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How do employee ambassador programs work?

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To attract and retain the best talent, your employer brand must reflect your company culture and values – as actually experienced by your employees. But how do you convince candidates that your employer brand is genuine and true-to-life? Employee advocacy remains the most powerful channel. But you need the right digital tools and managerial support to leverage this valuable resource.

The employer brand must reflect the employee experience

In theory, it’s a simple concept. A well-managed employer brand attracts the right talent profiles and successfully converts prospects into new recruits. In practice, however, the situation is more nuanced. It is not uncommon for candidates to anticipate a gap between the brand promise and the actual reality. The brand promise as expressed by the Director of Human Resources does not always accurately map to the daily work experience of employees.

Looking at some recent data from France, it appears that 36% of permanent contracts are terminated before their first anniversary, according to this post, the turnover rate has doubled in the last 20 years. Some experts estimate the cost of a failed recruitment placement at between €45,000 and €100,000, depending on the type of position. Therefore, the stakes for companies are considerable, and the current economic situation further accentuates the challenges facing prospective employers. Taking this same study, this summer, 95% of employers in France believed that recruitment was more difficult than before the pandemic, with 88% attributing this to the increased demands and expectations of candidates. Two-thirds of candidates admitted to being more difficult to satisfy today in terms of their job selection (Isarta survey).

The ambiguity surrounding employer brands is neatly summed up by a candidate testimony quoted in this French study “I would be wary of any company that fails to communicate, because it suggests they have something to hide. Equally, a company that focuses purely on positive communication rings alarm bells for me.” The consistency of the messaging is just as important meanwhile as its visibility and attractiveness. The employer brand serves a dual purpose. It alerts candidates to the existence of the company, while also giving them a sense of the company’s everyday work culture.

In other words, an employer brand campaign should not be an ad-hoc or impromptu undertaking, it must be anchored in a global human resources strategy that, in turn, builds on a systematic policy of listening to employee feedback. An employer brand must highlight the strengths of the corporate culture as they are actually experienced and identified by employees. It has to reflect the employee experience. Any discrepancy between this and the employer brand is sure to be noticed before too long.

Employee ambassadors: the Holy Grail of HR marketing

When we look for information about a company, a personality, a piece of work or a product, we are usually not satisfied with the official website. Instead, we tend to compare the promotional messaging with the reviews posted by the media, by critics or by Internet users. Recruitment candidates do the very same. They will not necessarily be satisfied by an isolated criticism or positive opinion, but will seek converging views.

This is where employee advocacy can play an important role. Not in the sense of scripted, curated testimonies, but rather through individual contributions which sound genuine and which avoid a purely positive tone.

Not all employees are natural brand ambassadors. Employee buy-in is something that needs to be cultivated. The key to success lies in the authentic employee experience and a managerial culture that encourages these employees to share these experiences with others. Dell has been a pioneer in this approach for some time, creating its in-house Social Media And Community University in 2010. Its aim was to train employees on how to use social networks and certifying them as ambassadors of the company’s methodologies and lines of business. As a result, by 2018, Dell had 16,000 employees who were active on social networks (10% of the global workforce) and saw negative online comments on its brand drop by 30%.

Looking again to France, an oft-cited example is that of Decathlon, where an employer brand program has been in place since 2011. The group’s strategy is to unify employees behind the universal passion for sport and give them a voice through videos, interviews, reports and content broadcast on its YouTube channel and the main social media networks. Employee advocacy in this case may focus more on the “written word”, but the content undoubtedly provides a real insight into the work culture and experience across the group. A company with very poor labour relations would not be able to engage in this type of communication. This is something that candidates are more than aware of.

Digitalisation and employee advocacy

The question is how can employers mobilise more employees to act as brand ambassadors and support their recruitment policy? As previously mentioned, the managerial mindset and the underlying HR culture play important roles. The company needs to encourage its employees to take initiative and talk about their experiences while also taking proper account of their expectations. But how can the word be spread beyond company walls? In the past, recruiters had to rely on word of mouth. Now, however, employers can leverage a wide choice of digital solutions to enhance their reputation.

Services like Glassdoor allow employees and former employees to provide anonymous feedback about their current or past employer in the style of a TripAdvisor review. This underlines the urgent need for a HR policy focused on employee experiences. In the digital world, the company has no control over the comments that will be posted to this platform, in full view of all candidates looking for information about a potential employer.

One solution would be to give employees an opportunity to express their views on official and non-official company channels, such as:

The company’s social media channels can be easily handed over to employees, but preferably following appropriate training – similar to that offered by Dell.

The recruitment software used by the company can also be set up to allow candidates to get in touch with internal employees, as part of a well-defined process, through videos and ad-hoc content, or on a freely accessible basis, according to the recruitment policy defined by HR.

After the recruitment decision, the integration interface can be used to connect new recruits with their new departmental colleagues, or those from other departments, in order to speed up the onboarding process.

Whatever form it takes, employee advocacy is the crowning achievement of a successful HR strategy. Listening to employees’ expectations; responding to them; building an employer brand based on feedback; communicating the employer brand across multiple channels throughout the recruitment process, leveraging all the possibilities of digital communication. These are the boxes that must be ticked in this era of talent shortage.

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