Employees as Culture Marketers: Why You Need Employee Brand Ambassadors and How to Encourage Them

employee brand ambassadors

In Part I of our culture marketing series we introduced you to culture marketing and shared insights from some of Indy’s top business marketing  minds.  In Part II, we took a deep dive into three ways to build your company’s culture marketing strategy. To round out the series, we’re exploring one of the key components of culture marketing: employee brand ambassadors. 

In November the tale of a Sherwin-Williams paint store employee went viral. Tony Piloseno is a viral Tik-Tok celebrity with 1.2+ million followers who love his mesmerizing paint mixing videos. He’s so enthusiastic about paint mixing and his account that he put together his own marketing presentation about how efforts like his could be a great marketing tool to build brand awareness for Sherwin-Williams with Gen Z. He spent months trying to share it with their corporate marketing leaders, but they refused to review it.

Instead of embracing this social savvy employee, who had spent three years at their Athens, Ohio, store, the company fired him, calling him an embarrassment to their brand and accused him of being a thief (Piloseno maintains he purchased the paint with his employee discount). 

The end result is a cautionary tale of how to create a PR nightmare and how NOT to do culture marketing, especially when it comes to employee brand ambassadorship. 

What are employee brand ambassadors?

In our previous culture marketing post we talked about culture marketing having three key areas: internal content, external content, and brand ambassadorship. Brand ambassadorship is the content your employees share via their own social media and content channels about your culture, your work, and their overall experiences with the company.

This type of content is a golden opportunity because it comes right from the mouths of people who know your company best. While your marketing team can create fantastic content about your brand and culture, it’s also created through the lens of marketing. Obviously your company is going to create content that directly celebrates your brand. Employees, however, are a little different. If they regularly post on their own about their experiences, eagerly share posts from your company accounts, and show true passion for their work, people are going to see this as more authentic—especially if they aren’t in a marketing role where they’re more apt to share the content anyways. 

In the Tony Piloseno story, his enthusiasm for mixing paint made him an outstanding brand ambassador and gave some personality to something that, let’s face it, isn’t exactly the most revolutionary or exciting field. That’s why it’s so disappointing to see the company not see his time, energy, and enthusiasm as an opportunity. He was thinking outside the box, but Sherwin-Williams wanted their brand thinking to stay sealed as tight as a paint can.

How to foster employee brand ambassadors 

Having a great company culture is going to pave the way for organic brand ambassadorship. But spending a little time and effort on strategic tactics within your team will further encourage employees to engage, share, and become rockstar ambassadors for your organization. Here’s how.

Listen to your employees!

When Sherwin-Williams refused to have a conversation about using Tik-Tok in their marketing, they shut down one of the best assets a company can ask for: an employee who loved the product so much they went above and beyond to celebrate it and share it with others (even if it was a little unconventional).

Passionate employees—especially Millennials and Gen Z, who now make up the majority of the workforce—want to be heard and can bring valuable ideas to the table. 

Lindsay Boccardo
Lindsay Boccardo

“As the internet has brought about social media and major communication changes, these two generations have a unique perspective on how to communicate with the outside world and each other,” says Lindsay Boccardo, a corporate trainer, strategist, and keynote speaker who specializes in helping organizations maximize talent—especially in multi-generational offices. “They will bring a perspective you truly cannot come up with without them.” 

If you don’t take the time to listen to them, they’re going to feel stunted in their growth and love for the company. In Piloseno’s case, he entertained several offers from paint companies after his story went viral. He sought to find the right cultural fit and ended up accepting a job at Florida Paints. 

“He chose the leader, the human that understood him and his passion. He didn’t choose a well known global company,” says Boccardo. 

How do you make sure your employees feel listened to and understood, helping to foster their passion? Start with assessing what internal channels allow employees to share their ideas and input. Is there a Slack channel? A special form they can submit? A quarterly opportunity to get on the CEO’s calendar for 10 minutes? A retreat that gives them time to brainstorm and share? Even if it’s an idea you don’t love and don’t see as fitting into your goals or vision, share your appreciation for their passion and encourage them to keep it up, because one day the idea may be a home run.

employee brand ambassadors

Have thoughtful brand conversations

For some companies brand values and mission statements are just words on a page. But culture starts with living out these key brand elements! Internal communications channels like videos, fireside chats, email newsletters, podcasts and more are the vehicle for helping your employees better understand your culture. It also gives them an idea of what these values look like in action. How do they look in terms of customer experience? Employee experience? Product experience? Share stories and examples. 

Most of all, lead by example! When your values are front and center in your actions, your employees will follow. 

Give them toolkits

Too many companies just hand out lists of rules and don’ts and call it a day. While it’s wise to develop social media policies for legal purposes, consider developing social media kits and other guides that help inspire, engage, and create employee brand ambassadors.

Outside of policies, ideal things to provide to employees include:

  • Tip sheets or mini social media workshops to educate on best practices for different platforms. Remember, if you have a heavily multi-generational office, not everyone is going to be well-versed or comfortable with every platform. Some aren’t going to be comfortable with social media in general. Give them an opportunity to learn and grow, but don’t pressure them by any means to churn out content for you. Remember, you want things they post to feel authentic, not forced.
  • A company hashtag for employees to use in their posts about their experiences working there. One of the most popular culture hashtags is #ToBeaPartner from Starbucks, which baristas and other team members use to share their experiences as “partners” in the company. 
  • Easy access to the company brand guide to understand branding and logo usage. When there are multiple people posting about the company and sharing their voices, you still want to have somewhat of a sense of cohesiveness, especially if anyone considers making their own graphics (maybe not likely, but you never know!). This is where brand guidelines and brand integrity comes into play. 
  • Example content or ideas of posts to share. This can include snapshots of their daily work life, shoutouts to fellow employees who mentor them or have made a difference in their work life, and big announcements like new product launches. 

Encourage personal brands

These days, everyone has a personal brand. You can either let it develop organically OR put in the effort to shape it, an approach that’s going to have a lot more impact. 

Most company’s CEOs and other top leaders likely already have a strong brand presence on LinkedIn and other platforms, but lower level employees are just as important, especially because they’re the ones who are most involved in day-to-day interactions with customers. Providing education and tools to help employees build their personal brands means elevating the company’s brand in the long run. They’ll be on track to become more influential and recognized as thought leaders and industry insiders—something that gives their personal career a boost while also putting your company on the radar, especially when they share your company content directly with their audience.

Create content they want to share

A marketing calendar that has a good mix of culture included makes it even easier for employees to share on their own profiles. Team member features, employee anniversaries or awards, company lunches or parties, and exciting looks at the company work life are all things employees might be more excited to share. But don’t just take our word for it; talk to your employees! 

“There is a strong desire to collaborate in the modern workplace,” Boccardo reminds. “Younger generations want to be a part of your solution. It may slow down progress on the front end, but we know from human behavior that they are more likely to adopt the solution they were a part of. That’s just human nature.”

Make sure your employees feel like they’re part of the conversation in whatever you do, but especially when it comes to something like brand ambassadorship. While the marketing team should give a guiding hand, employees should be able to drive content and ideas.  That’s culture marketing at its best.

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