Guest

Your Employee Is an Online Celebrity. Now What?

By: Guest | September 29, 2011 | 
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Today’s post is written by Thom Holland.

In a recent meeting with my staff, our CMO presented an interesting question: How involved should companies be with the development of their employee’s personal brands?

As you can imagine, the question sparked a rather interesting conversation. While most companies would agree that there are plenty of reasons to support their employee’s personal brands, the question of how they should provide this support tends to be a bit more difficult to answer.

My personal brand

As PR and marketing professionals, I imagine most of you (if not all) would agree an employee’s personal brand can affect a company’s bottom line. However, just to add some support to our conversation, allow me to suggest some proof.

As some of you may know, a few months back I launched The Poised. My goal is to chronicle some of the business lessons I’ve learned in an attempt to help other like-minded entrepreneurs. In a similar fashion, our company publishes a bit more formal business content through The Beckon.

The interesting thing about these two sites is that, in terms of driving traffic, my personal site has an overall conversion rate of 91 percent, while The Beckon has an overall conversion rate of about 20 percent.


 

 

Of course, we should note this example is somewhat unscientific and would not be sufficient proof. However, it’s easy to see how we could form the hypothesis that content published by an individual might produce a better ROI than content published by a brand.

Where do we draw the line?

Given the potential increase in ROI, I imagine the light may go off over your head. If you can integrate elements into your company’s employee development program that help your employees build their personal brands, it would likely be beneficial to everyone.

So then, should businesses simply encourage their employees to develop their personal brand? Or should businesses take a more involved approach and allocate resources to include this kind of development in their HR functions? For the sake of this conversation, let’s consider the more interesting approach of integrating it into the organization’s development and HR programs.

Types of possible HR programs

I know what you’re thinking, don’t companies already do this in some ways? I would argue, yes, they do. Companies spend money to train and educate employees everyday. This has a direct relation to developing an employee’s “personal brand” by improving their credibility.

Consider if companies had HR programs to address the following for employees:

  1. Education (seminars, workshops, etc.)
  2. Relevant online presence (blog, social media, etc.)
  3. Relevant offline Presence (community events, speaking, networking, etc.)

Regulation

If companies spent money to help employees establish credible personal brands, they would ultimately want to take action to ensure the highest possible ROI. In other words, companies may want to regulate activities that have traditionally been considered “personal.”

A few questions to think about:

  1. If companies educate/train employees, how much influence should they have over that process?
  2. If companies help employees establish a relevant online/offline presence, how much control should they have over the published content?
  3. Do companies already regulate personal brands in some ways? Haven’t employees been terminated for doing things outside of work that reflect poorly on their organization?

Compensation

If our argument holds true and companies can generate a higher ROI through their employees’ brands, it’s easy to see why they would want to do so. However, what about the employee? What’s in it for them?

Take, for example, a friend of mine who recently shared a link via Facebook to some property listings that his employer is trying to sell. If his mention of the listings resulted in a sale, should he be compensated?

Conclusion

In the end, most companies understand their employees’ brands are very much a part of their overall company brand. What an employee does and says outside of work can have a big affect on how things go inside of work. Whether or not companies like it, how their employees are perceived can impact their bottom line.

The question is, how far is too far?

Thom Holland is the co-founder and CEO of Beckon.

  • DoTime_WX

    Yes on two counts Thom:

    1. Employees should receive some compensation for bringing in business. How much? Depending; different businesses, different metrics.

    2. Employees personal brands are very much part of the company.

  • @DoTime_WX Thanks for the feedback William. You make a great point regarding compensation; how employees are compensated would need to be specific to the business.

  • DoTime_WX

    @ThomHolland This post is not only interesting but so relevant these days with everyone’s opinion carrying great weight throughout the social media & Internet Thom.

  • @DoTime_WX You’re right William. It’s an incredibly important topic but, at the same time, it’s an incredibly sensitive topic. If businesses view an employee’s personal brand as an asset, how can they go about maximizing the ROI from that asset without crossing the line?…..It will certainly be interesting to see how that plays out in the future.

  • Excellent post, Thom. I think you need to take into consideration the nature of the organization as well. Some are more conservative than others and may be willing to let employees develop a personal brand, but then they want control over it (regulation as you point out). And of course, we know that just doesn’t work if it’s too much control. And I’m speaking from experience. I think your graph is very telling, unscientific or not and I, for one, am going to be passing it along…. 🙂

  • @jeanineblack 🙂 Thanks for the feedback Jeanine. For those companies who DO see the value in their employee’s personal brand, how should they go about developing that asset?

  • scribblinghappy

    Great post! This is a conversation that is going on at my office. It just makes sense to take a more holistic approach to the larger brand. People don’t want to connect with corporations, they crave the human element. Hire the right people, groom them, and let them launch!

