Branding and Communities: Finding Your Starting Point

blahblahblahLately, I’ve had the opportunity to work on multiple projects that deal with employment branding and talent communities. I’ve come across some fantastic examples while performing research on successful and unsuccessful companies. I’ve been able to consult companies on their current state and provide suggestions for a better strategy. I’ve even had the chance to implement a few initiatives for my own company. It’s been a great learning experience from both research and hands-on experience, however, during this time I’ve also come across a lot of misconceptions regarding this. This simple misconceptions are what’s causing many companies to fail when it comes to maximizing their efforts.

In my time, I’ve seen companies with amazing branding, such as Adobe. I’ve also discovered some unique and fun talent communities, such as Zappos, GE and Accenture. I’ve even had the pleasure of demoing technology such as Work4, which has really added something appealing to social media recruitment and social media talent communities. And tech companies like Ascendify work well when it comes to having the functionality to truly make a talent community work in the way that it has been theorized. All of these things are examples that companies should look to when envisioning their strategy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Some companies think that creating an email list to blast out their job agents is a talent community. Some companies think that throwing together a little fluff piece about their company culture or a job is employment branding. Neither are the case and, unfortunately, these scenarios are usually run by the same companies who curse communities and branding months down the line when they’ve gained no traction. To have a robust, valuable and engaging community, you not only need the manpower to run it but you also need the content to share. Content can’t only focus on sharing company news, jobs and employment branding, but also educational or informative pieces regarding the industry or job from other sources.

To have a functional employment brand, you need to go beyond the surface and really dig deep. When investigating this for my clients lately, I’ve noticed a lot of the issues seemed to revolve around the fact that they lacked an engaging or defined employee value proposition (EVP) that helped differentiate them from other companies. There were some companies that really didn’t even have one established at all. In my opinion, this is the first thing companies should focus on before they get to branding content and communities. The EVP is the backbone of all of these activities for so many reasons.

The EVP is a way a company defines itself to its employees and candidates. It’s a way of attracting new talent and a reminder as to why current employees would want to stay there. It also acts as the basis of all branding content. It gives branding a purpose, a focus and helps ensure consistency. It establishes a company’s personality and voice. And it helps branders understand what point they’re trying to make when they create content. This should be the starting point and companies should scale back to work on this before anything else.

To have a strong brand and community, companies need to know what they’re promoting. So many companies fail at this or create confusing messages because they haven’t established the consistent voice and message. Without a defined starting point (the EVP), your community messaging will be empty and provide no value. Starting at this point can also make it tremendously easier when moving forward with other parts of the development.

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Recap: HCI’s 2014 Strategic Talent Acquisition Conference

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While living in South Carolina, I obtained the majority of my professional development though social media discussions, webinars and networking calls. Although these were tremendous in helping me learn about things outside of my education and work experience, I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing an instrumental piece of my professional growth and believed conferences and workshops were going to be a major player in taking it to the next level. When I first found out I was moving to Boston, I was excited about the possibility of attending professional networking events. As luck would have it, two months after I moved, I was given the opportunity to attend the Human Capital Institute (HCI) event in the Seaport District last week. And it was exactly what I needed.

Usually I follow trends and conference updates by checking out the live hashtag streams. For example, the hashtag for this particular conference was #HCIevents and I made sure I made good use of it. Aside from seeing some of my coworkers and meeting ones who I haven’t met yet, I was able to take everything in through my own perspective. Overstimulated doesn’t quite cover my experience, but I mean it in the best way. From checking out some of the vendor booths and learning about new technologies, to attending presentation sessions and networking opportunities, I felt like I learned a lot.

