Employing the Magic of Advocacy at Shazam

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

To some, employee advocacy is just another buzzword or just another social media trend. But to others, it’s the bread and butter of their business.

Whether you want to call them employee advocates, brand ambassadors or change champions, it’s your most effective tool for maximizing your engagement with clients and customers.

We speak to Ruth Penfold, Director of Talent Aquisition at Shazam, a role she describes as making sure they have all the humans they need in all of the places that they need them. Ruth is brilliant at maximizing the potential of employee advocacy and has seen some incredible results because of it.

Have a listen to the interview below, keep reading for a summary and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Describe the corporate culture at Shazam.

Culturally we’re similar to what you find in a lot of startups. We are a crew of very smart humans, who are very passionate, drivenself-motivated and actually, that’s a big thing for us in terms of who we hire and how we hire them. We’re not that particularly structured, a lot of startups would probably say the same, so we’re hiring for super-smart people with an entrepreneurial spirit, who can come in and figure stuff out for themselves to a certain extent and we definitely have more structure than someone that’s just started today. We have been around for 17 years but there’s definitely still scope to grow it and build it. So if people come in with that thirst and enthusiasm then that will be celebrated.

What talent challenges are you facing at Shazam?

Like most tech businesses, it’s kind of boring talent challenges things like hiring tech talent & retaining tech talent, and I would say you could split Shazam straight down the middle:

  • So we have our corporate functions and our sales functions which are much easier to hire for.
  • We then have our engineering function which becomes much more tricky, as we’re typically hiring for a very specific and quite niche skillset.
  • Sometimes we’re hiring for things that don’t quite exist yet and we just hope we can find that does exist that can do it. I can tell you right now we’re hiring for a Head of Data, and we’re still figuring out whether what we’re looking for actually exists or whether we need to rescope the brief slightly.

So I would say it’s about making the most of the brand that we have and helping out people to find a way to tell the story of Shazam and what it means to be at the company. To make sure that we are getting to the people that might not have considered, or don’t know how big we are, or where we are and whether we would be something they would be interested in.

Is there a correlation between your consumer brand and your employer brand?

For sure. In fact, our consumer brand was the way we were able to look at what our employer brand became. So Shazam is very fortunate in terms of the fact that we deliver magic to people. 95% of people say when I meet them say, “Oh my god. I love Shazam, It’s magic”.

I think there’s a lot of people who kind of know how it works but we still have this beautiful connection to magic, so actually, our value within the organization is to deliver magic together. So that’s what we aim to do and our employer brand was about showing some of that magic to the world. When I joined Shazam a few years ago there wasn’t a single photograph of a human ‘Shazamer’ on the internet anywhere. So nobody had any clue about where we were, and in fact, we still struggle with that a little bit.

People generally think that we’re either a dude in a bedroom or that we’re Google. When actually we’re about 230 human beings across 8 locations, largely split between the UK and the US. So London is the biggest, about 100 people. Then you’ve got about 100 people spread across the US. Then we’ve got Sydney, and we’ve just opened in Berlin this year. So it’s really been about starting to get the rest of the world to have access to the people we have across our organization.

Tell us about your employee advocacy strategy?

That’s been pretty big actually. Because I’ve built out a program around kind of building confidence amongst our people. So towards the end of last year, I ran workshops within the organization around personal branding. The session was about branding yourself online and starting to plant the seed for people around speaking at events, writing blogs and how they are taking themselves out to market. I guess because really for people who are Shazam employees, your sitting in the eye of the perfect storm and you have a really big opportunity to capitalize on the brand that you are working for.

Shazam is a consumer product that people love and are quite interested in. So actually if our people are interested in speaking at events, people a lot of the time want to hear what they have to stay, they want to know what kind of technology we’re using or what kind of processes we’re using. Or how we’re iterating our ways of working or our product itself. Whether we’re experimenting with this that or the other. So really employee advocacy is born out of wanting to take those messages out to the world. From that, it was about running workshops and creating this support group called the ‘Blog Squad’ where people can support and encourage one another, read what people are writing and help each other to gain confidence.

We’ve managed to get a good number of people speaking at meetups and things like that. So it’s not like speaking in front of people is completely alien to people because we do it all the time internally, but I think it doesn’t always occur to them to do it externally. So a big part of what I’ve done is presenting recruitment as being part of everybody’s job and creating this sense that we’re building this organization together and it’s not just the recruitment team’s job to build it, it’s everybody’s job.

