We Asked 6 Employer Branding Leaders: “What Makes EB Content Exceptional?”
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Authentic. Relatable. Engaging. By now, employer branding professionals understand that honest and resonant EB content gets the best results. You attract candidates who relate to your business, fit in with your culture, and believe in what you have to offer both your customers and your employees. People can imagine themselves being a part of it. They want to be a part of it.
That’s good employer branding. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.
The trouble is, when every EB team employs similar tactics, how do you make content that stays in your audience’s hearts and minds while others fade from memory? How do you make content that’s exceptional?
Let’s find out.
True stories. You need to share true stories about how your EVP is actually lived by your employees. There’s a lot you can say in banners and in YouTube videos, but are these really reflecting the experience your employees have with you?
I always start by defining my key messages and then delivering true stories that demonstrate them. Pieces that tell stories about things like how many years an employee has been with the company (indicates stability) or how many different projects they’ve been involved in (indicates quality and variety of the work). I might want to communicate the development opportunities, so the stories are examples of personal career growth.
Please remember that your colleagues are not news presenters. Your responsibility is to build the conversation and the scenarios, not to hand them a script. You need to understand your audience, build the culture in your employees and let them scream the answer.
Some things to keep in mind are:
I believe companies that highlight their culture get it right. EB is about culture.
Also the companies who remember that great content is about people remembering your brand and message, for example, where to apply for a role with you or find out about your company.
They're not big productions or even super creative, crazy ideas. I’m sure you have seen a great ad that gets you to laugh, but when you talk about it later, you don’t remember the brand. That’s a good example of a piece of content whose actual purpose has not been fulfilled, even though it entertained people.
Authenticity. People are programmed to look for the lie in what they consume – especially in our current environment. When a company only shares “outlier” kinds of stories – the exceptionally notable, the rags-to-riches, the conveniently diverse - they erode the trust of their audience, and subsequently get a type of emotional engagement that they may not be looking for. So authenticity has to be the backbone.
Authenticity is built on consistency, realism, and ownership. Some of this comes from the content produced by the company and the rest – sometimes the majority – comes from the content shared by the team that makes up the company.
When content has been created by someone who, or around an initiative that, has genuine energy for the topic, your audience can tell.
Additionally, content needs to be well-rounded. 100 “greatest company ever” stories won’t have the same effect as 100 stories sharing different highs and lows of the employee experience.
If your company wants to showcase its people, it’s not too hard! For us, we focus on asking the kinds of questions that draw out the things we want to share, for example asking about experience moments our audience would care about. We also consider, “Would an internal person want to read this about their colleague?”
What we have discovered is that our employer value proposition (EVP) comes to life naturally in these stories – you can find our pillars written into these stories without any direction – because our EVP is genuinely a reflection of the employee experience.
When we need a specific topic addressed – for instance, how our values are present in the daily culture – we reach out to people to share their stories. It means that we can nudge around the timing of that sharing, but that what gets shared is fully authentic. We’ve built trust with our team and they are willing to participate because we’ve always held to our commitment to share their stories.
I’m lucky to know some incredible employer branding professionals who are doing great work. What makes their content exceptional is that they’re on the same page across their HR/People orgs, marketing and branding, and employment brand. These companies are making significant investments – from people to technology – in making the employer brand a priority for the company, and you see it coming to life.
While there are plenty of companies out there with different forms of expression – from beautifully branded work from Hubspot, SAP, and Spotify, to the personal and human employee-generated content from GE Healthcare and others – the difference is in how those teams are being supported across their organisations and trusted by their leaders to deliver.
I also see that it’s companies who are investing in their employee experiences that do massively better in their employer branding efforts. This makes sense – you can dress your EVP up all day long, but if you’re not continuously listening to your teams and improving their experiences then your EVP will fall apart.
Authenticity is key. Ensuring the content you share is not just corporate-speak and provides an honest, well-rounded view of the genuine experience of working at your company, will be the best way to make it resonate with candidates.
Candidates can see right through content that is over-curated and doesn't align with the lived experience of your employees.
A great way to build such content is by allowing your employees to act as your voice – get them to share their stories to create emotive, compelling content that reaches a broader and more diverse talent audience.
A great way to align employee stories with your company vision for your talent brand is to rally your content around key themes and milestones.
Build your content strategy with a mix of proactive campaigns, where you actively source employee content related to that theme, and more spontaneous employee stories. Leave space in your editorial calendar to amplify those great employee stories that come up on a more ad-hoc basis.
I've seen lots of outstanding moments from campaigns that truly resonate. Often, those that I see as exceptional are where it's a bit surprising or unexpected.
