Stop Employer Branding, Start Employee Branding

Tom Laine, Internationally acclaimed LinkedIn specialist, social media recruitment and employer branding trainer

22 March 2017

All kinds of organisations have been going crazy about employer branding the last few years. We’ve all seen the statistics and mantras – organisations need to build employer brand and make themselves more attractive to become the employer of choice when the war of talent really starts. Well, the war of talent is on-going, there’s no beginning or end to it. All organisations should want to attract the best of the best to work for them, rather than settling for just anyone with a pair of hands and a heartbeat.

The war of talent is on-going, there’s no beginning or end to it

And the numbers speak for themselves; according to Glassdoor up to 11% of active job seekers say they’d decline a job offer from an organisation with a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed. And it gets worse. According to Corporate Responsibility Magazine, c. 69% of people wouldn’t take a job offer from an organisations with bad reputation. Organisations with weaker employer brand even end up paying 10% higher salaries than average to attract job seekers. There’s plenty of studies proving the same, organisations need to actively build employer brand to attract great candidates! Or does someone disagree?

Here below is my view on how employer brands are built. I see the brand being built based on external and internal experience. Many of the external factors are such where we don’t have a say, no way to influence the applicant directly. Much of our brand image is based on what media is writing about us, what people are saying about us, how they experience working for us, working with us or applying with us. Only a small fraction of the experience is based on our content and how we manage the application process as such. And we all know corporate communications is not trustworthy, people rely much more on Internet searches and social media discussions. Even if some of the information online wasn’t true, it is what people will find and what may effect their decision, will they apply with us or not, how they see us as a potential employer.

So, what kind of content should we produce then, how could we build the brand and influence the applicants positively? How can we leverage the power of social media and word-of-mouth? Actually, it’s not that hard. The answer lies in the same picture.

What we can influence, is the internal experience, the employee experience – how people are treated, how they feel about working for us, how we appreciate them, how they are able to influence their own work and career, the working environment and internal communication. Even after they one day may leave us, whether retiring or changing jobs, we have all the means to influence the experience they have and had with us.

So why don’t we put more emphasis on things we CAN influence, rather than putting all the effort on trying to build an image that may not be trusted anyway?

A number of organisations have understood this, and started becoming more open with internal communication, engaging personnel to building and improving the culture, the values, the strategies and a number of other things.

We’ve come to realize, that the most trustworthy brand advocates are people, our personnel, our customers, suppliers and business partners. Our brand is built on how they experience us, and how they communicate that to the crowds. And even in this context our employees are the only ones with actual internal experience about us, what’s happening behind the scenes, how do we treat and value our employees. The only ones we can directly influence.

According to the MSLGroup, employees have on average 10 times (!) more connections than what the brand can reach in their channels. Other studies say just about the same, employees are the key to our success and reach, much thanks to social media.

A few numbers to prove the point. Content shared by employees receive 8 times (!) more engagement than content shared by the organisation. Brand messages reach 561% (!) further when shared by employees compared to the same messages shared via official corporate accounts. An employee is twice as trustworthy as the CEO. 92% of an employee’s Twitter followers are new to the brand, thus reaching totally new frontiers. People trust other people 90% of the time, but they only trust official corporate messages 33% of the time. 70% of customer brand perception is determined by experiences with people! Employee referrals have the highest applicant to hire conversion rate, only 7% of all applicants come via employees, but account for 40% of all new hire hires. 76% of candidates are explicitly looking for what makes a company an attractive place to work. According to a study conducted by Career Builder Communications, an average candidate uses 18 (!) different resources to research a company before applying for a job (all data sources far below).

To summarize this all into one sentence.

Employee advocacy programs are a no-brainer!

Whether the focus is on employer branding, marketing or sales. We should take a brand new look at social selling.

But I’d take a step further.

If the employees are the best possibility we have to influence the job applicants – and even customers – I’d put all my focus on building their brand, before wasting any money on building the external image. Internal comes always first.

The more professional our employees appear and act, the more professional the organisation appears. The more skilled they appear, the more skilled the organisation appears, and we’ll be able to attract more and better job applicants. The greater reach they have, the more people the corporate message reaches through them. We can’t and shouldn’t put words in their mouths, but the more open and effective we are with internal communication, the better and more true is the message they carry.

If employees reach on average 10 times more people than what the organisation can reach in its channels, I’d help them build even larger networks, train them to really use social media, to network and build their personal brand.

I’d want them to reach not 10 times, but 30 times larger crowds. I’d want them to become the thought leaders within their fields of expertise. I’d give them the voice and freedom to speak about us, to visit industry fairs and seminars, to give guest lectures at universities, and publish white papers, columns or blog articles. In the age of content and influencer marketing, let’s teach them to write better. Let’s train them to build their LinkedIn profiles in a way that supports their expertise, corporate message, and that are search engine optimized!

I’d support employees in anyway I can to build their personal brand. Let’s all start branding employees!

If we treat them well, they understand and share our values, if they are willing to become the spokespersons they already are, let’s give them freedom of speech, and they will create content and their networks will build unforeseen reach and brand for us. And finally, we’re building the external image, but via internal communication, training and support.

Best employer brands are built on employee brands.

Would you agree?

What would You do to support your employees in building their personal brand? Would you allow it, support it, or even help it grow?

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Data sources: Cisco, MSLGroup, Glassdoor, Nielsen, Altimeter Group, Edelman Trust Barometer 2014 & 2016, Social Media Today,, icims, Harvard Business Review, Career Builder Communications