Fuzzy Math: What Employer Brand Metrics Should You Be Measuring?

Brand is one of those business concepts that is difficult to define, much less measure. Employer brand is no different. Even knowing what to measure remains something of a mystery: should it be more about the overall number of applicants for open positions, or should we focus on the quality of those applicants?

Should we measure brand on market sentiment or should we survey how our brand value stacks up against the competition?

There is no easy answer, I’m afraid. For me, it’s always been clear that if I’m personally taking action on something, those actions must be measured to have meaning.

Perhaps that need for measurement is just my inner engineer talking, the same one that drives me to build all sorts of lists and build formulas and stuff.

The one thing I can never get my mind around, though, is how this one thing, employer brand, can be quantified or analyzed with any sort of confidence.

Measure for Measure: Why We Suck At Measuring Employer Brand.

The problem isn’t that it’s a nebulous concept, that it has no demonstrative value. The thing is, it’s impossible to know when you’re measuring employer brand if you’re measuring with the right metrics at all.  You need a baseline for any sort of measurement, but it’s completely futile if you can’t confidently say what that baseline should even be.

So, like any good engineer, I decided to solve this program the only way I know how: I drafted a flowchart. I spent a ton of time consuming a great number of related websites, blog posts, statistical surveys, peer reviewed studies, white papers, ebooks and pretty much everything else I could find on Google about employer brand measurement.

Even then I still couldn’t figure out what measurement I should be using with any great confidence. I couldn’t get a clear picture of the problem, which makes finding any sort of solution futile.

From my research, it seemed to me like some of the criteria most commonly used – like the quality and quantity of applicants, for instance – were generally recognized as being good brand metrics.

But I see major flaws with this approach.

I mean, consider just the job description and the variables inherent to each position we post: the writing tone and style, the required and preferred skill set, the relative supply and demand of those skills in the job market at that moment, and sundry other considerations will obviously have a major impact on how many applicants I’m getting, and how qualified those applicants actually are.

Even with all that complexity, job descriptions are only a small part of employer branding. Add in the manifold other variables involved, and you see how hard measurement actually is.

Back to the Branding Basics: 3 Easy Ways To Measure EB.

We have many metrics in recruiting, from time to fill to quality of hire, and while I’m sure they mean something, I am not sure they are the best way to measure the employer brand. Doing that successfully means rethinking our analytical approach entirely.

So while I cannot categorically say that by measuring these things, you will be successful in analyzing or quantifying your employer brand, I think that this list should serve as a good look at what we should consider looking at when we look at EB efficacy.

So, here’s my take on the numbers. Before we get started, a small warning: don’t even think about measuring all of these all at once. You just need to pick the most relevant metrics to you, your industry and your company. Don’t worry about “big data.” Start small, instead.

Here are some basic ways you can measure employer brand:

Quality of Hire.

Let’s define this concept as the length of the average tenure new hires stay with a company in good standing (that is, with no performance or productivity issues). If the employer brand that initially attracted them as applicants doesn’t align with the daily realities of your culture or the work they’re expected to do, or any of the myriad other factors influencing job satisfaction, then they won’t stay with you for long. You can polish a turd, as they say, but you cannot make it shine.

The greater the divide between your employer brand and what working at your company is really like, the more dissatisfied and disengaged your employees are going to be, a slow death that starts from day one. Eventually they’ll have the guts to leave, and more than likely, both sides will agree that the sooner we can get rid of these bad apples in the bunch, the better. If the job doesn’t fit, the employee must quit (or get managed out).

External Versus Internal Candidate Experience.

This will either significantly help or hurt your employer brand, but either way, the impact of candidate experience is profound. More than just candidate experience, though, it’s important to look at employee experience, too. Not only must that experience be accurately represented, monitored and measured, from the moment that employment begins.

How does this experience impact how they express how they feel about work to external audiences and their extended networks? All of these factors informing employee experience can be measured with accuracy and confidence.

