Sunday, September 13, 2009

HR is the New Marketing and Employees are the New Media

For too long, Marketers have been content to focus on messaging and media while considering activities like recruiting and training to be the concern of support or operations departments. In our newly social world, in which employees create or cause interactions that can impact the perceptions of many, Marketers cannot ignore how brands are altered by employee actions and communications. In 2009, brand management isn't about what you say you are, it's about who you are, and this is what makes HR the new Marketing.

We've already seen plenty of instances where the careless and irresponsible actions of individual employees have been shared with millions of consumers, harming the organization's reputation, moving the brand off message, distracting leadership, requiring urgent PR response, and forcing organizational reconsideration of management processes. Examples include Domino's kitchen workers soiling ingredients placed onto pizzas, an ill-advised kitchen sink bath by a Burger King employee, and a Honda product manager embarrassing his organization with a lack of transparency on a brand's Facebook page.

I sometimes get asked why my blog more frequently spotlights negative examples of Social Media rather than positive best-case examples. The problem is--not just for me as a Social Media observer but also for brands--that the damaging and shocking are much more likely to go viral than the helpful and constructive. An employee placing ingredients on a pizza in a hygienic and appropriate manner just doesn't grab attention like an employee transferring a slice of cheese from his nostril to a customer's pizza.

So, I am pleased to get an opportunity to present a positive example to contrast the headline-grabbing antics of dimwit employees. As reported on, Mary Moss has worked at the drive-thru window at a McDonald's for four years, and over that time her upbeat attitude and desire to connect with her customers resulted in quite a fan base. She didn't even know what Facebook was until a customer told her she had her own fan page on the Social Network. Mary's fan page had 260 friends back when the article was published on August 11th, but it now has over 800 members.

I think this positive example demonstrates several important things of note:
  • Negative goes farther and faster than positive: Mr. Unstable gets 460,000 views on his video while Mary Moss earns just 260 friends (prior to the mainstream media attention). As noted, there is an innate human fascination with the gross, stupid, and humiliating, and this combined with Social Media's speed and reach present risks that brands must take seriously and manage.

  • Authentic Social Media success starts with positive consumer experiences: Brands can pay for tweets, reach out to bloggers for Social PR, and launch and moderate their own fan pages, but authentic, groundswell success is based on the experiences brands provide to their consumers. The brands that were Word of Mouth powerhouses before today's Social Media existed--such as Harley-Davidson, Disney, Apple, Google, Starbucks, and Honda--have known this all along.

  • Every employee is a marketer: A friend recently raved about the assistance he received from an employee in a Costco wine department (and he's eager to find time to blog about it). In his one-minute story about this employee, my friend impacted my awareness and perception of Costco more than all of the organization's marketing efforts. As Nielsen reported back in July, consumers place far greater trust in the opinions of people they know, and even have more trust in the opinions of strangers, than in official marketing communications. If HR is the new Marketing, than employees are the new media.

What does this mean to marketers? Focusing on advertising and PR while ignoring the ways in which employees are recruited, onboarded, trained, evaluated, and supported is like paddling a sail boat when you've yet to hoist the sails. Sure, you can get the boat moving with a lot of paddling effort, but why not create velocity by setting the conditions and exploiting natural circumstances?

How might marketers and others within organizations better influence and care for the power of human resources in Social Media?
  • Personality Testing for All New Employees: We all know that inconsistency kills brands; if brands are increasingly reliant upon employees communicating, networking, and sparking dialog in Social Media, how can a brand's personality arise from all those different voices?

    In an age when authenticity matters and people are expected to reflect their personal as well as professional selves in Social Media, it is much easier to find employees whose personalities fit the brand than to expect employees to be something they're not. Many organizations already conduct personality testing as part of their hiring process; in how many of these organizations do you suppose Marketing professionals have contributed to or vetted these tests?

  • Selection Criteria for Key Social Communication Roles: Any employee can (inadvertently) become a viral media star, but those placed on the front lines of Social Media by their employers have a particularly important role in brand perception. For this reason, the criteria used to select Social communicators deserves special consideration.

    Some organizations are selecting employees based on the fact they are already active in Social Media. Knowing Facebook doesn't seem like a particularly helpful criteria for critical and visible positions moderating discussion groups, listening and responding to criticism and praise on Social Networks, and offering customer service via Twitter. It's not that experience with Social Networks hurts, but there are more important communication and relationship-building skills to be considered. Twitter and Facebook processes can be easily taught; it is more difficult to instill listening skills, judgment, empathy, patience, time management, problem solving, and the other abilities necessary to succeed in Social Media.

  • Brand Training: Marketers spend a great deal of time crafting messages and broadcasting them to consumers, but how much time is spent ensuring employees know and can reflect the brand in their daily interactions with others?

    Brands have personalities, a voice, points of differentiation, and other attributes that create the expectations and experiences that forge the brand in the minds of consumers. These attributes cannot be reflected by employees in their Social communications unless those employees are intimately familiar with the brand platform; furthermore, brand information cannot be conveyed to employees in the same manner marketers communicate to each other and to agencies, but must be shared in practical ways that help front-line employees understand how to communicate and act.

  • Setting Expectations of Employees: Every employee, no matter how self-motivated, wants to know what is expected and how their performance will be evaluated. Setting an employee loose to Tweet for the brand should be no different than assigning him or her to a call center job--the quantitative and qualitative expectations of the position must be clear.

    Every brand and organization will have different expectations, so it's important to communicate rules and performance measures. In Social Media, this might include standards for the personal versus professional information conveyed, who to follow, topics appropriate for public dialog, criteria for alerting management of potential PR crises, and the like.

  • Monitoring and feedback: Monitoring employees' interactions with consumers has always been vital, but consider the increased urgency of doing so in a highly-networked world where a single incorrect or frustrated tweet or post can be shared with thousands of current and potential customers within minutes. Real-time monitoring may not be realistic for any but the largest of organizations, but implementing some form of periodic and ongoing monitoring is vital for performance evaluation, employee feedback, and brand management. Companies cannot afford to wait for a complaint or, worse yet, a viral crisis before recognizing the need to listen to employees as carefully as they listen to consumers.
Employees have always had an important role in managing brands, but Social Media has made this role even more vital. How else should organizations ensure they are proactively tapping their human resources and protecting their brands in our highly networked world? Your feedback and ideas would be appreciated--just click the "Comments" link below.

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Jeremy Epstein said...

I think this is a brilliant insight. I'm going to blog off of this. Thank you for the idea. Every employee can actually be measured by customers directly.

Augie Ray said...


Thanks for the positive feedback. I would be quite honored to have planted the seed of an idea for your terrific blog (which I recommend others check out: