How can you use your employees to build a strong employer brand presence online? What’s the loyalty loop of HR? What’s the next big thing for digital employer branding? I spoke to Alexander Onish who is the digital employer branding manager of L’Oréal, a front runner in social and digital employer branding, to get all of the answers.
Tell us about L’Oréal and your role?
L’Oréal as you probably know is the world leader in cosmetics, beauty and grooming around the world. We have companies in more than 70 countries, we’re selling products in around 130 and basically we are on a mission to help provide confidence to men and women around the world, by making them feel better about themselves, protecting them against skin cancer, making them put together their optimum version of themselves, when they are presenting themselves externally and ultimately trying to make the world a more beautiful place.
In terms of what I do there I’m in charge of HR communication and specifically with digital communication. I’m not at all from an HR background. In fact I’m coming from the e-commerce and digital marketing world, where I was working on Kiehl’s in the US for about 2 years. And now my job is to use the same digital tools that I used for selling skin care in order to help attract top talent, which means managing the career websites and all of the campaigns that drive traffic there. CRM campaigns with our email database, social media and content strategy, as well as employee feedback tools.
And kind of on the side, just because I am an additional person working in HR, I’m helping with the upscaling of the entire HR community and helping introduce and onboard tools that help digitalise and get people to understand the objectives of why digital is so important even if we’re not talking about marketing.
What are the objectives of digital employer branding at L’Oréal?
Sure, well I’ll go first through a principle that we like to use which is the loyalty of the principle, which follows the consumer on the main stages of their awareness of a product:
- Their evaluation of a product;
- Their purchase of a product;
- Their post-purchase advocacy of that product.
In the HR world we use the same loop, but we replace the purchase with apply. So we want to make sure that we’re developing campaigns and working with platforms in order to increase the awareness of L’Oréal as an employer. Then give all the tools possible to help evaluate the benefits and possible options that you could have with a career.
Of course, the next step is to apply and then once you’re inside L’Oréal, to of course advocate on behalf of the company, in order to use the power of the network and the recommendation and the word-of-mouth to make more and more people come to join us. So, our employer branding team is separate from the talent acquisition team; but we work very closely in tandem with them in order to make this loop as solid as possible. We focus as much as possible on the awareness and evaluation parts of the loop and of course on developing different platforms and procedures for inciting advocacy.
Our biggest challenge I suppose in a lot of countries is awareness. It’s certainly very strong in Western Europe, but around the world like Brazil, like the U.S., like China, we have a much harder job of actually reminding people that this is, in fact, a really cool company that you can work in.
Can you separate the employer brand from the consumer brand?
That’s a really good question and we’ve had many a debate about this, but we can finally truly say that they’re not necessarily so separate. One of the key factors that we know about when a person is trying to decide where to work, is whether or not they know or are exposed to that company’s products and brands. But in the case of employer branding and speaking separately or differently from corporate and consumer brands, we have a slightly different tone and a slightly different message.
We want to take the power of our brands. Our 32 brands that we have internationally around the world, and say ok yes you might think first “L’Oréal: that means L’Oréal Paris, that means makeup, that means beauty, that means the Oscars, that means really high fashion”, right? But I’ll also say yes, okay we have that, but we have also these other 31 brands that are focused on sun care and male grooming and hair care, fragrance and further. That our industry is actually a really interesting dynamic fast-paced industry.
But above all, from a messaging standpoint, our goals are really to:
- Talk about the culture behind the brands;
- Our mission of why we do what we do;
- Show through the people that work here, that this is a challenging work environment, where people are empowered to deliver innovative and creative projects and work, no matter what division you’re in, no matter what job you’re doing.
So our job is essentially to challenge the norms, to challenge the status quo and to challenge people to think bigger about L’Oréal. It’s not just the L’Oréal Paris brand. To think bigger about the industry, that it’s not a superficial industry, that in fact you can do a lot of interesting, life changing things for a variety of people around the world and of course due to the size and impact that this company has on the world, that usually we challenge you to think bigger about who you can be when you graduate out of college, or who you can be, what kind of impact you can have and you can make on the world at large no matter what part of the business you’re working in.
To add a note, we have amazing science and engineering roles, because we have a crazy high-end innovation rating. Lots of patents are made, every year. We have advanced research and applied research, plus an amazingly strong industrial complex, just because more than 90% of our products are actually made by us. So we have a really big footprint in that respect as well.
What’s your employer branding methodology?
