You’ve heard a lot about using word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) to create a buzz about a product or company brand. We think that similar tactics could be used to promote an employer brand, as there is a parallel between the brand authenticity that candidates seek in a potential employer, and the success of honest and clear word-of-mouth marketing campaigns.
This post will give you an above-board way to get employees, and ultimately candidates, buzzing about your company and outline an actionable plan that you can implement today. We’ll even show you how easily you can make this a triple threat Web 2.0 employer branding effort utilizing a Wiki or Blog. But before we jump into the plan, take a look at a few of our examples of brand building and of how to do word-of-mouth marketing the right way:
A great offline example of transparency in recruitment marketing is Allianz Life’s recent employer branding effort: a 20-page glossy magazine targeted to job candidates called ‘Confessions’ that aims to give a true, no-holds-barred, glimpse inside the company.
In a related post, We’ve got the formula for employer branding, we also took a look at enlisting employees to help build a corporate brand. This marketing tactic is best summarized by the former CEO of SAS Airlines, “SAS had 10 million customers last year that came into contact with at least 5 SAS employees for an average of 15 seconds. The CEO called these touch-points: “50 million moments of truth.”
Last summer, the Pennsylvania Tourism Office, launched a blogger program called Real People/Real Roadtrips where they paid bloggers to travel around the state to experience and write about the wonders of Pennsylvania. The Tourism office picked up the tab for their travels (up to $1,000 per trip) with the understanding that the bloggers would write about their experiences. Importantly, they never attempted to control the content of the bloggers in any way other than to send them to specific locales. The bloggers were free to write openly and honestly.
“That buzz started at the underground level and Reuters picked it up and it went national,” David Heidenreich said, vice president of strategy and online planning for Ripple Effects Interactive, the Web advertising firm in Pittsburgh that conducted the campaign. “We reached out to 25 blogs and all of a sudden we’re getting mentioned on 250 blogs.”
Christopher Huen, of Information Week summed up the effort this way, “From a publicity perspective, the tourism project was a stroke of genius. Ripple Effects did a little promotion work within the PR industry, but word of mouth spread quickly, culminating in mentions on mainstream media outlets like CNN and the Associated Press.“ (You can read the article about the success of this on Information Week here.)
Now that we’ve covered some ground work on the concept, let’s talk about how we can develop and rollout a word-of-mouth marketing effort through your employees to help build and promote an authentic, employee-centric viewpoint of your employer brand. Keep in mind, this works best if you already have a company culture that has actively been developed and nourished so that the employee-centric buzz that you are hoping to create will be both additive and also supportive of past efforts. Here is a summary of the steps we would recommend you use to roll out an employee-centric buzz marketing program utilizing Web 2.0 software:
- How to develop a word-of-mouth marketing plan:
- Establish overall goals and expected outcomes (make some measurable but expect some strong results in the less quantifiable categories as well).
- Develop specific methods of measuring effectiveness (both qualitative and quantitative).
- Develop a timeline for the project.
- Write and present a brief for senior management on the plan’s purpose and expected results to solicit buy-in.
- This is probably the most critical and difficult element of your plan. You can 86 other parts of this plan but NOT this one. Your senior management team must embrace the openness of this approach and be willing to give up some of their typical viewpoints of control. Know that your team will likely be uncomfortable with unstructured commentary. If this WOMM plan is done right, senior management WILL be challenged and will need to post responses, if your efforts are to succeed.
- Develop internal communications (launch, follow up, etc.) and employee participation incentive (read about what Pennsylvania Tourism did).
- Create a fun contest to motivate employees to write about their company and job experiences (e.g. Five iPods will be given away for the best commentary – positive or negative).
- Develop methods for dealing with both positive and negative employee feedback.
- Think of a blog or the eBay “feedback” method here. On either a blog or eBay you don’t get to withhold viewpoints you don’t like. They are out there, whether they’re valid or not, and you must address them by writing a poised, non-defensive response with the ultimate goal of achieving the high road. The more unprofessional and outlandish the comment, the easier this is to do. The kinds of posts that may feel VERY risky will actually be the easiest to legislate with good responses.
