Your secret marketing campaign: Your employees

It’s your hope when you hire a new employee that they will always act in the company’s best interests. This is a dangerous assumption to make though, as there are so many ways in which an employee may, intentionally or not, represent your business in a damaging way. The internet – and all the social media channels and forums that it has brought along with it – certainly haven’t helped. While online marketing is a powerful and necessary tool for every business, that same tool can quickly turn into a PR disaster when employees start portraying the company in a bad light. In an ideal world you’d combat this by becoming a company that is so wonderful to work for, none of your employees have a bad thing to say about you and they all follow your guidelines to the letter. But in reality, you’ll need to implement steps to educate employees and encourage constructive dialogues so when they have a problem they feel they can turn to you rather than venting online. When managed well, you can turn your workforce into one of your most impactful marketing tools.

Ongoing education

If you expect your employees to stay on top of what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to online marketing, you need to keep them educated and informed. Encourage them to subscribe to top industry blogs and arrange for regular training via webinars or conferences. Providing ongoing education will not only make employees feel valued but will result in better marketing, making your company more competitive. Keep your company’s best practices and style guides up-to-date and ensure that changes are communicated to existing employees. And when it comes to inducting new employees to your company’s way of doing things, take nothing for granted, no matter how experienced and well-educated they may seem on paper. Employees need to understand that they are representing their company 24/7, whether during working hours or not. A few years back a photo of a Taco Bell employee licking a stack of taco shells went viral causing a PR nightmare for the company and reminding marketers everywhere why it’s important to stay on top of what your employees are posting online.

Know what they’re saying

One single employee may have a vast online presence through various social media sites, blogs and websites. At the very least they’re probably on Facebook. Just one or two mentions of your company could easily reach an audience of thousands, so it’s important to know what’s being said about you. A good starting point to monitor any online chatter is to create an exact-match Google Alert with your business name in quotation marks. This will notify you every time your business name is mentioned anywhere on the internet, once indexed by Google. If another name or spelling is regularly used for your company (e.g. its initials), create an alert for those terms as well. Services like SocialMention, Sendible and Boardreader can also be used to monitor mentions of a company name across social media and message boards to gauge general customer sentiment as well as to pick up on individual comments. If you start to notice a trend in what employees are saying (long hours, poor management, etc.), take notice and work out how to address the issues before the problem escalates. The fact that employees would rather complain online to an anonymous crowd than raise the matter within the company could be a sign that you need to implement better internal processes so your staff know they will be listened to. It’s no secret that companies like to check potential employees’ social media profiles during the hiring process. While this can help to build up a picture of the person themselves, you should also be looking at how they have represented their previous employers online. You’re looking for someone who shares a mixture of relevant industry content and appropriate personal information as opposed to someone who is constantly complaining about their slave-driving employer and proclaiming their elation when the weekend finally arrives. These kinds of habits will undoubtedly carry over into their job.

Word of mouth

Monitoring what’s being said online may not be too difficult, but it’s impossible to know what employees are saying about you in person. Someone who spends their lunchtimes whingeing to co-workers about poor pay could end up causing a mini revolt. You also shouldn’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth within social circles. If one person says something negative about your company to a group of friends down the pub, and they each tell one of their friends, and so on, a bad reputation can quickly spread. Keeping this kind of communication in check again comes back to the matter of creating an environment where employees feel able to address matters directly with the company. This will make them feel respected and valued, increasing their productivity and performance and eliminating the need for them to let off steam elsewhere. Don’t let this escalate into a hostage situation where your employees demand more and more benefits in return for saying nice things about you, but do take them seriously when they have something to say.

Conclusion

The world of marketing has evolved far beyond planning a re-branding exercise or launching a new product. Employees have more control over a company’s image than they may realise, whether though the way they implement company guidelines or from their occasional rants on Twitter. While you can’t stay in control of everything that is said about your company, you can stay informed and encourage a company culture where employees don’t feel like the only people who will listen to their complaints are their social media followers. It could prove to be a better investment than any PR campaign you have ever run.