Friday, September 5, 2008

Zappos and EGM: Employee-Generated Media

One aspect that is too often omitted from Social Media discussions is the increased importance of front-line employees. In the "old days," companies had many employees who spoke one-to-one with customers and very few employees who broadcast information to many customers. The former were folks in expansive Customer Service operations while the latter were in relatively smaller marketing and PR divisions.

But Social Media is changing this dynamic in organizations. If you follow Social Media bloggers, one word you'll see a lot is "transparency." Transparency means many things--such as making business decisions that reflect your brand and behaving ethically in your public dealings--but it also means having employees whose attitudes and communications honestly reflect the organization's brand, personality, and commitment to the customer. I touched on this topic in a past post, Social Media and Your Most Important Customers: Your Employees, in which I stated the following:
With social media demanding more transparency and with the potential for employees to be communicating to larger groups of stakeholders, there has never been a greater need to ensure your employees are your most loyal customers.
These thoughts returned to mind as I was reading a terrific article on, Zappos Shows How Employees Can Be Brand-Builders. Pete Blackshaw explores how Zappos--one of the most visible success stories of the past several years--has used EGM (Employee-Generated Media) to improve consumer perception and loyalty.

Brian Kalma, director of creative services and brand marketing, offers a simple vision that explains both the success of Zappos and the point of differentiation between Zappos and traditional marketing strategy. He describes Zappos' "People Planning" and notes, "We invest the time and money into hiring and nurturing the right people, as many other companies do in their media planning."

Blackshaw asks, "Are employees a de facto ad channel?" and then describes that as a "crude way to frame the question." I don't believe that's crude at all, except perhaps that it is better to think of employees as a marketing or branding channel rather than an ad channel. He goes on to note, "we can't ignore that free, high-impact employee-generated media affects the broader media mix."

The fact that employees are part of the brand experience really shouldn't come as a surprise; after all, how many times have you entered a customer service incident with a high opinion of a brand but left with a considerably lower opinion? How often have you been told via advertising that "we like to see you smile" or "we aren't happy until you are," only to have an employee make it clear that he or she doesn't care whether you smile or are happy?

The difference in the age of Social Media is that we can throw out the old adage that an unhappy customer will tell ten people; today, an unhappy customer can tell 23,000 (as did TechCrunch's Michael Arrington did when his Comcast service was down) or 1.3 million (as a Comcast customer did when a service technician fell asleep in his house).

And it isn't only consumers who have more reach as a result of Social Media; employees do to. Folks like Frank Eliason at Comcast and RichardAtDell are being followed by more than 3,000 people, and this is at a point when the the number of Twitter users numbers less than 3 million (according to TwitDir). How many people will these customer service reps touch when Twitter (or Plurk,, or Pownce) reach 30 million or more?

In the AdAge article, Blackshaw notes there is a significant organizational roadblock to turning employees into brand builders: "
Employee training isn't necessarily within the scope of the CMO, and the HR department isn't necessarily incentivized to think about employees as brand-building billboards." But, as the AdAge article points out, "if conversation is the new gold standard, and employees are consistently at the heart of the conversation, we have a big compelling reason -- and tons of upside -- in rethinking the importance of employee advocacy."

I'd highly recommend a read of Blackshaw's article, and if you'd like some tips from Fullhouse, read the earlier article on employee branding from this blog.

No comments: