Finding the right influencers isn’t always a straightforward exercise. As such, some brands have chosen to place their trust in the people who know their products and services best: their employees.
Is this a proven strategy? How can brands adapt their influencer marketing strategies to include their own employees during the Coronavirus pandemic? Let’s dig in.
Bringing Influencer Marketing In-House
Numerous brands have featured employees as influencers. Notably, Macy’s launched Style Crew, an in-house brand ambassador program, in 2017. The program piloted with 20 employee influencers, and grew to more than 400 in a year. Members shared posts featuring Macy’s products and services on Instagram and Snapchat. In return, the company paid a percentage of each sale to their employee influencers.
Similarly, MasterCard employees post brand news, images, videos, and other content to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms. The company encourages employees to use social media and organizes social media education sessions to help them hone best practices for content production and publishing.
Peloton, likewise, realized that employees can be effective brand ambassadors. The brand’s fitness instructors curated social media feeds and built personal brands, which allowed the company to spread its values and promote its apparel outside of company channels. Their employees had in-depth knowledge that their customers lacked, and could present Peloton’s offerings through their own individual experiences.
Advantages and Drawbacks of Employee Influencers
The companies highlighted above–and others like them–have benefited from employer influencer marketing programs for various reasons, including:
- Employees are trusted messengers. A Nielsen survey found that 92 percent of consumers worldwide trust earned media (such as word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family) above all other forms of advertising. Consumers listen to the people closest to them, and employees can guide their network toward their brand’s products and services.
- Employees are familiar with the brand. Peloton instructors, for instance, work with the products they promote every day. Because they’re so familiar with the brand, they’re viewed as authorities in the home fitness arena.
- Familiarity is comfortable. Brands may benefit by hiring employees they’ve already vetted, as they have a good idea of what to expect. It’s easier to assess reliability and trustworthiness in someone familiar.
- Employee influencer programs can boost morale. By incentivizing and including them in marketing efforts, a brand can make employees feel more involved and invested in the company’s success. For instance, H&M has a dedicated web page featuring its top employee influencers from across the country.
- Employee ambassadors are cost-effective. By compensating employees based on sales rather than paying outside influencers on a per-post basis, Macy’s avoided spending on expensive social media mega-influencers who may not have driven sufficient sales. Macy’s also was able to save the resources needed to vet potential outside candidates.
But for all of its benefits, employee advocacy has potential drawbacks. For one, an employee may slip up and let out information the company doesn’t want made public. For another, employees might find that there’s too much work involved–they already spend 40 hours a week at work, so spending personal time promoting the brand may be exhausting. Finally, employees can potentially drift off message or share messaging that’s off-brand.
Considerations amid COVID-19
Some brands have done an excellent job navigating the pandemic with employee influencers. Lucky Brand employees, for example, began sharing work-from-home tips, which blossomed into a work-from-home campaign, “Lucky Together.” This page serves as a tutorial hub and ranks among the company site’s top 10 most visited pages.
Influencers are reflections of the brands they promote, and thus have a responsibility to present the company in a positive light. They can do so during the pandemic by:
- Acknowledging the situation: Many are suffering through the loss of loved ones, unemployment, and mental health struggles. It’s important that influencers acknowledge the challenges people are facing, and ensure their brand expresses empathy and understanding.
- Offering tips: Influencers can share safety recommendations and tips for small businesses. They can also list organizations that provide essential services (e.g., medical supplies, food) to the public.
- Providing assurance: Employee influencers can benefit their brands by communicating safety measures the company is taking to protect consumers. Furthermore, they can communicate realistic expectations regarding customer experience.
For more tips on adapting your influencer marketing strategy for today’s climate, check out our webinar.
Brands are projected to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022. With an influx of brand dollars inundating the space, marketers need to know that they’re spending wisely.
Employee influencers are a potentially cost-effective alternative to professional influencers. They’re also reliable messengers who intimately understand the brands they promote. Keep in mind the potential downsides to implementing this strategy, and be sure to treat employee advocates with sensitivity. And currently, amid a health and financial crisis, it’s critical that employee influencers convey that same respect and loyalty to your audience, with an abundance of empathy.
Learn more about influencer marketing in the age of COVID-19, and be sure to view our webinar for additional tips and strategies.