If you’re like most employers, there’s a good chance that you’re already investing in employer branding by now.
In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review study showed that fully 74% of all recruiters responding are already involved in some form of proactive recruitment marketing or brand building.
Another recent study suggests almost half of in-house recruiters actually plan on increasing their employer brand related spend in 2016 (and beyond).
What is interesting, however, is that same survey showed of the 46% of recruiters planning to increase their 2016 employer brand budget.
This shift suggests talent organizations are starting to take what has traditionally been a discipline dominated by third party agencies and replacing these with dedicated internal programs and initiatives and, often, headcount.
This is not to say that the recruitment advertising agency model is going away anytime soon; these trends, however, do suggest many talent organizations are just now discovering that, dollar for dollar, there’s no content more powerful, authentic, compelling or capable of maximizing recruiting ROI than employee generated content.
Employee Generated Content: Shake What Ya Got.
Employee generated content creates a powerful direct communications channel for companies to cut through the corporate copy and careers speak to tell a direct and intermediate story that cuts through the marketing BS and buzzwords to establish a direct, credible perspective on a role, location or business unit within a larger company or brand.
The advantages are obvious, but long story short: real employees telling their real stories in their real voices is really powerful when it comes to generating the real results real recruiters need.
That said, even employers with the most advanced or sophisticated employer branding functions still struggle with employee-generated content.
Despite the relatively straightforward, simple concept of employee generated, it isn’t ever easy – that is, if you’re doing it right. The mistake too many employers make is to make the assumption that by simply asking existing employees to participate in these programs, it will automatically open the employee generated content funnel as the contributions and content come rolling in.
If only it were that easy – but it should go without saying that while employees are the most important part of any employee generated content, they’re often hesitant to share content, or, even worse, deluge recruiters with ‘contributions’ that are off brand, off message or just completely worthless for your recruiting efforts.
This brings up a pretty obvious fundamental problem with employee generated content: your average employee isn’t a content professional (and most likely, neither is the recruiter responsible for those efforts).
Master P: The 5 P’s of Employee Generated Content.
So, how exactly should employers and recruiters go about getting the wealth of employee generated content they need to succeed at employer branding and recruitment marketing success?
While it can be a challenge, the reality is that there are more or less five key principles every employer and recruiter should know when it comes to developing kick butt employee generated content.
Here are the 5 Ps every employer should think about to make sure their employees’ voices get heard -and that word of mouth can effectively build a compelling enough call to action to actually get heard, particularly when there’s so much recruiting related noise out there.
So next time you’re in doubt when it comes to employee generated content, just think of this list and tell yourself, “I gotta P.” Actually, on second thought, maybe not. But still.
These will make or break your talent organizations’ chances at employer branding success – or employee generated content failure.
1. Make ‘Em Say Uhh: The Platform.
Simply put, an employee generated content campaign can be boiled down to something as straightforward as emailing all your existing employees for stories, sitting back and letting all the good stuff collect in your inbox.
But if your department or company has more people in it than you personally know, you’re likely going to need some sort of tool or technology to manage this submissions and review process.
High-end standalone platforms can cost close to six figures, putting them out of reach of most people.
But you can either leverage free tools online (Google Forms for example), or work with your web team to build out two or three pages within your web platform to do the same things. To be successful, all a platform needs to do is be a one-stop shop for everything you want staff to know and do.
So if you want them to take a picture of their desk, you need to explain what you want, what it will be used for, who owns the picture, rules about what isn’t allowed in the picture, and dates and deadlines. A rule of thumb is to make sure there’s enough information on that page so that even a fairly new employee doesn’t have to ask any questions to get the job done.
In my experience, a good platform is mobile-friendly, mostly because any pictures and videos you ask for will likely come from the computer in their pocket. Asking them to figure out how to download the file to their desktop and re-upload it to you is tantamount to asking them to not bother.
2. How You Do Dat: The Process.
If you see an employee generated content project as a one-off―something you just do once and forget about forever―you’re missing out on the point of employee generated: to motivate employees to engage with the brand and talk about or illustrate the brand from their perspective. This is about building and strengthening relationships, not a one-time gimmick.
To that end, think from the beginning about building out employee as a process, not a product. You want ways for employees to become a perpetual source of stories and content about what it’s really like on the job.
In a large company, perhaps the process is to rotate the campaign’s focus from one location to the next each month, or to pick a team every week and collect content that way. In smaller companies, it might be a call for stories on the last Friday of every month.
Once collected, the content doesn’t have to be single-use. If you plan ahead, you can build a library of images, videos and stories to be used on every social channel, every blog post, and every internal newsletter you offer. Even if you are focusing on a new location every month, showing the differences and similarities across all locations can become an interesting article.
A successful process starts with a single person charged with managing and sustaining the campaign. Assuming that you will throw the idea in the air and someone will jump at the chance to manage it assumes that people aren’t already insanely busy.
After that, let that person design a process that works for them, but can be migrated to include other teams or can be transferred to someone new next year.
The part of the process most people forget is the step that comes between collecting content and using content.