  • @scribblinghappy I like your style. 🙂

  • As Scribblinghappy said above, “Let them launch.” Empower them to become their own personal brand and show them the value they can bring to the company (or firm – we are a CPA firm) through their online and offline activities. I love the idea of HR education. Especially with the younger people coming on board. We made the mistake of scaring our people with too much policy and too much control and now I’m backtracking and trying to convince them that it’s “okay” to have a presence online, representing themselves, and, in turn, the firm. I do it every day and I love it. Compensation would help, of course, but I don’t think it needs to be anything extravagant. I posted our job ads on FB yesterday and a friend of mine replied. If his buddy gets hired, I get the referral $. Should be same for new business. But most of all, let them launch – love that. :)@ThomHolland

  • scribblinghappy

    @ThomHolland Eh, it just makes sense. But I’m pretty entrenched in the millennial mindset. Authenticity is everything. 🙂

  • And as far as going too far, if you’ve hired the right people, you need to trust them, educate them and they will do right by the company and themselves. @ThomHolland

  • byron_fernandez

    @ginidietrich Me, too! Thanks for sharing cc @thomholland

  • ThomHolland

    @byron_fernandez Glad you enjoyed it Byron! It should be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. cc @ginidietrich

  • ThomHolland

    @byron_fernandez Glad you enjoyed it Byron! It should be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. cc @ginidietrich

  • ThomHolland

    @byron_fernandez Glad you enjoyed it Byron! It should be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. cc @ginidietrich

  • @jeanineblack You bring up some excellent points Jeanine. Maybe the best way forward is for companies to simply create a great environment for employees and give them what they need to excel. That would certainly encourage me to do right by my company.

  • ryanknapp

    @scribblinghappy But what happens if/when those people leave?

  • @ryanknapp@scribblinghappy That’s another excellent point Ryan. From the business’s perspective, that’s a lost asset. Or is it? Would an employee still be beneficial to their previous employer?

  • ryanknapp

    @ThomHolland@scribblinghappy That is the toughest part. It is always a possibility, so we don’t want to play it up way too much, but the problem lies with how connected we let the personal brand align with the professional one. I’m personally for letting them closely align, but there are pros + cons to both. Interesting question about if an employee would be beneficial to a previous employer. Have you seen this before?

  • @ryanknapp@scribblinghappy An employee who leaves one company to join another company may be able to open up doors between the two companies. In other words, maybe that employee would introduce the two companies to each other and they would start doing business together. (I imagine there are quite a few additional examples)

  • If you look at a business model like network marketing, it’s all about personal branding.

    People have to buy you before they buy your product. This is why “Sell it by zealot”, when structured right, has been so effective at selling products or services.

    But what about a company that doesn’t sell via network marketing? Personal branding is different then, isn’t it. Yeah, but not too much A company like say, Zappos who sells online and over the phone has a hiring process set up to only hire people who are zealots of serving others and so their personal brands are reinforced by people they talk to being happy with them.

    And, I imagine there’s exceptions to this because there is no “THE” way.

  • @Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2 You present some interesting points Lewis. This is similar to what @jeanineblack was saying below; hiring the right type of person reinforces your business brand. I suppose the opposite could be true as well. All the more reason to place emphasis on your employees.

    Thanks for the insight.

  • Still thinking this through…maximize ROI by using a personal brand to build thought leadership. It’s not easy and it takes time, but it could lead to speaking engagements, webinars, guest blogs, articles etc. Eventually those types of activities could turn into new relationships, referrals, new business. I know I’m oversimplifying, but would think this would be the easiest way to justify investing in this asset. At least that’s what we’ve been trying to do here. @ThomHolland @DoTime_WX

  • This is such a big gray area. Of course every organization is made of “people” so there will be a variety of personal brands. Does that mean, now in hiring, that there has to be an alignment of all these brands? It probably goes hand in hand when you make that cultural fit, but from an organization standpoint, we can’t possible control all the brands. There has to be faith that the hiring decision was a good one, and the alignment is there.

    On the other hand, from an employee perspective, I’d imagine a great deal of resistance over involvement or control over their brands. Their brand is a lifetime, their time with the organization is not.

    I really can’t get my arms around it – it’s a big topic, with no right or wrong answers.

    it depends. 🙂

    Thank you for the guest post!!!

  • @jeanineblack@DoTime_WX I think those are great examples. It’s interesting to see so many companies, who originally had a “control” mindset, support (and even aid) this type of activity.

    That puts quite a bit of power in the employee’s hand. If you aren’t happy with your employee, you could take your brand value elsewhere.