Sure, yeah in employer branding we love to be, I guess, as digital as possible and what we do is a lot of testing and learning. In the digital world, it’s better to launch something and then improve after you have learned about how it works, so test and learn. So when we see a new platform or a new system that’s not necessarily meant for employer branding or HR communication, we say what could we do with this? Is there a way that we can hack it? Is there a way that we can use this media or take some of our existing content and put on this platform to reach people that we haven’t reached before.
We have tons and tons of great content that we’re creating ourselves, but we’re also collecting from all parts of the business all around the world and a platform, like for example SoundCloud, which normally is for DJs and artists to showcase their newest tracks, could actually be used in fact for showcasing interviews of people and we use that as a content repository and we use that to share sounds if you will on all of our other channels. So even if it’s not necessarily using a platform for what it’s meant for, we can still use it for some other purpose and we’d like to just be creative in a way.
How do you use social networks in different ways?
We like to test, we like to try other things. But before we ever launch anything we, of course, think about what the objective is. It’s really important to make sure that we have one main objective for our channel. So as I was mentioning earlier about that loyalty loop, that candidate loop, where we talk about awareness, evaluation, application and advocacy. We try to take each of the different platforms and say what is this going to be used for? What step?
So for example, Twitter is more of an evaluation plus application perspective. We use Twitter just like some other big companies do, as a kind of call centre. People send us messages constantly about what the status of my application -“hey are there any minimum requirements for this?” and we guarantee an answer within 24 to 48 hours.
— L'Oréal Talent (@lorealtalent) January 14, 2016
You can look at SoundCloud as I mentioned earlier as a way to also help people evaluate by sharing sounds of interviews from employees on our Facebook channel, on LinkedIn, and even on Medium and especially on our career website, of course, in order to get people to learn more about what we do. And of course, our career website is our main repository where everything is coming together linking to and linking from, to really give that full experience.
Of course each platform has its own demographic; it has its own tone of voice so the things that we share on Facebook, for example, are not necessarily the same things that we share on LinkedIn. We could do a really cool interview with a top manager and what we take out of the interview might be a photo with a really inspiring quote, that we put on Facebook; but we put it on YouTube and then share it on LinkedIn, because were are going to share really interesting professional challenge, because we want to make sure it’s more framed towards that professional network. So each channel has its own tone of voice and we try and connect it of course to that loyalty loop.
What’s been the best digital channel for L’Oréal?
Oh well, we have a certain level of success along the way. I think for me my favourite, of course, is now, the career website (careers.loreal.com) which relaunched about a month ago, a month and a half ago. We’re seeing incredibly high conversion rates people actually coming to the site and clicking to apply about three or four times higher than we have seen with our old career website. People spending now 6, 7, 8 minutes on the website, as opposed to just spending one or two minutes. So we really see that people want to engage with all of this media and our story that’s not really based on text, it’s more based on media.
And then YouTube as well I think is also incredibly successful, just because we have a really high number of subscribers and it’s constantly animated with videos coming from all over the world, that really give people that picture of the culture. Now of course, I will definitely say that we have enormous success on LinkedIn, which I myself cannot necessarily take credit for, but I think through LinkedIn we’ve been managing through the Talent and Acquisition Team, LinkedIn has been a great platform for us to share our innovation and find new creative ways to develop our talent pool.
What campaign are you most proud of?
In fact, it’s certainly something that no one knows about, because it’s a campaign that happened internally. We’ve been realising that in the market, more and more candidates are becoming aware of feedback sites like Glassdoor, in Brazil Love Mondays or in the German-speaking world Kununu and we noticed that people were going there to make decisions about where to work and in fact that could make or break how someone decides whether or not to accept an offer or even to apply.
So we launched a campaign internally to help invite people who were current employees to write their feedback, because there was a big problem we saw that through analysing all of the data, the majority of our reviews on these platforms are written by former employees and we know that people who leave necessarily don’t have the highest impression of the company. And when we analysed all of our current employee reviews we saw that there were significantly higher scores across all of the different criteria. So what we did is we encouraged the employees to leave their feedback. And what we did is we made it as explicitly clear as possible that we were not expecting them to write positive feedback, because first of all it’s unethical and second of all it’s not in our best interests.
