Building Employer Brand with Employee Voices

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Companies love it when their employees claim it’s the best place to work. Real opinions from real people really do matter, especially in the world of recruitment. So how do you make sure your company is the most talked-about for the right reasons? Well this week I’ve been speaking to Phil Strazzulla, founder of NextWave Hire who says it’s all about capitalising on employee authored content and he explains why.

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Tell us what you do?

I founded a company called NextWave Hire when I was getting my MBA over here in Boston at Harvard Business School. And we offer a software solutions suite that allows your typical person and talent acquisition or HR to really supercharge the way that they think about attracting into converting applicants through using tactics that a marketer would use. So things like content marketing, better landing pages, better analytics, drip marketing, kind of nurturing for those passive candidates to a more social distribution. The list goes on and on, but essentially, what we’re trying to do is take all those things that sales and marketing has figured out that works for attracting and converting prospects and translate them in to talent acquisition. Because we think that there are a lot of really strong analogues between the two.

What is employee authored content?

So in my opinion, employee authored content is everything from somebody having a conversation in a bar with their friend about working at the company, to somebody posting something on Glassdoor, writing a blog post on an employee blog, or Snapchat. It’s basically any sort of information offline or online that talks about working at the company.

I think about the definition of employer branding in two parts. One is, what do people think it’s like to work for your company? The second is, what is it actually like to work at your company? And I think that employee authored content has implications for both. If you think about it from that perspective obviously, your employee voices are informing the world about what’s it like to work with the company, and they’re doing that on Glassdoor. They’re doing that in one-on-one conversations. Maybe they’re doing it in more formalized sorts of places that you’re curating, like a blog or a Snapchat channel or what have you and so, it is imperative to sort of understand that trend and get on it to make the most of it.

This is the way that you’re going to be able to attract and convert talent. And there’s a couple of different reasons why. Employee voices, in my opinion, are the most important aspect of your employer branding. If you look at the Edelman Trust Surveys, there is some data that says that your employees are more trusted than marketing, recruiting, C-level, or the company itself. And so, we look at employee voices as trusted sources of information as outsiders.

Employees also have really in-depth content. I think it’s something like 68% of those in talent acquisition don’t truly understand all the roles that they’re recruiting for and it’s not surprising. If you’re recruiting for 10 different roles, are you really going to understand the ins and outs of all those different roles? Probably not. But guess who does? The employees. And so, if we can leverage their voices to get at the specific pieces of information that candidates care about and get that information in the right places then that’s huge in terms of attracting and converting talent. Talent acquisition is only so many people within an organization, but employees make up the rest.

They make up the entire organization. They are so many more voices. And if we can do employee authored content in a way that gets the right information in a scalable way, distributed in scalable way, that makes it fun and easy. That’s huge. That is the biggest marketing channel that any company could ever have. And going back to that second part of the employer branding definition in terms of, what’s in it for the company? There are a lot of insights that you can glean from what people are saying about the business. And many times, when companies start thinking about their EVP and that outside facing thing they start to say ‘let’s do some employee focus groups,’ and let’s transform that message into something that is easily digestible etc. A bit like a marketing type of message, which I have opinions on but I won’t get into them now. But, essentially the outputs of those focus groups are the outputs of your Glassdoor views or the non-anonymous content that’s going on all over the place. That informs the second part of that definition which is, what’s it actually like to work at your company? And therefore, it’s super important because we always want to create an awesome place to work for the right person. That kind of gets our goals accomplished as a business.

What kind of employee authored content is the best?

My philosophy is that, a lot of times, what comes out of the kind of polished production quality, what’s it like to work in a company should actually be more of the raw information. I think that the reason that people go to Glassdoor, despite understanding that some of the content is quite biased, is because it is that raw unfiltered information that you can sort of interpret as a person and understand better what it’s like to work at the company.

I think that in many cases, companies will be well-served to do something similar on their own websites. We’ve actually just started this new experiment, which is proven to be really successful, where we essentially host chats.  For example, one of our employees will talk about a particular project that they worked on. So maybe an engineer talking about how they just use Python to do some web scraping. Or just generally what’s it like to be an engineer, account executive, whatever, at our company. And it’s a pretty raw chat which is not filtered and there’s not a lot of moderation. The answers aren’t perfect, but I think that, that sort of transparency really resonates with people. And that’s the sort of thing that helps us to attract and convert talent.

