group of co-workers standing in a row
Positive brand representation by employees has proven beneficial not only in customer relations but also in reflecting an attractive work culture for potential job applicants. — Getty Images/Cecilie_Arcurs

This article was submitted to CO— by Talaya Waller, founder and CEO of personal branding consulting firm, Waller & Company and author of Personal Brand Management: Marketing Human Value.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many small businesses have had to pivot their business models, adapting to the new normal by selling their products and services online. What they’re learning is that as markets shrink, the competition becomes even more fierce.

One of the best strategies to compete for brand awareness in this environment is to leverage employees as brand ambassadors. By including the very people who comprise the business, small businesses can expand their company’s influence to increase market share and generate organic growth.

Studies have shown that content shared by employees generates eight​ times more engagement​ than content shared on brand channels. And a recent report by Ogilvy revealed that brands that maintain their visibility throughout a crisis could more than triple the size of their market share during economic decline and also recover quicker and stronger post-crisis.

Successful companies and leaders know how to leverage the power of their people and incorporate their insights into their marketing plans. In order to be effective, small business brand ambassador programs must incorporate the following five actionable steps:

  • Employees must know what the organization’s brand stands for and how to communicate that brand.
  • Employees must be able to identify what their brand is and how their personal brand fits within the organization.
  • Employees must identify the most relevant platforms and digital tools and make sure they are secure. One position now encompasses multiple roles, meaning that employees may have to take on additional tasks.
  • Employees must position their expertise to internal stakeholders.
  • Employees must build brand awareness with external stakeholders online.

In order to roll out an effective brand ambassador program, ambassadors must be looked at in four different ways: as stakeholders, influencers, brand identities and representation risks.

Dr. Talaya Waller, founder and CEO, Waller & Company

How to design a brand ambassador program

In order to roll out an effective brand ambassador program, ambassadors must be looked at in four different ways: as stakeholders, influencers, brand identities and representation risks. Consider the following steps when implementing your program:

Get executives on board

​Start with communications from your executive team that direct the organizational message and encourage engagement online. Provide information to employees to promote these communications across different platforms.

Educate your employees

Keep your employees informed on company news and initiatives. Post on social media and the company intranet about press releases, new products, events and major communications from leadership.

Throughout this process, make sure that your marketing team is a key partner so that employees understand how to best share this information.

Encourage share and tell

Employee advocacy — which can come in various forms — has been shown to make a lasting impact. For example, ask employees to update their LinkedIn or other social media profiles to mention a certain brand message or offer positive comments and engagement.

Creating content (like blog posts) and hashtags for your employees to share and hosting employee events to engage them with the brand and encourage them to share its message online are other ways to encourage this, as well.

Livestreaming, or the act of filming personal or behind-the-scenes company content and posting it online, has also transformed how marketers classify brand content. TikTok, for example, has made an incredible impact in less than a year’s time, with brands from Sephora to Starbucks quickly embracing the viral attention that livestreaming has brought to their brands.

Measure success

Beyond the consumer benefits of brand ambassador programs, another key benefit is that high levels of employee engagement on social media promotes your corporate culture. This will attract more potential brand-fit employees to apply for positions at your business.

The metrics of the effectiveness of employee advocacy can be measured by things like retention rates, cost and quality of hires and the number of applicants over time as you implement these programs. Applicants get a more realistic understanding of your company’s values, which promotes more accurate self-selection of applicants.

 Talaya Waller headshot
Dr. Talaya Waller, founder and CEO of Waller & Company. — Talaya Waller

Why brand ambassadors are critical in the new economy

Very few people, if anyone, anticipated the global economic fallout of the COVID crisis. While its ramifications are still unfolding, the corporate desire to return to ‘normalcy’ coupled with consumer anxiety to spend wisely means that organizations must prioritize customer loyalty.

According to Dynamic Business, "While there may be a downturn in customer spending, there is an increase in customer touchpoints and attention.” Studies also show that ​76% of people​ are more likely to trust someone they know over any form of corporately branded content.

Brand ambassadors fulfill this burgeoning consumer need because they can build loyalty in uncertain economic times. And employees are the easiest and most untapped resource for companies to capitalize on this trust. The only way to have customer touchpoints at all levels of a business is to include the very people who comprise it.

Small businesses and large corporations alike benefit from having their CEO, employees, and executives communicate the values of the organization across all platforms and channels. While much of product development and services has slowed for many businesses over these past few months, this time presents the opportunities to be innovative in your marketing, take stock of your core business values and decide how to best communicate them through the company stakeholders who drive your business every day.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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