Does Shazam use employee referral schemes?

We’ve always had the referral scheme, it has always existed, and we pay £4000 and $4000. It used to be less in pounds then the exchange rate changed and we had to make it fair. So we pay 4000 across the board. It’s interesting though because that bounty has been there the whole time, but you can literally plot the success of our referral scheme based around if you look at our employee engagement survey. So the more that we have worked on our employee engagement initiatives as an HR team, the more we’ve seen a spike and now around 15% of our hires are from referrals. Which is a pretty big number, certainly bigger than it’s been for us ever, and it might actually be beyond that because these figures are from a few months ago and we’ve done a few more surveys since then. So I would say that for us and anybody wanting to create a successful referral scheme, you really need to look from the inside out.

  1. Are you giving your employees a great experience first and foremost?
  2. If they’re having a great experience then that’s when they will want to refer people to the business regardless of the bounty.

Does the bounty need to be there? I don’t know. It’s been there since long before I got to Shazam, so to take it away would be quite controversial. But I would be interested to see in startups and other businesses that get the engagement piece right, whether actually it’s needed at all? And whether people can refer to the good of the business.

What initiatives are you particularly proud of?

I’m proud of one of the things I did early on. So when I began I got a bunch of people to come in and study us, and to actually ask our people questions about how they felt about being here and one of the things that came up was that we weren’t so good at communication at that time.

So what we’ve managed to evolve over time is helping our leaders to become real people and looking at the way we communicate with our teams and how much information we’re giving to our teams. How much we’re actually sharing and from that really creating more of open communication, and I would say that we’re still not perfect but we have our beautiful event ‘All Hands‘, which happens once a month where we sit down as an organization in-call led by the CEO to talk about what our successes are, what’s going well, and what we are worried about.

It’s really evolved over time and we can see all the different offices. Providing he’s somewhere where there’s a lot of musicians, and Shazam is full of musicians. We actually opened our ‘All Hands’ with him playing guitar, and we create a little band in the office. So goofy stuff like that make people feel good about the environment and what we’re talking about.

What are your top 3 tips for employer brand managers?

The employer brand has to start from within. So you have to make sure that what’s happening inside is what you want to be projected outside. A lot of people try to place filters on reality, like Instagram filters, so I think you can’t do that when it comes to your employer brand. You have to keep it real, you have to keep it honest.

  1. So the first would be looking at what’s going on on the inside.
  2. The second would be yourself and do it as a human being in your job first, then do it as an organization too. You know, the things that you think might not be so great might be the stuff that sets you apart from everybody else. That kind of gnarly bits, the challenges, and you know when I joined Shazam a lot of people did not want to share that stuff. We had a lot of legacy tech stuff that we needed to get rid of, and actually for the right person that’s the exact kind of challenge they want to take on.
  3. Lastly, make branding everybody’s responsibility. So you know beyond creating clever content stuff, we can all do that, but don’t make it just your job, make it everybody’s job so that everyone in the organization is sharing stories, creating content of their own, taking pictures of stuff that happens whatever it is, creating videos so that you have a whole community of people who share your employer brand. So make it everybody’s job.

Looking beyond Shazam, what companies are doing good things in employer brand?

So if we’re looking at an online brand specifically, I would say there three that really stand out. I like what they are doing online, and that’s the careers page. I will say to your listeners, our career page is woefully inadequate and there is a very big reason for that. That next iteration for our careers page was ready two and a half years ago, at which point we were going to announce we were going to build a new website. So a new website is being rebuilt, but guess what? The careers page isn’t on that roadmap yet. So literally I have a conversation without the product team the whole time. So if you’re looking at ours, don’t look at ours is what I’m basically saying.

But I love Soundcloud’s, I love what they have on there. It’s simple, it’s effective. They have beautiful little videos of their people talking about what makes them tick. It’s simple but effective.

I really like Slack’s, they are good with employee stories and sharing some of their benefits. I think what they are doing online is great, their brand is great in general, particularly when it comes to diversity. I would love to actually look at how much effort goes into this, or whether its just people telling stories about the good stuff their doing.

I also quite like Pinterest’s, they have more stuff around their values on there which is quite nice. But they kind of do it in a way that it looks good and looks real at the same time.

Connect with Ruth on Twitter, and check out Inside Shazam to get an inside look into the company.

More on this topic at Employee Advocacy: The Ultimate Handbook.


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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