A great example for me was General Electric's "What’s the Matter with Owen" series. The video ads were unexpected and landed so well as they were the perfect mix of humorous and informative, which made them incredibly memorable.
As employer branding professionals, we often roll out the word "authenticity". However, I believe to achieve an emotional connection from our content we need to go beyond meeting that singular objective.
For me, it's ensuring that the 'zeitgeist' of our organisation at the current point in time is captured – easier said than done. I often find myself questioning what "the zeitgeist of CGI" actually is and how do we represent it?
To answer that, I think it's looking beyond the words and pictures and really digging deep to ensure the spirit of our employer value proposition comes through loud and clear.
Ultimately it's a combination of being representative of our organisation, our leadership, and our people and why they chose to work here. If there is no commonality between these factors, there's a problem. Either the content hasn't gotten to the root of who we are, or we don't know who we are, and that certainly won't allow us to draw out any sort of emotional engagement from the audience.
I ask "So what?" and challenge where and how the content fits into the bigger picture. That’s the gauge that really keeps me on my toes as to whether a piece of content is not just hitting the mark, but more widely, whether we've got our understanding of who we are and our whole employer branding strategy right.
It's my personal belief that the company should always strive for authenticity. Yes we sometimes want particular themes to come through stronger than others in our storytelling, but that can all be achieved via the questioning or the edit. I would never want to influence the narrative to solely make the company's ends meet. If it's not an authentic reflection, then it's probably a worthless piece!
I don't think there should be a balance, in all honesty. Our job in EB and RM is to personify the company’s brand. Even if company news is interesting to a candidate, they can read that on the corporate blog.
There should be authentic storytelling in every bit of content, but that should also cut across what the company may want to showcase.
People buy into people - if there is a new product or service that would be of interest to candidates, showcase the people behind that new product and service to candidates rather than just showcasing "it's here". If you are not putting your employees front and centre of the storytelling, are you not just mimicking your comms team? Aren't you just being lazy?
The research showing that humans are hard-wired to connect is vast and nothing new.
Even Aristotle said that, "Man is by nature a social animal." With this in mind, evoking emotion with employer branding content is really simple in theory but hard to achieve.
Think about the last post on your go-to social platform that made you feel emotionally worked up. Whether that emotion was intrigue, delight, compassion, complacency, motivation or any other range of feeling, it made you feel. It might have made you feel something strongly enough to type a response. Maybe you typed a response, thought better of it and deleted all the words before posting. But it got you going, right? You connected into – or in today's world, were perhaps vehemently against – whatever was shared.
That connection is the key; it likely made you connect back to a memory or experience that you've already had.
Where most employer brand content fails is that it lacks the specificity for people to have that connection. It's too generic to take us back to the memory of the smell of ink and having raw thumbs from cutting the rope on bundles of newspapers. And without that specificity we don't remember the thrill of sharing our first news stories and how committed we were to promoting public accountability, or whatever trade we had chosen to pursue. And without that emotional connection, the rest of the message falls flat.
We have to remember that sometimes we have to reinvigorate people's commitment to a shared purpose. It might resonate with them, but we first have to remind them why.
You go back to your EVP, or more simply, your people promise. This is your guide in helping you to understand what stories should be most prominent, because those are the strengths of your employee experience. Those are what will compel the few and repel the many if your content is specific enough for people to quickly decide if your company is a place where they will thrive.
Get your people talking about the themes that represent your EVP, but give them freedom to do so in a way that is natural to them.
When your people can tell their own stories that align to these themes, you end up with a winning strategy to convey what it's really like to work somewhere.
For years, ever since I saw the Microsoft Life blog, I've been watching Microsoft's content. They've always done a great job of creating content that feels very real and honest – very relatable. What I really like right now is that despite always having impeccable writing, their blog has evolved to include video content, and their LinkedIn channel has a great focus on belonging. For example, some of the videos have ASL translations in the corner.
And they don't just say we offer hybrid work; rather, they have a video with employees talking about what the transition has been like and how it's benefiting their lives. But here is an example of the real differentiator: one employee says, "I think a lot of people have probably felt like a square peg shoving themselves into a round hole." So many companies are trying to put forth an image of this perfect experience, and we all know that nobody has figured it out perfectly. COVID has rocked everyone's world, and sometimes we need to hear that there's some friction. We're human, right?
Microsoft has a mission to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more, so we know they are motivated. But we also see that human element showing through in the content. My absolute favorite piece of Microsoft content is a video from 2018 called Project Emma. If you haven't seen it, get a large handful of tissues and look it up.