What is your step by step guide to getting your employees to be the voices to build the brand?

We have a pretty robust onboarding process with our customers to make sure they’re successful. So, for example, we have just signed this customer which is a 400-person company, not huge. And within the first hour they had 100 pieces of employee content which is just crazy, literally within one hour.  That onboarding process is something to the extent of, let’s get buy-in and hopefully buy-in from the C-level where it’s like, “Hey, culture is another weapon in our war for talent. We can use this to build our brand, to get the right people in, and really share what it’s really like to work at our company.” And getting that buy-in then translates at the high level to the employee level where the message might change a bit to really sharpen what’s the business case? Why are we doing this? Why do employees have to do this? Why am I taking time out of my day to do this?

Well, it’s because you’re special. It’s because you know what you do better than anybody else. Because we want more awesome people like you. We’re going to make you feel good about this thing. So it’s kind of like aligning that incentive. It’s making it super easy. I think some of the pitfalls companies run into, for example, I’ve seen a lot of companies with employee blogs that die over time because they’re asking employees, can you write 500 to 700 words about what you do within the company? And people are just like, “Oh, gosh. What do I write? How do I structure it? etc. etc..” Most people aren’t great content creators but if you give them questions that they’ve probably already been asked when they’re interviewing somebody or that conversation at the bar with their friend and you allow them to answer them in really easy ways, like, on their phones or with quick videos or with pictures, that means that the barrier to create that content goes way, way down. And somebody in 10 minutes can answer five different questions in a really in-depth way and share information that is not necessarily going to get out there about most companies. So that’s sort of like the start of the playbook. And then from there, once we collect all this information in the right  way, we then have to think about, “Okay, where do we want to distribute this?” And for us we know that, from the research has done, and other organizations, your career page is basically the most important place to share your EVP, to share what’s it like to work at the company. And so, for us, the number one place that we put content is on the career site. And that could mean rebuilding the site,  that could mean creating a culture site. It could just mean enhancing existing pages. But it really has to be there so that we can get it in front of the right audience. And then, of course, your other kind of places that you’re trying to build awareness could be LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or maybe you’re paying for a Glassdoor profile. Basically, all the different places where candidates are going to interact with this, and kind of mapping it to the candidate journey for your individual roles in your company.

Who decides which employee authored content gets shared, whether it’s good or bad?

I think we all live in the age of Glassdoor, and there is a visceral reaction for many people in talent acquisition when you mention the name Glassdoor. Within our platform you can approve the content before it goes live, and in fact, you have to approve it before it goes live. I think the stat is 98.5% of content is approved. And usually if it’s not it’s maybe because somebody rambled on a bit in a video, or maybe just wrote something that was very grammatically incorrect and you say ‘this doesn’t really make any sense.’ Very, very rarely do you find employees that are looking to rant and rave about their boss in that sort of format. I think that Glassdoor is almost designed in some ways to collect that sort of information, which in many ways is helpful for candidates to understand that side of the business as well. But in my experience, I’ve found very few times when this has backfired. A great example of this and if you want to know which companies are doing this well? One is Cisco. Cisco has a really great Snapchat channel. They get a ridiculous amount of views. I forget the exact numbers but it’s massive, and this is a fairly new initiative. And my understanding is that when they first started doing this they were very, very selective about who they would let take over the Snapchat channel for the day. And that’s the way that program works,  is each day somebody gets to be the person who controls the Cisco Snapchat. And they’ve never really had a problem. And at first, it was like, “Oh, gosh. What if somebody does something really inappropriate? Well, I guess some Snapchats will go away really quickly. So we’re not taking that big of a risk.” But they’ve just  built this audience and seen that it sounds like a huge ROI, especially considering that Snapchat is free, from doing this and they haven’t had a problem with somebody getting on there and saying something inappropriate.

How do we measure ROI on the voices of our employees?

