“Word of mouth” is a key characteristics of effective employer branding. It’s a classic example of applying powerful marketing tools to your recruiting efforts, the common definition of employer branding. And it’s hip and trendy — “word of mouth” is the latest fad in marketing, and it’s a very real aspect of your employer brand.
(Let’s consider the irony. Long before every other discipline associated with marketing and advertising, there was word of mouth. And nothing but. Now, it’s the latest fad, and rightfully considered extremely powerful. Everything old is, as they say, new again.)
But, I digress.
The ideal employer branding initiative is all about word of mouth. It is “buzzworthy.” That is, it creates buzz: people willingly discuss your employer brand. Interestingly, this phenomenon doesn’t only apply to Fortune 500 companies who retain Madison Avenue creative agencies. Furthermore, it doesn’t only apply to employers who create an employer brand deliberately, or even those who do it well. The simple fact — and this applies to every employer — is that people are talking about your employer brand. Everyone who works for you, for example, talks about you. This is a good argument for developing a clear company culture (which will influence your employer brand) as well as keeping tabs on employee morale.
Let’s focus, however, on two often overlooked constituencies that collectively may be even more influential, if only because they are probably a much larger group than your current employee base:
- Past employees, and
- Everyone who has interviewed with you and wasn’t hired or didn’t accept.
These are probably two large groups of people, and they may have strong opinions about your company. Furthermore (and of particular importance in anything but the largest metro markets) the people who comprise these two groups tend to be in the same markets/industries as your company and in the same departments as your employees. They may go to work for your customers, prospects and competitors. They network with and talk with the local people who comprise the talent pool that you’re fishing in when you recruit. As well as the pool of local customers and prospects in which you conduct your business development efforts. All in all, they are potentially quite influential!
It’s a tall order to try to influence these two groups so that they become cheerleaders for you — but it can be done. For example, some employers have recognized the value in treating past employees as “alumnae,” including them in mailings, events and/or special perks. Aside from generating good buzz, here’s one specific reason to court this group: as you probably know, employee referral programs can be very effective, and there’s no reason to stop with current employees. If your ex-employees feel good about you, and if you offer similar incentives to them, why wouldn’t they also be a great source of referrals?
You can’t turn every ex-employee into an ambassador, but many will accept this role if you simply treat them as such, especially if you offer incentives. (Since you probably offer incentives to employees who refer good candidates, why wouldn’t you extend this benefit to your alumnae?)
As far as candidates who interview but don’t get hired, are they inherently inclined to be critical of your company? In some cases, yes, and there’s not much you can do about it. But in many cases, as long as these individuals are treated decently through the process (which pretty much boils down to communication!) they don’t generally hold a grudge.
The key ideas here bear repeating. First, like it or not, there are a lot of people out there talking about your company, and in my opinion, collectively this is the single largest influencer of your employer brand. Second, the two groups that may comprise a large portion of people with something to say about you (and by default, with axes to grind) can often be turned into pretty good ambassadors, as well as a source of referrals. It’s almost too good to be true.