Three sessions I really enjoyed the most were:

  • “Engaging Your Community Intelligently” presented by GE’s Recruitment Technology Manager, Shahbaz Alibaig. Talent communities have continued to be a hot topic in talent acquisition. Even now, I’m currently part of a task force to research, identify and develop one for a current client, which has been both exciting and frustrating. I’ve built my own ideas by pulling together pieces of theory and concept and considered the uses for our current needs. However, I had yet to see a successful talent community that I could compare it to. Thankfully, the presentation Shahbaz shared was rich with information, both confirming the concepts were on the right track and also sharing information worth thinking about, such as how workforce planning and forecasting impacts the community engagement goals.
  • “Employment and Consumer Brands: The Heart and Soul of Your Company” presented by Royal Bank of Canada’s Director of Employment Brand, Estela Vazquez Perez. At the close of 2013, I identified my 2014 professional goals and employment branding was one of them. During the presentation, Estela shared some interesting statistics and metrics that made it clear which key drivers were behind a strong brand. It isn’t just about promoting your company as the best of the best, but rather forming your brand to shift focus on candidate and employee trends. Understanding their values, drivers and needs is a starting point for companies to link the dots between those things and find a meaningful connection. Where can this information come from? The HR department. Employment branding initiatives NEED to include HR more, as their information is going to make the difference.
  • “How HR Innovators are Reinventing the Future of Talent Acquisition” moderated by Elance, with panelists from Krash, CustomMade and Bit9. This conversation was very unique and eye opening because they were able to emphasize the changes in talent acquisition from their own hiring experiences. With these companies focusing on the “free agent” and independent employees, it was important to learn that these types of workers will be making up 50% of the workforce by 2020. Not to mention, gen Y is changing the game, consistently raising the bar, ramping up quickly and is not afraid to move on to better opportunities. HR and talent acquisition need to invest in workforce forecasting and planning as the years press on. With long-term employment becoming a thing of a past, what are we doing to prepare AND accommodate the change in employment trends?

After all was said and done, I had a moment to sit down and charge up my phone. As I was waiting there, I ended up chatting with a few other attendees. Needless to say, it was so nice to “nerd out” with people who are in my industry, know what I’m talking about and are equally as passionate. Simple conversations with strangers had taught me just as much as those sessions and I can’t wait until the next opportunity to attend another conference.

Interested in these topics? Be sure to review the #HCIevents hashtag on Twitter.

Humanize Your Brand

It’s important to humanize your brand, whether you are branding yourself, consumer-based things, your corporation, or your employer brand. In the past, we would market our brands via content that was pushed out to the audience. More often than not, this marketing strategy limited communication to a one-way scenario: from brand to audience. As technology and social media have become more predominate in the world, marketing and branding have taken on a life of their own, and it seems as if though some of the best brands out there are the ones that open up two-way opportunities.

Some companies and individuals have failed to realize that social media shouldn’t just be a way to push out information and content. Yes, it’s a great way to promote those things but it shouldn’t continually post enough to be considered “spam-worthy.” Your brand also needs to have some personal touches to it. It needs to have a personality. It needs to be social. It needs to listen. And most importantly: your brand needs to reflect the way you “live” and vice versa.

I think some of the best companies and people that humanize their brands well are the ones that actually take notice of what their audience is saying. They listen and they try to deliver what they’re audience is asking for. Additionally, they actually communicate back to these individuals. They respond to messages, posts, and tweets. They even go out of the way to be the first ones to engage in conversation with some individuals in the audience. This can take the brand from just being a “thing” to something that people become engaged with and feel connected to.

Humanizing your brand can help audiences identify with the brand. They could feel like they’re a part of how the brand is developing, which can make them invest more and show loyalty. Additionally, it can be an organic way of building brand influencers and ambassadors. Use your key audience or fan members to help build your brand. Show your appreciation and support and they’ll be sure to do the same.

Branding is no longer about pushing things at people and expecting them to care. It’s about being personable and connecting with others. It’s about showing good “customer service” and appreciation. It’s about breathing life into it and making the brand seem approachable. It’s about finding a way to build some form of a relationship. What are you doing to humanize your brand?

If you enjoy topics like this, be sure to join in the discussion on Twitter: #Tchat – Wednesdays at 7pm EST.

More Links:

#Tchat Preview: Real Brands Humanize

#Tchat Recap: Face-To-Face with Brand Humanization

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