Originally published on ION.
Out of YouTube and Instagram was born the social media influencer, on which marketers today spend anywhere from $1,000-$500,000 a year. Now a different figure in influencer marketing is emerging: employees. Employee advocacy leads to authentic content, which gives consumers what they ultimately want: trust. This has the potential to trump content created by an influencer who maybe hasn’t even tried the product or service they’re endorsing. Here we explore which brands are using employee advocacy and how employee influencer programs have solved major problems.
LinkedIn found that there’s a 561 percent increase in audience for a brand message when shared by employees versus sharing on a corporate channel alone. Macy’s ran with this when in fall 2017 it launched an in-house influencer team. What started as the Macy’s Style Crew, which included 20 employee ambassadors, has turned into a 400+ team of Macy’s employee influencers who are active across social media channels.
Macy’s pays its employee influencers, who range from executives to cashiers, an unspecified percentage of each sale they drive. The average Macy’s employee influencer has less than 10,000 followers and any Macy’s employee can apply. Once accepted, they have access to all of the store’s products for free to promote via social using the hashtag #MacysStyleCrew and a link to shop the item in their profile bio.
Employees are strong vehicles to carry your brand message because they’re knowledgeable and have a more unique story to tell about products and services than an influencer who may be trying it for the first time. In fact, employee content is proven to drive action as 26 percent of employee influencer programs have been shown to increase revenue by year on year.
H&M US also started activating its employees’ voices when it launched the H&M Insiders program, which includes 15 of the fast fashion retailer’s employee ambassadors from across the country, “who have their own unique take on our brand and incorporate H&M into their everyday lives.” H&M features the 15 members’ photos, Instagram handles and H&M style picks on a dedicated page on their website.
Brand ambassadors have long contributed to the success of General Electric’s (GE) employer branding. In 2013, the company started an employee ambassador program after it faced difficulty recruiting for open positions. The program, which began with the goal of aiding hiring, human resource managers and talent acquisition, led to an 800 percent increase in applicants. In Q1 2017, GE’s employee-generated social content created engagement worth $3 million for the company.
“When employees start sharing their ‘story’ or their ‘why’ they cause an emotional connection in anyone reading their profile/post. When this emotional connection happens people tend to start feeling their cause, their ‘why’, in what they do and connect to the purpose. Purpose driven careers and recruiting will only become more and more important with soft skills currently passing hard skills needed in each space,” global employment brand leader at GE, Shaunda Zilch, told LinkedIn.
Zilch says that engaging GE’s employees and allowing them to represent themselves and the company instills a pride in each employee, which helps retention and makes the program stand out as something others want to be a part of. Many consumers also see the value in employee advocacy: 53 percent of all global consumers see employees as the most credible sources for learning about companies, according to Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they agree that, “a good reputation may get me to try a product, but unless I come to trust the company behind a product, I will soon stop buying it.”