And we also wanted people to understand that first top managers will be sent this information, this feedback it’s anonymous, but we’ll still be able to feed this back to top management and improve policies and procedures within the company. At the same time, we want to remind them what’s at stake here, that it’s a public forum and this forum is used to help attract top talent and people use this is the way to make decisions, about where to work. So what we got after we did this internal campaign was about 200% more reviews written by employees and our feedback was really, really constructive and is helping to invent and reinvent some of our HR policies, plus our score on Glassdoor is much more reflective of our current work environment. So it’s technically a win-win situation for first of all improving our image and second of all improving employee experience. I really think that’s a really strong element for the future of employer branding, that we put as much back into the hands of the employees.
How do you keep your content interesting and not just “a day in the life of…”?
Well, I don’t want to completely throw “a day in the life” out the window, because I think it’s certainly a good pillar of an HR communication strategy. It’s the most authentic, it’s really, really down to earth and it shows a real story. So we can’t throw that out the window completely. But it’s true that we do have to have other tones of voice, other pieces of information, that really can help explain the company. So we really tried to look at where our communication opportunities are and the way that we do this is to first think about okay what is true about us, what to be employees actually experience. Then we took another group of ideas and say, okay what is attractive to candidates? But what they don’t necessarily perceive as something about L’Oréal so we do a lot of customer research.
We look at Universum, we work with Potentialpark and we combine all these ideas together and say okay these are the opportunities that people don’t yet know that this is the truth and that it’s attractive about our company, so we tackle them head-on. We actually will explicitly share pieces of information that say “yes in fact we have a really competitive compensation and benefits package” or “yes in fact we do offer really interesting things like bike to work campaigns in certain countries or volunteer paid time off in other countries”; but we also want to inspire people so we want to connect them to the idea that we’re a company that’s thinking about the future and inventing the future that we are a company where you can dream.
But the last I think, it’s really, really crucial and it’s my favourite thing, because I think with digital communication and with digital platforms we have the ability to provide services and value to our candidates and consumers, so we like to be as transparent and give tips and tricks for how you can best present yourself in an interview. Not necessarily for L’Oréal, but an interview in general. We give advice on what our recruiters are looking for in a CV or how you can better use LinkedIn for getting hired. Just so people see that we’re a resource; that we have a certain level of benevolence and that we want to help them better themselves, we want to help them develop themselves and we want to help them be better prepared for a job, when they eventually do apply for L’Oréal or otherwise.
What are some of the hard lessons you’ve learned?
I’ll talk specifically about one. Maybe I’ll just throw on a second one at the end. But first of all, just because you want to talk about something that you think is attractive to a candidate, or that you really want to share about your company because you think it’s really cool, it doesn’t mean that the candidate actually cares or that the message is going to even work on social media or digital channels, or even off-line. So first you have to really analyse the things that you’re actually credible to speak about and then of course intersect them as I was saying before with what’s attractive; then you have something worthy of talking about. Also I guess to say that it’s been an uphill battle and in some cases specifically with a project like Glassdoor.
You know it’s a place where people could certainly air their dirty laundry and as it has traditionally been a place where we don’t want employees to go because we were afraid of what they’re going to say. But in fact if we treat this opportunity right and try and re-frame how the platform is perceived, or how other new digital platforms are perceived, then by showing what the possible benefit is or that they won’t be ignored anymore then we help try to change the discourse.
That was certainly a challenge and I really say that if you’re trying to launch something new or you’re trying to launch something interesting, that you think is really going to make a difference, with employee advocacy, or with social media strategy, or a new candidate portal, for example, that really takes itself out of the corporate environment; don’t be afraid to challenge the norm because the only way that you’re going to be able to make any change if you may be thinking of further than what people want you to go then you bring it back a little bit. But there are certainly going to be obstacles in your way, especially in the HR world where people are certainly concerned about privacy and people are certainly concerned about ensuring that we keep our image and our reputation as positive as possible.
How do you measure results and what metrics do you use?
When we think about measuring results, we need to be clear on what our objectives are first, because depending on what your objective is the KPI is different; so for example as I was mentioning earlier the awareness issue in non-European countries we develop a list of KPIs that are more important for the reach of our messages and how many people are exposed to our messages, especially top talent. So we’ll look at reach, we look at Facebook and we see how many people are exposed to our content throughout the year and we see okay “Yes we have more than 1 million impressions from our international Facebook accounts.” Great, we love that. But then we’ll also look at engagement in other countries, in our more developed markets and we’ll look at how much time people are spending on our website, are they spending four minutes are they spending eight minutes?