In general, the easiest way to do this is through employee turnover – and generally, low voluntary attrition is perceived as a good thing. There is no such thing, however, as a static workforce, and retention is never absolute. By using standard exit interviews to track why our employees are departing the company, how satisfied they were with their work and how their employee experience could have been improved, we can reverse engineer that feedback for candidates and new hires, too. How transitioning employees talk about your company can provide great insight and information for building an employer brand that’s accurate and realistic.

After all, they’ve lived it.

When external brand matches internal reality, when a new job delivers as promised, it almost always results in higher levels of employee satisfaction, productivity, job tenure and overall performance than those roles where the job being done doesn’t match the opportunity they were offered. Making sure that employer brand and employee experience align are worth chasing, right?

Other elements to consider are the job offer acceptance rate; do you measure how many candidates decline offers and their rationale for refusal? Do you track how many candidates accept counteroffers, how many drop out before they even onboard, or how their perception changes from the time they sign the paperwork to the time they arrive for their first day (or 30)?

Measuring these inputs is imperative.

For external candidates, experience counts, too. Make sure you survey applicants on what initially drew them to the company, what elements of your employer brand had the biggest influence in getting them to apply, and how the hiring process impacted their perceptions of your company or culture.

Ask how their experience compared to other companies they could be interviewing with, how satisfied they were with the application and feedback processes, what they would change about their experience and how closely that experience matched their expectations. These can all be measured without much additional work or expense. The results, however, can make a huge difference in how hiring works, and how effective your organization really is at attracting top talent.

Employer Branding: No Quick Fix.

Another good sign you’re building a great employer brand is through increasing the percentage of your applicants or candidates come from direct competitors, a ratio that’s relatively easy to measure (provided those competitors remain consistent). In many cases, as you probably know, a great employer brand can actually impact how likely a candidate will be to accept an offer at or under the going market rate.

There are many examples of this throughout the years, from Nokia to Disney to Amazon – all of which managed to become top employers of choice without paying top dollar for salaries.

Brand can be just as attractive as big bucks, as long as there’s not too big a gap to overcome. Brand can help, but it can’t pay the bills, either.

Some talent leaders and practitioners look at time to hire as a critical recruiting metric, but when it comes to measuring employer brand, not only is it irrelevant, in fact shorter time to fill can be a red flag that you might need to rethink your EB approach. The best candidates have choices, and this creates the luxury of time – they don’t have to accept the first offer that comes their way.

This means that brand plays an even bigger role in convincing a passive candidate, particularly one with a longer tenure, to make a move or consider another opportunity. Unfortunately, it also takes a lot longer than recruiting just-in-time, all the time. If you’re just looking to put butts in seats, your time to hire might be short, but chances are it’s not because of your employer brand – good, bad or indifferent.

So when it comes to EB, remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And slow and steady almost always wins this race.

The Stakes for Stakeholders: Employer Brand Risks and Rewards.

Another metric to consider is hiring manager satisfaction, which is often neglected or overlooked in EB efforts. Make sure to consistently survey these decision makers and other internal stakeholders in the process so that you can baseline and track how employer brand impacts these individual inputs over time.

Some important questions to consider are whether or not the hiring manager is satisfied with the number and overall quality of candidates, how closely new hires match their expectations, how competitive they are with current employees and the overall job market for that position or skill set, and how well the candidates fit with the company culture, mission, vision and values?

This feedback is not only valuable for measuring employer brand, but customer satisfaction, too. And if you’re not measuring that, well, you’re probably not measuring up.

OK, time for a confession. Contrary to my earlier claim, I admit that the overall number of incoming applications does matter. Only not to the open and available positions we advertise. Instead, it’s the number of applicants we receive for what’s often called “opportunity” interviews, or those candidates who might not have an interest in a particular open job or available role, but instead have a genuine interest in joining the company in some capacity, regardless of role.

These “open applications” are often perceived as desperate measures from desperate candidates – I mean, who applies to a company that doesn’t even have an open job for them? These yodels are probably applying everywhere and just saying whatever they need to say in order to get their foot in the door, right?

