employees to copy-paste on their social media or channeled through automated machines. Instead, it should engage employees as valuable members of the marketing process, create content and offer to take an active part in telling their success story.

Encouraging employees’ engagement should be parallel to their professional work. Simply put, they will create content and share only what is relevant for their specific role, task, or expertise. They will translate their corporate work by expressing their views, challenges, and success in a way that will be compelling and personal and will resonate with their specific network of friends and colleagues at the same time. Their private, professional voice will stay unique and independent, strengthening and empowering themselves and the company’s brand at the same time.

Employee engagement done right should include everyday stories about actual concrete projects and success stories that employees will be proud to share, which could benefit the employees’ professional identity in the long term. They could tell stories of overcoming challenges and failure and the learning process afterward. This kind of story will demonstrate how trustworthy the employees are and how much they have developed professionally in their workplace. It will strengthen their connection with their workplace, allow more personal growth, and strengthen brands by presenting valuable and exciting content through the employees’ prism. And it will maintain employees’ boundaries between their private and work digital identities.

Most employees are proud of their work when it matches their identity and values as valuable company members, contributing to overall growth. When companies can engage employees as helpful members of the messaging process, they can identify more with their workplace. Within the process, employees boost their tailored professional reputation among their network and enjoy the company’s trust in their marketing value.

Employees can be influential influencers when they are not external curators. They should participate in the messaging process, shaping it to match their identity and professional connection to the product itself and their success story.

I help companies and executives to tell their stories, focus their messages and reach audiences www.communicatingimpact.com/

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