Where are they jumping off? What pieces of content do they really like? Is the content driving them to actually click apply? And so we look at the engagement of certain populations of people, whether it’s an age demographic, or country demographic. And we see that bounce rate is super low, we only have about 25% bounce rate on our website, which means people are actually coming in there, they are getting what they are expecting and they’re staying. So it’s really key for us.
On a bigger level of course, we have certainly awards, rankings, reviews that we use as KPIs, as well on a top level so you know this year we’re really proud that we ranked the number 11 worldwide top employer by Universum, both top 20 in business and engineering and engineering for the first time we’ve re-entered the top 20. So we’re super proud of that and it’s a testament to a lot of the hard work that we did globally but also from the local teams.
And when we talk about Glassdoor, we look at how we’re rating ourselves compared to our recruitment competitors and we see that in the FMCG world, we have one of the highest scores out there for career progression and we’re doing quite well in compensation and benefits. Now of course, we don’t have five out of five, I’m not trying to say that we have five out of five but when we see how we compare to some other big companies, career progression is something that we value here in the company and its something that’s reflected externally as well, so we’re proud of that.
And then we look at YouTube, as I mentioned before we have really incredibly high engagements rates and subscriber bases compared to all of our common competition, except for of course everyone’s favourite competitor, Google.
What companies inspire you on digital?
Certainly, many companies are quite inspiring and when I was in my digital marketing days on Kiehl’s, we were doing a lot of benchmarking not just necessarily in the beauty and cosmetics and grooming space, because it’s important to look outside of that. I think in recent times, in the past couple of years and currently, I think Adidas does a very good job of digital marketing. First of all, they had an amazing strategy during the World Cup, with real-time content marketing, very, very interesting ambitious campaigns that talked more about the purpose of sport and not just the actual functional element of this is a ball, we sell balls, this is a shoe, we sell shoes. This is athletic gear, we sell athletic here.
It was really about the ambiance, so they definitely won in terms of like having great impressions, great feedback, great engagement. So we really understood how to speak to the right customer on the bright platform. And beyond that I think they started to do a lot of interesting digital in-store activation, which I think is a frontier that not a lot of companies are really, really testing and really going deep into and they’ve done really great stuff’s RFID chips in all of their clothing, that you can interact with clothing and you can make the checkout faster. I’m really excited to see what they continue to do, of course you know there are many other companies doing other interesting things but I guess holistically. I’ll say Adidas is quite inspiring for me.
In fact I don’t know if you’ve seen it, it’s actually a really cool website that they have developed specifically about the campus in the Black Forest and it’s talking about how long it takes to get there from the Nuremberg airport, to the cities, or if you want to take a weekend trip, where could you go. It’s showcasing employees talking about all the services that they get, it’s really quite cool. It does a very nice job to show that despite the fact that you’re kind of in the middle of nowhere, that it’s really an interesting work environment nonetheless.
What’s next for digital employer branding?
I’ll say that it’s not about employer branding anymore, it’s certainly about the employee experience and giving the power if you will, back to the employees. We talk a lot about advocacy and employee engagement and we want our employees to be sharing content and sharing their stories to their networks, which essentially does all of the work for us. I think that in the future, there won’t be employer branding teams when you have an engaged workforce that knows exactly what and how you want them to share. So I think that’s one tenant of the future.
When I talk more about giving the power back to employees, I think it’s about creating platforms and encouraging the use of platforms, that get people to leave feedback and get people to play an active role in the construction of the future of the company; because first of all when people do in fact share they really feel like this culture is something that they can be proud of and something that they’ve constructed them self. But also you create a much better version of the company, so Glassdoor is a really important platform for not just for recruiting, but also for employer branding and getting people to go there and know that this is a place that we want them to share their experience.
It’s not necessarily natural for people to write positive things. If you go to a restaurant for example and you have a horrible experience, of course, you’re going to write a negative review, but if you have a great experience, you expect that so it’s not necessarily natural. And of course there’s no such thing as a perfect company, everybody knows that and simply talking about why your group is nice but if your employer branding team can actually incite via a transparency revolution through websites like Glassdoor, to in fact change the discourse between top management and employees and incite change to benefit the company and benefit the employee experience, it’s an even better story to sell to people out there, that not only can you have an impact in your work, but you can also have an impact on the construction of the company.
So employer branding can be a much bigger role than you think as a change agent, because the tools are normally perceived as external are also internal. But we’re also working on launching internal engagement apps that actually encourage people to read news stories about us and share them on their own personal networks and that also gets people embedded into our culture, plus becoming advocates as well.