bridge and partners


One story, many voices

Words by Richard Douglas
Date 2018-03-23

Employees have always been at the heart of how a brand communicates, giving a human face to an organisation and often being trusted more than the brand itself. But, back when social media first arrived, sometimes employees were seen as a liability – potentially dangerous saboteurs who could destroy a beautifully crafted brand by veering off message with an ill-conceived post.

Gradually though, brands have rediscovered the power of their people to enhance the story they want to tell, and employee advocacy has become an important part of communications.

In our recent webinar, One Story, Many Voices, we explored four ways that organisations are working with their employees to develop their brands’ stories.

Employee as Symbol

The first approach means holding employees up as representatives of the organisation – hero-ing the people who demonstrate the characteristics they want be known for. It may be that they personify the values of the organisation, or provide a new angle and perspective on the company’s story. This is often seen in the form of campaigns, run centrally by communications or HR teams.

Employee as Endorser

Secondly we have what we have called Endorsers. This is about helping employees to share stories about the business, either through their existing relationships or through social media. So once upon a time this would be about shaping how people talk about the business when they are meeting clients, customers, stakeholders, or colleagues and new starters. Or indeed their friends and family. Organisations would seed their key messages to influence the way employees spoke about the business. Now, with social media, there are more sophisticated ways we can shape that role, which mean employees are able to easily share richer and more varied content more easily.

Employee as Contributor

Thirdly we have Contributors. This approach involves encouraging your people to produce content for specific mechanisms – such as articles and blogs, or as part of campaigns. This is about getting a real feel from the teams on the ground as to what they are working on and what they are achieving. But it is also an opportunity to get a real sense of the personalities within the organisation, and what excites and motivates them. It enables external audiences to experience what it feels like to work with an organisation, and contributes to developing a strong sense of culture internally.

Employee as Creator

Providing employees with the opportunity to be Creators means freeing them up to go out and generate their own content in their own way. There are still some parameters here – guiding people on the dos and don’ts – but it leaves more choice in the hands of the employees. So Creators are less restricted by templates than Contributors are, and they have more freedom to shape the output and bring something individual and powerful to the shared story. This is an approach that enables people to really put their own stamp on things, and let their personality shine through.

You will have spotted that as you move from one to four, you are giving your people more opportunity to shape things. But by handing them greater responsibility, you are also giving the organisation less control over the precise shape of the communications that result.

Selecting the approach that is right for your organisation all comes down to a matter of choice. There is no one size fits all here and what feels right will vary from industry to industry and indeed from business to business.

You should also think about what your people will feel most comfortable with. It is important that they feel confident with any new approach that is introduced, in order to be able to contribute effectively. If it feels like too much of a cultural stretch, it may be a struggle to succeed and be embraced by the organisation.