So I think there are two main drivers here. One is, getting more people into the funnel. So if you think about a platform like ours, in one sense, we’re distributing content. We are distributing it to social, to talent communities etc. And so, we’re centrally tracking the incremental clicks that we’re getting to our career page, and then following them down through the hiring funnel. So we’re looking at that almost as like a source of traffic. The other is obviously, we ascribe a value to an applicant or higher. And then relative to what our cost is there. The other way that we’re ascribing value, and I think this is something that many people outside of marketing don’t understand, is around conversion. So think about the typical careers page. For every 100 people that go there 10 people apply. That’s great, 10% conversion, fairly standard. But If we can increase that conversion rate by 1%, that decreases our cost per applicant by 10%, which is huge.

So if our typical cost per applicant is 10 bucks we just lowered it to $9.1. And if you multiply that, by the number of applicants that you get in a given year, that’s probably a very, very large number, in terms of savings. And the way that this works is the person who comes to our careers site now, because we have all of these beautiful, interesting employees’ stories, hopefully organized in a way that’s manageable for somebody to actually navigate, they have a higher chance of actually saying, “You know what? This is a company that I want to join. And therefore, I’m going to click to leave my resume here and go through the apply cycle.” And that is something that drives  a tremendous amount of ROI. It’s something that, if you look at the marketing world, that’s why AB testing exists. It’s because we know that if we change this one little button from red to green we’re going to get point 01% more people to go click on that. And that translates into 2,000 bucks a day or whatever. That’s basically the same sort of logic that carries through on the conversion map. And so, that’s the other big way to measure your ROI.

Of course, in many cases what we find is that the people who are in talent acquisition don’t necessarily have access to that data. They obviously have access to the ATS, and how many people apply, but probably there’s a layer of Google Analytics that’s controlled by marketing. And of course, that’s another advantage to using a platform like ours. In that, we’re going to give you that information. But it’s really key to understand, that 10,000 people went to our career page last month, and 1,000 people applied. This month, 1,100 people applied after we added this employee authored content. And guess what, the people who applied are actually more qualified, because they were the people that need to be convinced. The people who were applying previously are just the people who are applying for jobs and they’ve applied for every job out there. But those 100-incremental people or that 1,000 incremental people that applied because we convinced them, ,they’re actually higher quality applicants. And therefore, the value that we ascribe to them is even higher than our typical applicant. So that’s how we think about ROI.

What company is doing this well?

I think that the case study that I love, honestly, is the US military. And this was from a couple of years ago. It was at the height of the Iraq, Afghanistan wars. Recruitment was down, people weren’t signing up anymore. That initial burst of patriotism after 9/11 kind of went away, And it was like, how do we get more people to become soldiers? And this guy David Lee, he basically put out a call and he said, “Hey, I want you to submit stories from the front.” And they couldn’t send cameras to Iraq, It was too dangerous and it was too expensive. So they basically had people take videos on their phones and submit little letters. And I think they got over a thousand stories. And I don’t know the exact number, but their recruitment numbers went through the roof because people were going to this website. And there was just that personal humanizing connection with what was going on over there. Why it was important? What it’s like to do this job? And they were able to turn that deluge of stories into more and more applicants.

And I think that if the US military can do this, one of the most bureaucratic organizations in the world, and they can do this in a way that doesn’t violate security. I think they never changed a single story that was submitted, which is crazy. People were just submitting these on a form. They never had to change anything. There was no sort of security issues even though the war was going on. And if they can turn that into a positive ROI, in a time where it wasn’t that attractive to go and join the military, that just speaks volumes about the power of these individual personalized stories.

What’s the next big thing in this space?

The bet we’re making is that there’s going to be almost like an operating system for your employer brand that is very much based around the idea that employees are your best brand ambassadors. And it’s going to be holistic. It’s not going to be one solution that does your careers page, one solution that does your talent community, and one solution that does your analytics, and your employee advocacy etc. These are all interrelated and they should all be managed in one place.

And the companies that understand this and get this are going to have a massive advantage in the war for talent for the foreseeable future. As we all know, these sorts of trends take a lot of time, especially in the world that we’re in, in HR, which is sometimes very admittedly behind the times of it.

Technology is going to play a much larger role whereas in the past it was more…maybe somebody on a one-off basis saying, “Hey, let’s create this really fun video about our next company outing,” or “Hey, let’s start a hashtag on Twitter.” It’s going to be a much more comprehensive strategy. And it’s going to be driven by technologies as well as really smart strategists at ad agencies.

Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilStrazzulla and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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