If you’re like most recruiters with that mindset, think again. Most opportunity applications are actually an indication of employer brand strength. No one expresses interest in companies that are crap places to work or ones that aren’t attractive long term options instead of short term posted openings. That would be a waste of time. When people apply because of a company instead of just a job, it’s a good sign you’re getting employer brand right.

In short, volume and vanity metrics don’t make for great ways to measure employer brand – or recruiting in general, to be honest.

Turn Down the Volume, Turn Out The Talent: Building Brand Benchmarks and Baselines.

Similarly, while it’s not a terrible idea to track the number of visitors to your company career site, instead of looking at overall uniques or general traffic trends, measuring site traffic that’s specifically tied to a particular campaign is a far more effective measurement of your employer brand. Of course, an increase in overall visitors over time is a great trend and good sign, but usually by the time job seekers actually land on your career site, they’ve almost always seen at least some form of employer brand collateral, even if that’s just a job posting, that drove them there.

Knowing where those impressions came from and which campaigns are driving the most qualified traffic is a far more effective benchmark. There are plenty of tools and technologies – standard in most CRMs – which enable you to break down your web traffic based on individual campaigns. If you’re not tracking traffic at the campaign level, you can’t actually measure employer brand or its relative impact on your overall TA efforts.

As discussed, I feel that volume metrics are a poor path towards employer brand measurement; engagement metrics, however, are a far different story. I personally put a premium on things like interactions on social media, likes, shares, comments on content and engagement with our company career site and social profiles beyond simply clicking through on a job related CTA.

That means that someone who watches a video on our Facebook page, for instance, and then applies for a job is generally a more qualified and better informed candidate than those who simply wanted to view and apply for open positions – and a premium should be placed on these career content consumers when formulating your methodology for measuring employer brand.

Often companies rely on external benchmarks such as brand indexes; LinkedIn and Glassdoor, respectively, publish a running list of “most desirable employers,” which are commonly utilized as a “best in class” subset for developing an EB strategy. Similarly, marketing metrics such as brand sentiment, company reputation and employer brand awareness are commonly leveraged, particularly within certain targeted groups or candidate segments, an approach that requires a certain level of sophistication as well as market analysis, consumer research and surveying tools.

Again, these strategies don’t really tell us a whole lot about the impact of employer brand – and just aren’t that interesting to me.

But when we’re talking about metrics like social media engagement, reach, overall impressions, click throughs and conversions, then the value of an employer brand becomes much more clear.

Using tools like Hootsuite or Meltwater allow me to run saved searches, set up company and career specific alerts, easily report and analyze engagement metrics, and see what sort of content is the most successful for engaging candidates and driving qualified career site traffic. It’s not rocket science, but then again, neither is employer branding.

Measuring it, however, is a different story.

3 Employer Brand Metrics Every Employer Should Be Using.

While I concur that many of the methods discussed above are more or less traditional metrics long utilized by consumer and brand marketing groups, they’re often imperfect or incomplete when it comes to measuring employer brand. To ensure that you have the most relevant recruitment marketing data, try shifting your approach to focus on these employer brand metrics instead. They’re not the most mainstream, but in my experience, they’re much more meaningful for measuring talent acquisition outcomes instead of simply marketing metrics.

1. Number of Referrals.

The strength of an employer brand and referral volume are closely correlated. If you’re actually a great place to work and provide positive employee experiences and can effectively communicate that inside and outside the organization, you’re accomplishing the end goal of EB, since referrals are not only much more likely to get interviewed and hired than other sources.

A recent study revealed that while referrals accounted for only 7% of all applicants, they generated over 40% of new hires. So if your employees are recommending your company to their connections and colleagues, you’re not only killing it on your NPS score, but you’re getting great candidates, too.

Which is kind of the point.

And, of course, referrals cost way less than other sources of hire. Compared to advertising jobs or using search firms or other agencies, increased referrals inevitably equate to lower cost per hire, which should ideally offset any extra costs associated with building an employer brand (and measuring this successfully creates a pretty airtight business case, too).

