OPINION: Why employee advocacy matters in the financial services industry

Petra Smith

Petra Smith, Founder and Director at Squirrels & Bears, explains why companies need to think more about employee advocacy.

People buy from people. And they buy from people they like and trust. Trust, in particular, is an essential trait in the financial services industry, where customers feel more comfortable buying from those with established credibility. But before they can establish a relationship based on trust, they will be forming opinions based on what they perceive from the outside. And just like in face-to-face communication, whilst you can’t make people like you, you can present yourself at your best and let them decide if they want to get to know you better.

At Squirrels&Bears we recently spoke to 170 employees from various industries and business sizes about how they felt about representing their organisations and establishing their personal brand linked to their work. We found that whilst 89 percent can confidently describe what their organisation does in three sentences and the same percentage feels that they fully understand their organisation’s value proposition, only 58 percent are likely to share and like their employer’s social media updates. This shows the disconnect between internal communication and the opportunities to encourage employees to spread the message with their social networks and act as brand ambassadors on behalf of their organisations.

Employees are any organisation’s most valuable asset, and they are already invested in the  employer’s brand from early on, followed by a connection to the organisation’s value proposition as they are part of the culture. Employees are the face of a company and know more about the business than anyone else. Their inside knowledge and connection to the business make them a powerful brand ambassador, particularly in an area like financial services, which can be daunting to the everyday consumer.  However, businesses often focus their marketing resources primarily on their external communication and missing out on their most powerful assets – their own people.

Bringing the gap between personal and corporate branding

Our individual networks are powerful – in fact, on average collectively we all have social networks of up to ten times larger than that of a single corporate brand. Content shared by individuals also sees a click-through rate double that of their organisation, because they are seen as more authentic, and people are more likely to trust recommendations they see from their own networks.

The latest algorithm updates across many social media platforms focus heavily on personal relationships thus, by providing relevant social media training and encouraging employees to share information and updates, companies can bridge the gap between personal and business branding and tap into employees’ social media networks. With financial services being a saturated industry, such opportunities can be leveraged to instil a sense of trust with potential new customers through employees, and elevating the traditional ‘word of mouth’ marketing to new heights.

LinkedIn recently introduced a button for each company update that allows organisations to notify their employees and encourage them to engage with posts, highlighting the importance of employee brand ambassadors. Equipping employees with the right tools and skills they need to become brand ambassadors encourages a company culture where everyone can contribute to the business’ success whilst building their personal brands as subject matter experts.

People have powerful networks and tapping into them opens new virtual doors. Empowering and encouraging employees to drive company brand awareness by engaging with posts online has led to increasing the number of LinkedIn company followers from zero to over 10k for one of our clients, which not only lead to increased brand awareness and improved SEO, but also allowed them to leverage the platform for recruitment. Building a culture of sharing and engaging with posts is an effective way to connect people to the corporate brand and it also makes the corporate brand updates more visible. According to the recent LinkedIn algorithm update, the engagement during the first ‘golden hour’ is key, so asking employees to like and share corporate updates increases the likelihood of turning them into trending posts and get them in front of more people.

Establishing a socially savvy culture also naturally leads to the adoption of social selling. Social selling is exactly what the name indicates – selling your services with the help of social networks. Irrespective of the business’ focus or size, interacting with potential clients via social media helps to establish and build a brand, generate and nurture new leads and build relationships. These potential clients will know about the business even before they made a decision to purchase any services and when they are ready to buy, the business will be already on their mind.  The likelihood is that most of any business’ potential clients are already using at least one social network, ready to hear from them and brands should always be present where their potential clients are.

Building an impactful personal brand online

Our online brands represent us in the digital space and the reputation we build through social media and other online platforms are part of our identity. Having a great personal presence online is just as important as having a high-quality business brand, and as employees are the representatives of the business, it’s important that the two are aligned. With only 50 percent of respondents of our survey feeling that their organisation gives them the opportunity to build their personal brand, there is a significant opportunity for organisations in the financial services industry to build a marketing savvy culture, not just within their marketing department.

Whether employees manage their personal brand or not, they have a presence online and whilst they can’t fully control the information available, they can proactively build a brand that they will be proud of. A good place to start is a personal brand audit by simply asking employees to Google their name and decide whether they like what other people see when searching for them. Following that, the first step in defining a personal brand is to ask what we want to be known for – what skills, knowledge and attitudes do we have that will make people want to work with us or interact with us. And most importantly, what value do we create for others as this is a key factor in the impression we will make on our audience – how we make them feel, how we make their life better or easier.

There are lots of businesses out there that offer similar services and it’s often not about what they do, but how they do it – the people behind the business and the unique story each business and person have. The combination of the skills, experience and knowledge is a competitive advantage that will differentiate a brand, as well as trigger and keep their target audience’s interest.

Branding is not an isolated aspect of sales and marketing – it is part of the overall business strategy and essential for growth. Organisations who empower and equip their people with the right skills and knowledge to be brand ambassadors can create a competitive advantage, drive growth and create a culture where everyone can contribute to the company’s success.

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