The Three Minds of Successful Employer Branding

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Jan 28, 2020

By now, you either understand the power of employer branding or you do not. If you are in the latter camp, I can’t imagine why you’re reading this, so I have to assume you are among the many who can see how having a strong employer brand leads to better attraction, engagement, and retention.

But if you are building your employer brand, what makes for good employer brand work?

It’s a question I’ve been mulling for a while, and it isn’t as simple as it might initially appear. Let’s take an example to help you see what I mean.

Suppose in your desire to promote your employer brand, you decide to become more active on social media. So you build content for your corporate LinkedIn channel, but your efforts get blocked by marketing and comms, who claim that channel for themselves. 

Rather than fight, you decide to build your own Twitter account specifically for employer branding and recruiting. But what do you do with that channel? Like many other companies, you select and implement a hashtag to connect your social content across multiple channels. 

Yet as so many of us have learned the hard way, creating a hashtag doesn’t mean anyone will use it. Even if you fill a channel with great content and have the discipline to apply the hashtag every time, it often fails to take root. You’re following all the Twitter best practices, but you aren’t attracting the audience you want.

So you ask your corporate social team if they could also use the hashtag as needed on their own content to lend some legitimacy to the tag. In return, you will promote some of their Instagram photos on your Twitter account. Then you start talking to your events team so that when they talk about their events, they also use your hashtag. Because of all the allies you’ve developed, your account starts to grow methodically over the next few months.

Your next plan is to get staff to use the hashtag organically when they share pictures and tweets about work. But no one uses it. No matter how many posters you put up or email reminders you send, you’re the only one using the tag.

Changing strategies, you work with business team leaders looking to hire more people in the near future and ask them to talk up the hashtag to their teams, encouraging at least one post per week about standup meetings, team celebrations, and wins. You remind them that the more content from their teams, the easier it is to promote their open roles, which catches their attention and cements their commitment to post.

Finally, you go to other business team leaders and show them that their peers are using the hashtag. You remind them that you send metrics to the comms team on social and hashtag use, which gets reported up the chain. That is all the motivation those business leaders need to help you spread the word. 

It takes eight months, but your channel is working, drawing attention from candidates and recruiters, and sharing the content from staff all over the organization. Rather than sit on your laurels, you want to expand things further, so you take your apparent success to the comms and marketing team. You show them how your new audience (mostly prospects and candidates who they weren’t reaching) should be seeing their LinkedIn content and how their consumer-facing audience should be seeing your employer brand content. After a friendly conversation, you all agree that you can have one employer brand post per week on their LinkedIn channel.

This long story likely sounds familiar, but what I want to underline are the three minds that you need to tap into to be successful: tactical, strategic, and political.

Tactical: If you’re like most people, you start at the tactical level. You use your writing skills, your speaking skills, or in this case, your social-media skills to promote the brand. But the tactical mind isn’t enough. The tactical mind couldn’t get into the corporate LinkedIn channel, so you were forced to start your own channel from scratch. Doing all the “right” tactical things on Twitter (best practices, et al) also lead to slow growth. It wasn’t until you tapped into your strategic mind that things really changed.

Strategic: The strategic mind looks for ways to leverage other recruiting teams (events, in this example) to use the hashtag — bartering with other teams to trade content, creating a wider network of audiences, and instilling a sense that the hashtag was an “official” brand hashtag, rather than something ad hoc. And while changing strategies increased growth, it wasn’t until you used your political mind that you found success.

Political: The political mind created stronger relationships with people on other teams. You leveraged what you could to encourage action by those with more power and authority. A smart political mind means understanding others’ perspectives and interests, and then creating alignment between what they care about and what you want them to do. You were able to get business leaders on board by showing how it was in their best interests to engage, and then used that commitment to influence other colleagues with whom you had nothing to trade. The final political move was using the success of the Twitter account to change the minds of marketing and comms to let you into the corporate LinkedIn account.

If you focus too much on your tactics, you become an expert in a tool. But being an expert at swinging a hammer doesn’t mean you know when a hammer is needed. That is where strategy comes in.

Still, focusing on strategy without tactics makes you an academic, someone who thinks they know the answer without a means to implement it. But you’ve got to leverage both theory and practice to create trust and yield influence. That will then turn good strategy and tactics into work that extends far beyond recruiting’s boundaries.

It is the political mind, in conjunction with the tactical and strategy minds, that builds strong employer brands. Focusing on one or two minds will not get you to where you want to go.

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