Most companies have a few these days whether they know it or not. And in a time when your best content marketing channel is probably your own employees, identifying these influencers is key.
Influencers can lift or kill and utilizing them appropriately can elevate your company to a new level. They can be the biggest Brand Ambassadors if they are happy, or bring a company and their deals down if they are not. Yes, they do have that much power, especially if they are working for you. Having worked for the company gives them a unique insight and perspective plus validation in the eyes of others.
A company's internal influencers have 2 sides to them and will have a combination of social media presence and networking capabilities. They are known in their online and offline community, very involved and very vocal. They know their power and they are ready to use it when they think it's right.
These are the people who understand how to create friendships and build relationships in the work environment, they keep in touch with old vendors, colleagues, prospects or clients and are everywhere. They'll talk to the people on the line of the pharmacy and exchange cards before they pay. They engage with people on a personal level when they go to events and they know how to use social media and tend to have large sums of followers there. Their posts get more views or comments and they have become for many, public figures and a face for the company.
Brands are catching up to this and they're utilizing their most influential employees in a new way giving them roles that are more aligned with these capabilities. They're even hunting for their competitor's "influential employees" because bringing them over would move the spotlight to them and make them look as if they're better. These new roles are a mix of sales, public relations and community engagement roles. Their goals are more aligned with visibility, content and overall buzz and used to bring to light company values and new business aspects such as D&I, new business lines, presence in new markets... I've seen all sorts of titles attached but they are really being paid for being Brand Ambassadors, creating more buzz around the company and sending potential leads to sales or building new relationships and partnerships by going to events, supporting community activities, giving speeches and publishing their PR and Marketing department's content and articles in a non-salesy way. Other companies are simply adding a brand ambassadorship strategy to the way they communicate with employees and the consumer, allowing through different tools and platforms to share their content and creating contests and prizes for those who represented the company best. Both strategies are applicable at the same time. However, the second one is a great way for the company that is starting out on this to test out and find who those professional Brand Ambassadors should be if they decide to move on to having those roles.
The fear for many is "what if my influencers go against me?" This is literally a question I was asked a couple months ago by a business woman I know. She is aware that influential employees are an asset for overall sales and marketing purposes and there is no way to avoid having these people in a company today. Plus, they tend to be big drivers for the brand, so it is always good to have them. If you don't, your competitors will. But as employees, they see the good and the bad and if they are upset, they can share with their network online and offline. They have enough of an influence and trust built around them that they can bring down deals and the image of a company the same way they can help lift it up with the right tools. If not treated right, it could become so public that it would truly hurt the brand. And this is exactly what this woman was going through. One of her most influential employees felt he was not being paid well enough and had not received a deserved promotion suspecting that it could be because he is the only Hispanic in the company. A person who had defended and brought the company into the spotlight had now negative thoughts about the brand and could start talking about it to his network. His race had really nothing to do with the reason why he had not yet been promoted or gotten a raise and she was trying to make him understand that a better opportunity was on its way but they were trying to re-structure the team and some departments before being able to give him that opportunity. However, she couldn't give it to him as fast as she would like and she feared the employee may not just flee to a competitor but also influence the network he had built, the employer branding and the overall respect for the company. She said "when employees like that leave, people start asking why did they leave and make such a shift if they loved the company so much? On the other hand, I can't really fire him if he starts complaining not just because I appreciate his value and I know he is a good worker that can continue to build on for us, but because it would make his accusations seem real even if they're not".
This type of situations are more common than you think. Now, when hiring, promoting and firing, the influence of your employees should be taken in consideration and channeled in a way it helps the brand and avoids any damage. HR is now having to tap into Public Relations challenges and management in a way they've never had to. Employees have the power to change how everyone perceives the brand for good and bad.
The employee this person spoke about had such firm ties with some people in their biggest prospects and clients and with other influential professionals that it could mean an image crisis and deal breaker if he left or continued to be upset. She was fortunate enough that she had caught on to it and spoken with him since many companies are completely oblivious until hell breaks loose. Luckily, she's been able to deliver and as of last week, this employee seems to be happy with his new role in fully representing the company not just as a business relations person in an ambassador role that he loves and is his true calling, but with diversity and inclusion responsibilities too which is something they needed to pay more attention to internally and he can help bring to light.
Have you identified your most influential employees and do you have a strategy around it?
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