The growing significance of the employer brand is one of the biggest drivers in HR’s shift from a support function to a key strategic player. In the 21st century, power dynamics between the marketer and the customer and the employee and the employer have shifted, driving accountability and creating a transparent workplace. Now that (thanks to social media) employee engagement is so visible, how can HR professionals future proof their strategy and adapt in order to recruit and retain the best people?
Recognising The Power Of Social Media
Social media has created a symbiotic relationship between marketing and customers. The next generation of consumers have increased their demands from a brand. They don’t just want a product or service that satisfies them, they want something that represents them. Customers will be loyal to brands that represent their values, ethics and lifestyle. And this brand loyalty doesn’t just offer the financial return of increased sales. Savvy businesses who have adapted their brand to become more ethical, photogenic and aspirational- in short more “Insta-Friendly”- have tapped into a reservoir of free advertising, as people will buy their products to promote who they are as a person to their peers.
And they are good at it. Social media users have an unparalleled talent for personal branding and networking that is dismissed by some (mostly older generations) as narcissism and image obsession. They can advertise a whole lifestyle in a picture, and generate, edit and disseminate content at a rapid rate, and to an incredibly wide audience.
The reach of content shared on social media is not the only thing which has grown - the depth of information has increased massively too. Social media has shifted the paradigm for “Keeping up with the Joneses”. We don’t just see the what people own, we see how they live. We see what car the Joneses drive, what dog they own or how nice their garden is, but also what music they listen to, what they eat, what toiletries they use, what they keep in their bathroom cabinets. And it’s not just the Joneses, it’s the whole world. Thanks to the ability to share information on social media, anyone can have both the proximity and the visibility of a neighbour.
Using Global Networks
This is not just something which occurs in the private sphere. In the same way that people promote themselves on personal social media, they promote themselves via their professional profiles creating engaging content, for free, reaching vast networks. This is perhaps even more pertinent to LinkedIn, which places a broader range of content on a user's feed opening them up to not just their own networks, but those of their connections. When you see the myriad of connections a user can have with people across the globe and in different stages of their career, it is easy to imagine the “viral” spread of content on LinkedIn.
For every official corporate LinkedIn account, with millions of followers and carefully curated content, there are thousands of employees who can “go viral” and reach an even larger audience. Of the 10,000 most shared articles on LinkedIn over the past 5 years, only 6% were written by “influencers” such as Deepak Chopra and Bill Gates. Employees are increasingly posting the good, the bad and the ugly of their own work experience – from wow moments of recognition, to dreadful recruitment processes and exceptionally candid letters of resignation. And many of these go viral.
Whistleblowers and Poor Customer Service
This lack of power should cause some HR professionals to be worried. Thanks to social media, there is nowhere for a company with a poor work environment to hide. The next viral post could be one which calls out their toxic environment, inadequate people policies or a #metoo moment, because the power has now definitely shifted to the voice of the employee.
Marketing have experienced this phenomenon for much longer. Customers can publicly complain about their experience with a business and have a devastating effect. Marketing is well ahead of HR in managing, mitigating and leveraging the employer brand through social media. And yet relatively few organisations see strong collaboration between HR and Marketing.
So what can HR learn from Marketing?
Branding In The Transparent Workplace
The answer lies in branding. Great corporate branding, including the promotion of a company’s ethos, values and narrative, a stylish look and feel and importantly, strong online peer advocacy has led many brands to success. For a long time, this did not matter in HR, but the notion of employer branding has risen to prominence thanks to the candid transparency of social media.
People can (and do) post about their project milestones, their volunteering at work, their recognition and their development opportunities. This says that they are skilled, philanthropic, respected and driven. But it also says that the company they work for performs well, is responsible, values their employees and helps them to grow.
HR should work with marketing to understand what draws people into a brand, what makes people loyal, and what gets them excited to speak out, in order to develop a compelling employer brand that supports and drives successful recruitment and retention.
In the transparent workplace of the future, an employee can look outside walls of their organisation and see what they are missing out on. But this works both ways, and a customer can easily look in. This two-way insight is probably the most significant reason why a partnership between HR and marketing is not just something which is nice to have, it is vital.
If the employee brand is not coherent with the corporate brand, HR can undo the great work of the marketing team and vice versa.
If you are still wondering what you could gain if HR and marketing worked together, maybe you should consider what you could lose if they didn't.
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