How will you filter the content so that it is able to be approved for use? Who will approve it? Who will write the rules for what’s appropriate and what’s not?
These steps are crucial to ensure that the next steps are executed properly.
3. I Got the Hook-Up! The Publicity.
You know the line “If they build it, they will come” was fiction, right? Complete fiction. I mean, it was Kevin Costner, for crying out loud – and yet for some reason, this still seems to be the mantra of most recruiters out there.
The primary failure of an employee generated campaign is that recruiters or stakeholders didn’t plan for enough internal marketing. It assumed that a launch and an email from the boss would be enough. And it’s not.
I’m not suggesting you have to build a complex glossy marketing campaign with posters and other collateral, but if you can, you absolutely should. Physical reminders like posters, props, elevator signs, etc., have a long shelf life, driving awareness long after that first email announcement.
Even if you don’t go the showy route, one part of publicity that many people forget about is to leverage the corporate structure.
If someone on the front lines gets an email from the CEO, the first thing they are going to do is ask their boss a question.
If the boss doesn’t have a complete understanding of what the project is, why it’s being done, what the deadlines are, and if she was caught blindsided by the announcement, the employee will assume that this isn’t important and ignore the entire project. If you leverage middle managers and supervisors to become ambassadors of the project, it will feel like a new policy to the entire staff, increasing the overall participation.
4. Who You With? The Prompt.
With a great process, a solid platform and engaged managers, you’ve set the stage. But what will you actually ask employees for? You can’t just say, “Send us stories!” and expect to get anything useful.
That kind of request is too broad, and staff who don’t immediately understand the request or can think of exactly how to respond will ignore it as soon as something more compelling (like work) comes along.
Designing smart prompts is the difference between collecting junk and collecting treasures.
In effect, you have to inform the staff about what you want; what’s useful to your outcomes.
Do you want pictures? Video? Text? Can they take pictures in the building?
Can they take pictures at home or outside the office? If you’re asking for video, are you asking for phone-quality video or does it have to be more polished? Is there anything in the picture or video you aren’t allowed to show (like other company logos or work-in-progress)?
The fastest way to do that is to start small. Make the prompt simple and easy to understand. Ask them to take a picture of their desk, of their favorite spot in the building, or of people at lunch. Then start to increase the size and challenge of the request.
Ask people to take pictures together outside of work. Ask them to take on a work challenge together and document the process. Ask them to tell the story of how they helped a client or have them introduce a friend they recommended for a job.
As a wise person once said, begin with the end in mind. If you have no way of using video, don’t ask for it. If vetting and approving images is too hard to do, don’t ask for them. If you can’t use anything more than 200 words (for some reason), make that clear in the prompt.
Assume that you will get exactly what you ask for, so be smart in what you ask for.
5. Get Away Clean: Publishing.
Collecting all this content is a means to an end, not an end in itself. You collect this content to use it, to share it, to tell stories about your company, your team and your locations.
How you put it out into the world is as important as how you collect it.
Here are some of our favorite ways to use (and reuse) employee generated content:
- Careers Sites: If you asked your team the same question or you asked for information from a single location, putting all that approved content on a single page to give a 360-degree view is very powerful.
- Social Media: Images and videos uploaded natively into Facebook and Twitter attract attention. So let them draw people from those social networks to compelling stories about you.
- Employer Branding: Whatever you write about, “authentic” photos and quotes tend to convert users better than super-glossy photos or (shudder) stock art.
- Internal Marketing: If you take an employer brand video, post or other update and your employer chooses to use it as part of their external content, no matter what your contribution, there’s a good chance that employee not only feels like their voice matters, but that they’re being heard, too.
That’s as powerful a recruiting message to current employees as it is to potential new hires. Plus, it helps other employees feel connected with what’s going on at their company, what some of their co-workers really do and a full sense of the breadth and scope of careers – short and long term – at your company.
Done right, employer branding is going to get your current employees just as excited as your future ones. So, no matter what, sprinkle employee generated content into your other recruitment marketing materials, so that no matter who’s telling your brand’s story, it’s those real voices that are getting heard.
Because no one wants to listen to a bunch of recruiters or copywriters represent what it’s really like to work at a company – besides, only real employees can do that.
About the Author: James Ellis is a Digital Strategist for TMP Worldwide, the world’s largest recruitment advertising agency.
For more than 15 years, James has focused on connecting cutting-edge technology to marketing objectives. As a digital strategist for TMP Worldwide, he helps some of the largest companies in America answer their most pressing digital questions.
Learn more about TMP Worldwide at www.tmp.com.
By James Ellis
It's very possible that the rumors are true and that James Ellis was a mild-mannered digital marketer who was bitten by a radioactive recruiter six years ago and now has strange new powers. But what we do know is that James is a leading voice in employer branding, developing and activating dozens of brands of every size, running The Talent Cast podcast for more than three years, writing the Employer Brand Headlines newsletter and writing for a number of industry publications. His mission is to evolve the conversation around recruiting and hiring. He is currently the Director of Employer Brand at Universum. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.
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