  • @scribblinghappy Oh! What you said! I wish I had read this BEFORE I wrote my comment. 🙂

  • @Lisa Gerber@scribblinghappy You’re right though. It’s still a very difficult topic to wrap your head around. There are a lot of “questionable” situations that would likely come about.

    Your response made me think of a few additional questions:

    1) Would companies actually want to develop ALL of their employee’s brands?

    2) What would legal professionals say about this topic?

  • scribblinghappy

    @ThomHolland@ryanknapp If a rockstar employee helps grow a company and then leaves, does that mean the end of the concert or just time for a different performer to step up? I like Thom’s thought that it would open up more doors for both companies. It all depends on how the rockstar leaves. Are they leaving in a fit, smashing things in a drunken rage? Or are they moving on to better things? I think that would make a huge difference.

  • scribblinghappy

    @ThomHolland@Lisa Gerber Another aspect to consider is religion. Some people’s brands include religion, which by nature, can be pretty controversial. Blake Mycoskie found that out when a very vocal part of his customer base reacted to him partnering with a conservative religious organization. It was awkward for everyone. Just another thing to consider.

  • @scribblinghappy@ryanknapp It’s interesting to think that a person’s brand or network could provide tangible value to an organization. That certainly seems to put a good bit of power in the hands of employees.

  • @ThomHolland@jeanineblack If either you or Jeanine are looking for deeper insights into this “Preventing Drama Before It Unfolds” perspective, I highly encourage you to look up the leader of Zappos’ book, “Delivering Happiness”.

    His name is Tony Hsieh (sounds like Shay). Not only is this book informative but it’s also entertaining. And Tony is also famous for letting the press or anyone else have free run of the facilities to get a feel for how his hiring methodology creates a culture of warm, heartfelt service so if you’re ever out in Vegas you gotta go take a tour. 🙂

  • @Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2@jeanineblack I’m definitely a fan of how Zappos approaches their employees and customer service. The great thing about the “delivering happiness” campaign is (1) it’s great for their employees/customers and (2) it makes people want to buy more from Zappos.

    Tony is certainly a savvy entrepreneur.

  • @scribblinghappy I think many of the traditional employers have embraced the building of personal brands. They’ve been focused on the offline presence, like paying for an employees membership to the local Rotary club. But convincing an employer to allot time for blogging is an entirely new challenge. Could you imagine?

  • @scribblinghappy Very good point.

  • kamichat

    Not sure if anyone else said this, I am reading this on my tablet, but I do have a problem with your proof point. Your personal business content may convert better than the company’s, but let’s connect the dots and show how your “brand” will convert for the company? I agree that training your employees might pay off, but better is how you plan to use those trained employees to build relationships FOR the company.

  • connorkeating79

    If your employee is an online celebrity it means that if you make sure he or she appears online as being your employee then you’re sure your online reputation will go sky high. Well, maybe not quite sky high but it will still rise. So basically, if your employee is an online celebrity than you should make sure to make him or her an even bigger celebrity.

  • @kamichat Hey Kami – Thanks for the feedback. You’re correct to say that the example is flimsy evidence; there is actually much more to a “brand” than a website. As I’m sure you would agree, measuring and tracking a brand’s total conversion rate would be much more difficult.

  • Out of all the people who clicked through to one of our sites yesterday:

    – 65% clicked through to The Poised

    – 20% clicked through to Beckon Media

    – 15% clicked through to The Beckon

    Just thought I’d share 🙂

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  • kamichat

    I do agree. See, you already have me agreeing with you. It must be Friday. Personally I think it should be measured by overall productivity and employee satisfaction. From the brand/biz side, what I have seen is that when employees are “on” and quickly get back to customers over social channels, people are always impressed. If that leads to more sales, or brand loyalty is harder to measure. However, you can ask people in your regular customer satisfaction surveys, “Have you interacted with us on social media channels like Facebook or Twitter over the last month?” You can then compare the satisfaction score of those that did and those that didn’t and see if it is making a dent on satisfaction of those who did become customers. Just one thought,

  • @kamichat I like that idea.

  • @kamichat I like that idea.

  • Great article thanks Thom and an interesting topic, one that could really bring some benefits to companies by sharing the load of the social effort and overall giving it more ‘personality’.

    I think it would only work if it was well organized and controlled, otherwise trying to monitor and keep up with the messages from too many company ambassadors would create a job in itself.

    I think the power would lie in companies selecting specific ambassadors, that have that something extra in line with their overall goal and in line with the company’s DNA.

    I think Pete Cashmore from Mashable is a great example, whilst him being the leader of the company makes it more powerful, it still rings true that people would rather engage people then companies.

    One negative though, is if someone that becomes a key personality for the company, decides to leave.

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