What Makes an Employer Brand Socially Intelligent?

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

I’m going to ask you a question, and I’d like for you to answer impulsively without overthinking it.


Here’s the question: is your employer brand socially intelligent?

It’s a short question that raises so many other issues. First of all, being socially intelligent isn’t to be mistaken for being on social media. Being on social media isn’t enough anymore. Knowing about social media isn’t enough anymore. We’re now in a day and age where “social complacency” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Now, to be social, you need to be socially intelligent. Here’s what I mean by that:

Knowledge vs. Intelligence:

You can define knowledge as the collection of information and skills acquired through experience or education. Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply that knowledge.

Knowledge is excellent, but in social media and digital marketing knowledge can soon become outdated as techniques and technologies come and go. Intelligence, however, sustains. Intelligence extends far beyond any method or technology, and that’s what makes all the difference.

When brought into a social/digital marketing context, social intelligence requires a higher level of maturity to basic knowledge. That’s why just having a social media team in your company doesn’t make your brand social. In fact, often employer brands have a social media team just because it sounds like a good thing to do, or because their competitors already have a social media team.

So, how does a brand become socially intelligent? Here are some of the distinguishing traits of a socially intelligent brand:

(Please note: although I’m mentioning “socially intelligent employer brands,” this also applies to professionals who work in social media, not just the brands they work for.)

1) Investing in the future of social media, not just its present:

Do your tools only satisfy your current requirements, or are they built to move “at the speed of social”? Or, if you’re currently looking to get a tool to help you with your social activities, do your tool requirements cater to where you are right now on social media or do they cater to where you see yourself in the next 6-12 months?

You need to make sure that your tools and your strategy around them are reasonably “future-proof.” While social media is continually evolving and tools may change, your plan should cater to changes like that. Make sure you have regular reviews and audits in place to make sure your tools are still fit for purpose 6 or 12 months down the line, to ensure you’re not left behind.

When you invest in the future of social media it’ll show in your social budget and how it’s being spent: you won’t invest in ads just for immediate revenue, but you’ll invest in a regular social budget for everything you do around social – from social campaigns to social “experiments” for test-and-target and optimisation. It’ll also show in how you’re investing in regular social training not only for your social media team but for anyone who is interested in social media, how it works, its ins and outs and how your employer brand is currently working with it to meet your business needs and reach your business goals.

2) Identifying and using social layers:

When your brand is socially intelligent, you start adding a social layer on everything you do, from your analytics to your actions and beyond. If you report on web analytics and overall traffic to your website, do you also look at what role social media plays in that traffic? Do you know how much social traffic you get on a regular basis? Do you know how much of social traffic is driven from your social accounts as opposed to social traffic from your employees (via employee advocacy perhaps)? Do you know how much of your web-driven based is driven from social networks?

You need to be able to pinpoint and have a full view of social media’s contributions to your brand, and that should be one of your regular KPIs: how is social media helping your employer brand achieve its business goals? Social shouldn’t be just a feature of your brand, but it should work as a channel that allows your employer brand accomplish its business goals – and it’s easier to get there if everything you do is social data-driven.

3) From active to reactive to proactive:

A lot of brands that have a social media team have it just so they can be active on social – perhaps posting some content now and then, following a few people sporadically, and engaging every so often.

Then comes the next step in social maturity: moving from being active to being reactive. Now you react to social, now you respond to people who call out for you, and now you react to changes in social networks – whether it’s a tweak in Facebook’s algorithm or a change in how pictures are being displayed in Twitter’s timelines.

But that’s not all – you then need to mature from being socially reactive to being socially proactive. You’re no longer waiting for a prompt, you’re no longer waiting for a nudge from a customer who needs you – when you’re socially proactive, you’re fully alert, you’re vigilant, and you’re reaching out instead of waiting to be reached out to. Being reactive is essential in social customer care, but being proactive is critical in excellent social customer care – reaching out to people who need you before they reach out; helping out wherever your employer brand is fit to help, without waiting for your name to be mentioned. This isn’t hard to do when you’re well equipped, with a team that can cover the proactive actions and tools that can help you achieve that level of maturity.

However, tools and people alone won’t be enough for you to be proactive – you need to have the right processes in place to help connect the dots between the right tools and the right people to be socially proactive. An ideal setup, for instance, would be to have a monitor that shows you where people are mentioning you or your products, even if they’re not explicitly mentioning your Twitter handle or commenting on your Facebook Page. These people will then be at hand to sift through all of these mentions in real-time, passing any customer service queries to your customer service team, and engaging with any other mentions if and when they see fit.

