As the traditional adage goes – the best things are most often right in front of you – this rings true for many brands today investing in storytelling though oftentimes overlook their most powerful and authentic advocates – employees.
After friends and family, employees are consistently ranked as trustworthy content creators. According to Edelman’s 2015 Global Trust Barometer Report, employees are the most trusted source for engagement, integrity, and operations content. Fostering a sense of trust also extend to your relationship other internal-facing stakeholders, from third-party partners to the reputation and transparency of suppliers down your supply chain. Beyond external storytelling benefits, brands that invest in engaging and empowering their employees in tangible ways are reaping ancillary rewards. Outlined in PWC’s 2014 Millennials at Work Report, ‘employees most committed to their organizations put in 57% more effort on the job – and are 87% less likely to resign – than employees who consider themselves disengaged.’
Today’s reality is that employee engagement is at an all-time low. According to a recent Gallup survey, a mere 13% of employees are engaged and 63% are not engaged at all. Couple this intel with studies that demonstrate how purpose-driven organizations create high engagement and innovation, and there is a significant opportunity in internal engagement through purposeful storytelling.
Here are three ways to start activating one of your most powerful storytelling networks:
1. Give employees the license and platforms to co-own, co-author and co-create your brand story
Leading brands that will win in the engagement space give employees and partners ways to co-own, co-author, and co-create the brand story. In doing so, your brand story can be amplified beyond traditional, less interactive advertising campaigns or initiatives that exist as more singular and linear expressions.
How does this come to life in practice? One option is providing dedicated social media platforms that employees themselves own. Starbucks partners (employees) have dedicated Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus accounts. This strategy approaches social media as a collective effort, not only generating a critical mass of content but fostering relationships, engagement and an employee-generated community. For the past two years, Starbucks partners have also been showcased in a series of YouTube videos called #tobeapartner, with the hashtag gaining momentum across all social channels.
Another way to approach employee engagement through social media is by localizing and personalizing channels. Whole Foods’ regional-centric social platforms provide employees in specific cities an opportunity to celebrate and connect with their local community and customers, as well as celebrate what other employees are doing within their or neighboring stores. Curating content further, certain departments within a store may have their own social media representation, such as the dedicated instagram account for Santa Monica’s been section.
No matter which direction is selected, it will need to be supported by cultural conversation training, language examples and guidelines (ex. do’s and don’ts) and a social media policy that, rather than inhibits engagement, creates a context for on-brand action and storytelling.
2. Be the chief celebrant, not celebrity, of your internal community
From employees to suppliers, there is tremendous storytelling opportunity in creating an intimate portrait of your internal stakeholder community by putting them, rather than your brand, center stage. Whether showcasing employees as experts or sharing in-depth profiles of key members making a positive difference, the amount of content can be quite limitless.
Ben and Jerry’s provide their employees with a significant voice in their social impact work through a revolutionary approach to employee-led philanthropy. By recognizing that those most affected by a problem are in the best position to determine the solutions, Ben and Jerry’s places its employees in the driver’s seat to provide grants and select projects to social and environmental initiatives and organizations creating positive change across the country.
For Earth Month, Aveda looks to its global network of ‘pros’ to speak to protecting and preserving clean water for their #protectwhatyoulove campaign. The videos are only a portion of this employee-driven campaign, which also includes charitable ‘cut-a-thons’ across their entire network.
3. Provide storytelling tools that empower employees to become community architects
In order to ensure cohesive, consistent messaging across your social channels, it is critical to develop clear, digestible and engaging tools alongside proper training. Starbucks is a frontrunner here, with the goal of elevating its partners to brand advocates, evidenced by the millions of dollars of training investment they make annually. From its Leadership Lab to Green Apron Book (which all partners receive at onboarding and outlines the brand’s ‘five ways of being’. The Book’s actions – from making eye contact with customers to starting a conversation – may seem overly simplistic at first glance. However when taken together, these go beyond singular actions to an embodiment of Starbuck’s way of being in the world, and ultimately a ‘how-to’ on living out its mission.
Regaining clarity on the purpose or intention of your employee engagement efforts can often emerge from organizational change or crises, as which recently surfaced at Apple. Amidst a series of leadership changes over the past five years, the retail giant refocused efforts on one of its core assets – employees. Advised by Angela Ahrendts, SVP of Retail and Online Sales, “Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first.”
How can your organization best engage employees on the journey to become brand advocates and social storytellers?