- Complete an internal employee survey soliciting feedback on good/bad aspects of working at your company (you may well have a recent one that you can leverage) so that you know what to expect and you can begin drafting responses and actions to address the issues. If something is uncovered that you really weren’t expecting, you can always start work on the issue while launching the word-of-mouth program and use it to show the company’s flexibility and willingness to listen to employees.
- Evaluate and select a distribution vehicle, or forum where employees and candidates will post their comments and questions (this is where you get a little Web 2.0).
- Here we recommend one of two vehicles:
- Blogging: A blog will allow a company moderator/s to set a course and also provide course corrections for people in the same way that the Pennsylvania Tourism Board sent bloggers with their $1,000 checks to specific locales. As the old saying goes, “You can’t lead a horse to water but you can sure feed it salted oats!’ Better yet, ask an employee or number of employees to take ownership of the blog. What you’ll give up in control will add more credibility to the blog and might well be received as more authentic than a management controlled blog. Both can work, just consider your alternatives. Don’t overlook the fact that you may well have a number of top bloggers in your midst already. Even if they don’t end up writing or managing aspects of the blog, you can enlist their support to improve the blog that is ultimately produced. One final point about Blogs. Many of you already have a blogging platform in place. Great! Just look at how many company blogs there are in the Fortune 500 captured here on this Wiki. Our advice is that you utilize any existing blog platform but make your employee content blog separate and distinct from the main company blog.
- Wiki: A Wiki is the ultimate, no holds-barred approach. Remember, on a Wiki, ANYONE can change a page’s content (including completely deleting it) and anyone can contribute. Like a blog, a Wiki doesn’t require any special coding skills to implement or contribute to. The formatting used in Wikis to create bold text, italics, or add pictures can all be learned in minutes and if you distribute a cheat-sheet on e-mail to your employees they’ll get it very quickly. Even if they never learn one Wiki formatting control they can write all they want with plain text and be just as productive and collaborative. Keep in mind that if you want some semblance of control for the Wiki you can use a password controlled Wiki product like Ross Mayfield’s SocialText that would prevent things like people being able to delete entire sections of content; or have administrators control certain pages (e.g. navigation).
Both the Wiki and Blog approaches are easy to implement, requiring little IT resources, disk space, bandwidth, or systems management – all concerns that your IT department might undoubtedly express. Even better, if your IT resources are highly constrained (aren’t they all) you can use a hosted blog or Wiki product so that NONE of those items are a concern. You can still use a custom company url even if you go down this path.
The best part? When done right, this kind of word-of-mouth marketing for employer branding will get you original content AND results at a fraction of the cost of a traditional marketing and advertising plan. It may even provide a new avenue in your company to uncover excellence and drive change in dormant areas of weakness that are organizational scotomas (blind spots).
“What’s going to sell the tourism product more,” asks David Heidenreich, of Ripple Effects “a paragraph of marketing fluff my copyrighter develops or Joe from Pittsburgh talking about his whitewater rafting experience – and here’s a video of him falling out of the raft.”
One final point on disclosure, transparency, and word-of-mouth:
Is this just a big ad for us? No. This is our company blog where we write about our online marketing ideas and experiences because we feel that relevancy means putting your ideas out there, researching, learning from each other, and always trying to improve. We don’t just write EXCELER8ion posts for fun, we also write to create some word-of-mouth buzz for OUR company (and have some fun along the way). People read articles here and some of the people that like what they see contact us about working together.
EXCELER8 specializes in online interactive strategies just like the one outlined here. But, we’ve done our best to outline a plan that you, your current agency, another agency, or a consultant of your choice could implement. We haven’t held back any critical pieces of information to manipulate you into calling us. Take the information and run with it. Let us know what you think. Better yet, call us in a few months and tell us how it worked. And if you don’t already have a resource to implement a plan like this – then you should put EXCELER8 in your rolodex.