4) From single- to omnichannel:

When you’re socially intelligent, you move away from a single-channel view. In single-channel marketing, you focus your social strategies on a single means of reaching your customers. That might work for a while if you’re starting up with your brand, however, if you’re a well-established employer brand, single-channel marketing isn’t an option – your customers aren’t using just one channel to talk about you and reach out to you, so why should you?

Once you mature you move away from a single-channel approach to a multi-channel approach – marketing on multiple online channels. However, the most common pitfall here is looking at numerous online channels separately, having a silo view of each one – looking at Facebook as a separate channel from Twitter, different from your website, which is in turn separate from email, etc. Here’s when you need to upgrade to a further level of maturity – from multi-channel to cross-channel marketing. Now you’re no longer marketing on multiple channels, but you’re creating a cohesive and seamless approach to marketing across various channels. You’re no longer hosting multiple campaigns or competitions in various channels, but you’re fully integrating them across channels.

A lot of employer brands feel satisfied and complacent having a cross-channel approach to their social marketing. However, today’s customers don’t distinguish between channels: they expect to be able to contact you or convert across all the channels they have available – from browsing your catalog on an iPhone to then purchasing on a desktop, for instance. Your customers are now channel agnostic, and it may involve complex technology and an elaborate orchestration to make it all work for you, but you’ll ultimately become a channel agnostic brand, and that is the ultimate level of social/marketing maturity: omnichannel marketing. Omni-channel marketing is when the lines between your channels are so blurred that there’s no distinction between channels, digital (online) and analog (e.g., “physical” stores) are blended in perfectly.

5) Believe in social media:

This may easily sound like an obvious statement – of course; you need to believe in social media if you’re going to work in social media, especially if your company already has a social media team. However, this point isn’t so much for your social media team – this point is for other people in your company who don’t actually work in social media – I’m talking about your HR department, your Marketing team, your IT team, your PR team etc. I’m talking about your trainees, your executives, your senior managers and everyone in the C-suite – CEO, CMO, CTO, CFO, and all the other Chief Officers.

There are a few telling signs that social media might not be fully embraced in your company: if you find yourself having to go through hoops to get some budget for social media, that’s one telling sign. If you see yourself having to justify the need for a social media team constantly, then that’s not only a telling sign, but it’s also a warning sign – how often do you hear people questioning the need for an IT department in your company? How often do you hear people questioning the need for a Marketing department? That’s very, very rare, mainly because these teams and departments are regarded as essential in any company, as it should be. So why shouldn’t a social media team be viewed just as necessary? These and similar issues stem from a poor understanding and reception of social media. If that’s the case for you too, then don’t look at it as a stumbling block, but rather as the perfect opportunity to advocate social media in your company. Ultimately, a social media team shouldn’t be the only one believing in social media – it’s the job of anyone who wants your employer brand to succeed in social media to embrace social media.

What’s next?

Understanding, taking and embracing all of those steps above will help take you through a higher level of social maturity, one that will make it easier for you to justify social media in your company, one that will help you reap better result, report on those results much more easily, and ultimately make it easier for you to do your job. However, it doesn’t end there. Like we mentioned at the beginning, knowing about social media is great, but social media is such a fast-paced area, and techniques you were holding onto last year may be outdated and redundant by the end of the year.

To ensure that you’re socially sustainable, you need to keep repeating those steps. Don’t see them as a numbered checklist: by the time you’ve reached the bottom of the list, Facebook will have tweaked their News Feed algorithm, Twitter will have announced a new indispensable feature, and Google will have made a few changes to their SEO ranking affecting your website. Once you’ve reached the bottom of the checklist, go right to the top and repeat this exercise over and over again.

By successfully doing so, you’ll gradually see yourself maturing from ad-hoc and irregular strategies, and moving onto integrated, consistent and data-driven strategies; you’ll see yourself maturing from low resources, unfit tools, and low budget, and moving to a larger budget that caters to your social efforts, social optimisations, adequate social tools and your employer brand’s future on social media. Ultimately, you’ll find yourself maturing from an ad-hoc view of social media to a continually improving and intelligent view of how social media should work for your brand.

So, what steps will you take to make your employer brand socially intelligent today?


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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