Managing Employee Brands

In the late 1990s, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers introduced the concept of “mass customization” in their landmark book, The One to One Future.

Their premise was to create systems that combine the cost efficiencies of  “Mass production” mass production processes with the flexibility of individual “Customization” customization to create ideal solutions for a client.

There is a great opportunity for companies who employ the same concepts to their employee brands.

What do you mean our employees are brands?

It’s true. Let’s examine the parallels.

Like company brands, employees have values they stand for (and, hopefully, values that match their employer’s). Employees’ individual brands rise and fall with their ability to deliver results and keep promises. Employees have networks of people who engage them on many different levels, whether at work, at church, in social circles, etc.

And then there’s this. How often have you heard companies say, “Our greatest strength is our people?”

Yes, employees are brands.

OK, so what?

Social media has made the mass customization of employee brands — and the potential multiplying benefit for company brands — possible for the first time in the history of marketing.

Social media has eliminated the single biggest barrier to creating an employee brand: the cost of technology. Almost all social media is free to use. The biggest commitment is time.

Social media is highly flexible. Individuals can engage in the social media that fits their personality and then needs of their network. For some, it’s Twitter. For others, Facebook. It will scale to whatever the person involved wants it to be.

The killer difference

When done correctly, social media engenders trust because it’s personal and authentic. Even the best corporate brands struggle with trust. And that trust can lead to a much broader network that can benefit the worker’s employer.

Mass customizing employee brands

The saying goes that people want to do business with people, not brands. The mass customization of employee brands can push a company’s brand to an entirely new level.

Companies that embrace this direction have to make a few key decisions:

1. Which employee brands is the company going to support?

Employee brands require direction set from above. No employee should be allowed to do whatever they want. Likewise, employees should not assume they have the company invest resources in creating their individual brands.

A good litmus test is to start with employees who are already the best brand ambassadors — regardless of their position in the company.

2. What model will the company follow?

Intel requires employees to participate in training about its Code of Conduct and rules of engagement of social media. After that, employees are free to participate as they see fit.

Other companies may choose to take a more hands-on approach.

3. What are the consequences?

Eighty percent of desired behavior is consequence. Employees should know upfront who is monitoring their social media activities as well as the rewards for positive behavior/results and punishments for negative. Deciding the criteria and consequences upfront can save a lot of pain on the back end.

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