2. Employee Satisfaction.

As we’ve discussed, employee satisfaction and engagement scores are some of the greatest measurements for employer brand out there. We’re almost always already collecting this information on our employees as a standard part of business as usual in HR, so not only is the data there, it’s also a great benchmark for showing the relative impact of employer brand, since these two outcomes are closely correlated.

If your employees are satisfied, engaged and proud to work at your company, then EB becomes almost self-perpetuating, with strong employee advocates pushing out your message organically – which is far more effective than any recruiting or HR led EB effort, since individual employees are a far more trusted source than any HR or recruitment driven initiatives or marketing materials. Word of mouth is the best kind of brand buzz.

The ideal goal is that your employees actively work to promote your company, careers and culture – the less recruiting has to get involved, the better the outcomes. If recruiters can provide tools instead of red tape, and promote best practices instead of prohibitive policies, then we’re teaching our employees to fish for a lifetime – and hopefully, reel in a few great hires along the way.

3. Internal Influence.

We often think of influence through the filter of social scoring sites like Klout or overall numbers of followers and fans, but real influence is what happens when an individual can inspire others to take action.

By enabling employees to represent your employer brand as part of a formal or informal advocacy program, the influence of your individual workers should have an outsized impact on your recruiting results. Their updates, messages and other employer branding activities receive around 8 times the engagement of those from employer accounts, and average a whopping 500% more reach than if the same message was sent through a corporate account as opposed to an individual one.

Employee advocacy is not just valuable for measuring these sorts of statistics, but when seen in aggregate, employee generated content can provide a valuable look at the relative health of your employer brand. Things like content and frequency of EB related updates, word choice, which platforms these messages are shared and the way in which EVP is communicated should be consistent and aligned with the company’s corporate presence.

Any disparities between employee and employer content not only cause market confusion, but generally indicate the need for additional training or enablement to ensure everyone’s on the same page. But when we see similar expressions of employer brand value, social media and career content sharing activities, consistent language use and recurring themes in employee generated updates, you know that not only is your employer brand strategy working, but that your brand is clear, consistent and compelling both inside and outside your organization. This consistency reinforces authenticity instead of coming across like advertising, which is one of the optimal outcomes of any EB initiative or function.

Measure for Measure: The Future of Employer Branding.

Looking into the future, I predict that employee advocacy programs will become much more commonplace and codified than we’ve currently seen (with some exceptions), and employer brand will eventually stop being “owned” by TA and instead become the shared responsibility of everyone in the organization. While employees are still a bit hesitant to share career content or EB collateral (particularly on social networks), this is becoming much more widely accepted.

The best employer brands will be driven by the best employees, and this should, in turn, lead to companies becoming an employer of choice that the choosiest employees choose more often. Top talent (also known as “A Players” will do a far better job drawing in qualified applicants through EB than recruiters – most of whom, let’s face it, are anything but “top talent.”

Look. Your employer brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s not some company construct or marketing directive. It’s the external reflection of how your internal employees feel about their work, their jobs and your company. And what they’re saying when they talk about work says more than anything about how effective your employer branding efforts are. Measuring sentiment, engagement and share of voice, mind and market, particularly how those stats stack up against your direct competitors, is really the only way to prove that EB is actually working.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and if you can’t measure employer brand in any meaningful way, you shouldn’t be managing it, either.

 

 

About the Author: 

Tom Laine is considered to be one of the most visible and experienced social media and digital recruiters in Europe, having founded his first social media startup in 1999, and a social recruiting agency in 2009 – the first ever in the Nordics. Before founding his own agency, Tom worked as a Channel Campaign Manager for Oracle in Denmark; previously, he lived in London, where he worked at a variety of recruiting agencies and search firms.

After successfully selling his agency to a market leader, Tom has written and published several books on social media and emerging technology. He currently advises a global portfolio of clients on social recruiting, employer branding and recruitment marketing as a consultant and trainer. You can learn more about Tom by visiting his personal website, TomLaine.com.

Follow Tom on Twitter @LaineTom or connect with him on LinkedIn.



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