employee as influencers
employee as influencers

Get through employees’ bullshit filters

Having a hard time getting through to your employees? Learn the successful tactics from influencer marketing and turn your ambassadors into true influencers.

By:  Solrun Sigfusdottir Øfjord, Communication Advisor (August 23,  2017)

According to a survey by eMarketer, about 50 percent of marketing professionals plan on doubling their budgets for influencer marketing in 2017. Why? Because they can affect behaviors in ways companies cannot. More importantly, influencers can help companies reach millennials, where two out of three use ad-blockers on their smartphones to avoid ads.

In employee communication, we have something like influencers: ambassadors. We activate them to help translate strategic messages and to reach employees who are hard to reach through traditional internal channels. Internal ambassadors are a valued part of the channel mix due to their strong position as ‘known connectors’ and respected messengers among both management and employees.

The commercial angle of influencers in marketing can be hard to mirror in employee communication. We are not up against ad-blockers and the reward is more often a pat on the back than an actual paycheck. Also, company ambassadors – with all respect – do not have as strong images as SoMe influencers, and the management is often cautious about putting corporate strategy, company values or behaviors up for grabs on the formal internal channels.

But we are most definitely up against employees’ bullshit filters when communicating strategic messages, and we could definitely get more out of our ambassadors. Here, tactics from influencer marketing come in quite handy and can help us turn them into true influencers.

Turn ambassadors into powerful influencers
The tactics of influencer marketing can vary, and there are many ways to create effective campaigns, where influencers help boost the bottom line. Here are 10 steps to get more out of our internal ambassadors and employee communication inspired by the successful tactics:

1. Identify influencers
First, identify strong internal influencers. They are not necessarily those you usually would engage as ambassadors. While ambassadors are often chosen for their loyalty to the company, timeliness, network, and in-depth knowledge of strategic goals, influencers are chosen for their creativity, integrity, social reach and loyalty to themselves as professionals. Look in the Friday bar, town-hall meetings, around the water-cooler, and at team meetings. An influencer is someone you naturally pay attention to and you may want to be your manager or close colleague.

2. Trust your influencers’ gut-feeling
When strong brands such as Hallmark, LEGO and IKEA are bold enough to trust influencers to interpret their brand in various ways externally and use their own words when doing so, then you should trust your employees to interpret your corporate strategy, values or behaviors. Influencers are very conscious about their own integrity, professionalism and loyalty to their own brand; they only engage with brands they can relate to and that can help them get closer to their followers. If your influencers are not willing to use their own brand promoting and interpreting the corporate strategy, then you should ask them why and listen carefully. They may be on to something.

An influencer through decades is Oprah. After visiting Copenhagen back in 2009, Oprah made Americans losing for Danish rye bread. Today, having your own channels is not only for the elite. Anyone with a talent for engaging their audience can become insta-famous, or YouTube famous (photo credit: ERD)

3. Know their currency
Fame, acknowledgement and (for some) a fat pay check motivate many influencers in marketing. In many organizations, this is unrealistic. Nonetheless, you need to know your internal influencers’ currency; their motivation. Is it public acknowledgement, or the importance or seeing their input turned into action? Find out. It is probably not hard to fulfill.

4. Involve your influencers
Be careful using internal influencers as mouth pieces for the management or as feedback channels, when anchoring strategic decisions. Influencers must be nurtured and involved on a co-creation and ‘you’-level’. Instead, ask them: ‘How would you communicate our strategy?’. They are on location, they know what appeals to their colleagues and local tone-of-voice. Also, you should not just listen and turn their words into intranet articles, but let them be the senders and interpreters of the message.

5. Make it fun, inspiring and attractive
A common way to engage and co-create in influencer marketing is through creative influencer campaigns. It simply is about giving your influencers a fun challenge, where they are asked to interpret a theme, issue or product in their own way. It has to be fun being an influencer, preferably together with others and with a bit of friendly competition. Invite your influencers e.g. to a co-creation workshop where they cut and paste the values or create a video or a feature, where they put a theme, a problem or product into perspective in their own personal way. Or ask them to take part in creating their communication activity, either staging it themselves or as a part of an event.

Sea of shoes, influencer marketing, influencer, Chloe, Love story, campaign

In Chloés ‘Love Story’ campaign from 2015, top fashion bloggers interpret the theme ‘Love Story’, e.g. the blogger Sea of Shoes. Why not do something similar to your corporate values? (Photo credit: Sea of Shoes)

6. Decide on the channels
Influencers in marketing have their own platforms for communicating and influencing; employees do not. This is not entirely correct, though. There are a dozen social tools to easily implement in your organization and existing platforms to support the needs and necessities of influencer communication. Most CMSes have blog applications and team hubs, and then there is Slack, Facebook Workplace, Microsoft Teams and many more social platforms waiting for you to jump to the next generation of communication platforms. And now, you might think blogging is so last year or too time consuming. Think micro-blogging – people are in touch with micro-blogging every day on their private SoMe channels and will soon be in corporate life as well.

Keep an eye on micro-blogging on SoMe. You will find micro-bloggers within food, travel, BoPo (body positive) and much more. Check out for instance the bloggers @mamacaxx from N.Y.C. or the British @bodyposipanda (Photo credit: @mamacaxx and @bodyposipanda)

7. Keep an eye on up-coming or burned out influencers
In marketing, influencers come and go. It takes time to build a network of followers, but only a few weeks to lose them. The same applies to internal influencers. Your influencers’ engagement, energy and visibility is essential for their reach and impact. That is why you need to keep an eye on the performance of your influencers and mainly spend time on those who have reach and are up-coming influencers, e.g. a new hire or an employee in a new position. Therefore, you should not formalize your influencer network officially, but have an informal list in your drawer, as only few influencers stay for long – and are probably hard to retain in the organization for ages.

8. Keep an eye on both influencers and ambassadors
You should differentiate between company influencers and company ambassadors. Consider them as two different ‘channels’. Carefully consider if you need both and when to activate whom. Ambassadors are a great channel for reaching off-shore and production staff, who are not online and ambassadors can supplement or replace for instance the intranet. Influencers are great for affecting behaviors, opinions and decisions, e.g. in change projects.

Marabou is a great example of a creative influencer campaign. Marabou asked YouTubers to interpret the classic gingerbread house and build a Christmassy chocolate house to stage a new fun Christmas tradition.

9. Have employee advocacy as an ambition
According to numbers from LinkedIn ELEVATE, organizations prioritizing employee advocacy are 58 percent more likely to attract top talent, and that content shared by employees has two times higher engagement than content shared by the company itself. That is why you should have employee advocacy as an ambition on the long-term. Help and train your influencers in how to get a wider reach in their network both inside and outside of the company and do’s and don’ts on SoMe, such as text lengths, and how to handle positive and negative feedback. Offer e.g. a recurrent course or a web-seminar in employee advocacy to all employees, which you especially can encourage your influencers to attend.

10. Know it does not come overnight
Creating a passionate network of influencers and an influencer culture in your organization takes time. Maybe years. Start involving a handful of identified influencers in small, less strategically sensitive themes such as office climate, how to get people on Yammer or how to celebrate the company’s 100-year anniversary. Then begin involving them in re-boosting the values, in re-location projects or in defining company culture in merger or acquisition matters.

Now, run through the list once again. Yes, it is more time-consuming using influencers in employee communication than sharing an article on the intranet. But the output – employee engagement and business results – will be greater. That is why you should start today already.