Here’s the open secret. Every viral brand ever started off by catering to a very specific set of super-evangelists, whether they realized it at the time or not.
Apple didn’t become a viral brand because of their 1984 SuperBowl ad. First, they had to focus on the die-hard computer enthusiasts. Everything you now associate with Apple only exists because of its success with those early adopters — the super-evangelists.
Employer brands are different though. There’s a reason you probably wouldn’t take out a SuperBowl ad seeking job applicants. It’s because your employer brand is a naturally occurring phenomenon. It already exists, regardless of how much you’ve invested in it.
Your employer brand isn’t built through:
- Promotional ads
- A beautifully designed career page (it’s nice, but it’s not your brand)
- Puff pieces in the local news about how cool your space is
So what’s in a brand?
Your employer brand actually has more in common with Apple than you might think. A brand is your audience’s perception about you. It’s what they say about you when you’re not in the room. It’s image.
Most brands are also built to sell some kind of product. For Apple, the product is computers. But as an employer, what is your product? Is it a place to work? What are you selling?
You as an employer are selling one thing. You are selling success.
Success means different things to different people. It might mean making a ton of money, leading major projects, accomplishing ambitious goals, being on a team with smart people, or making a difference in the world. It could mean some combination of these things, or something else entirely.
Sure, success is in the eye of the beholder. But success is NOT eating at work, sleeping at work, playing ping-pong at work, getting massages at work, doing laundry at work, going to happy hour at work, or bringing your child to daycare at work.
While these are great, they’re just your product features. They’re not your product brand.
Your brand is your community.
Let me repeat that — your brand is your community.
Think of university brands. They’re built by exactly one key factor —
You don’t identify Harvard’s brand with its rec center or dining hall food. And you don’t identify a political candidate’s brand with just her platform. You identify it via her followers, too.
You don’t identify an employer brand with just the mission or the perks. You identify it via the company’s followers. The community.
So what’s in an employer community? It’s not just employees. It’s also friends, family, investors, advisors, well-wishers, customers, evangelists, industry influencers, conference guests, and pretty much anyone that talks about your company at all, anywhere at any time.
It all starts with the super-evangelists. They’re the people you should be trying the hardest to impress. For you as an employer, your super-evangelists are your current employees.
Happy employees are the single easiest and most effective way to build a great brand. Your employees are the ones who have the power to make your brand go viral. And remember, not all viral brands are good for PR (case in point, Uber). Your employees are the ones who get to decide what your brand will go viral for.
Ok, so if building a great community takes more than putting bean bag chairs in the office, and you want to create superfans how do you do it?
For starters, you can
- Measure managers by how successful their individual team members are.
- Set a process to help every employee reach their personal and professional goals. Remember that they’re not there to work for you, they’re working toward their goals.
- Create opportunities for the immediate community around your employees to see how successful they are.
- Engage non-employee fans in your community — offer community events and an external referral program.
- Increase transparency so that your community will be inspired by more than just the easy wins, but also the hard fought ones.
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Vinayak Ranade is the founder and CEO at Drafted, the referral network. Drafted helps you hire through referrals, by matching people in your network with open positions at your company. You can find other thoughts from Vinayak on the Drafted blog, LinkedIn, and Medium. Prior to starting Drafted, Vinayak served as the Director of Mobile Engineering and Technical Recruiting at KAYAK, which went public and was acquired by The Priceline Group for $2.2B in 2013.