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Jumping on the b(r)andwagon

Exploit the link between HR and branding

Social media and other technologies are ensuring that employees are more empowered than ever to share whatever they think of the organisation they work for.

However, rather than fearing what might come out if their staff were to speak up, business leaders can let this work in their favour.

Samantha Crous (pictured alongside), country manager for the CRF Institute in South Africa, says companies are becoming aware of the power of their employees as brand ambassadors. Those who are leveraging this to strengthen their brand are ahead of the curve.

“Employees are the citizens of a business. In this way, they can participate in their own form of ‘citizen journalism’. They are empowered to share information about their company in whatever ways they see fit. And while this may seem a little scary – as marketing managers don’t have much control – it is also an incredibly powerful source of credible branding,” says Crous.

Happy employees = good branding

Based on her experiences at the helm of Top Employers (formerly Best Employers) in South Africa, Crous says that there is often an overlap between a company’s brand prominence, and the happiness of its employees. Top Employers recognises the HR policies of leading employers in 45 countries across the globe.

“Even the smaller companies in the index are well known, relative to their size,” she says. “This is not a coincidence. Companies that know what they are doing from a marketing perspective know that they need to market to their own people first and foremost.

“Repeatedly, we see a significant overlap between brand prominence and good treatment of employees on Top Employers list each year,” she adds. “Some of the best companies to work for in South Africa are also the best known, hence the giants on the list like Sasol, Old Mutual, African Rainbow Minerals, Coca-Cola, Clicks and others.”

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, is a strong believer in branding through investing in employees’ happiness. Virgin is known for its solid HR policies, and Branson says this was a conscious business decision. “Some people might see Virgin’s 50 000 employees as a cost to be managed, but I see 50 000 potential passionate brand ambassadors,” he writes.

Rob Frappier, community manager for, Inc., adds: “The best way to turn your employees into loyal brand ambassadors is to treat them with dignity. A happy employee will speak favourably of your company both online and offline. Conversely, treating employees poorly could mean angry rants on anonymous review websites, which offers information on salaries, interview questions and other generally confidential details.”

Workplace culture really does make happy employees

The correlation between being a top employer and brand prominence is an easy one to make. These companies are providing working conditions that form the foundation for satisfied staff. “That’s not to say that working for these brands is easy,” says Crous.

Some top employers’ cultures are extremely tough and although flexitime is available, there is simply too much work to actually use the benefit.

But if those organisations have hired the right people, with the right fit-to-culture, then satisfaction is easier to achieve. Employees will naturally spread the good news by word of mouth.

“All an employer needs to do is give the green light to the tools required to have the conversations – social media, using smartphones, and, above all, access to the Internet.

“Incentivise your employees to be active on your social media pages and encourage a culture of sharing positive working experiences at staff meetings,” says Crous. She recommends that you, the employer, also build communication goals into your employees’ KPIs as this is a positive step in your internal marketing.

“Above all, keep an open door policy so that if your staff do have issues, they come to you first. This reinforces the positive relationship you have with your staff, and decreases the risk that they will negatively represent your company to the outside world.”

Communication consultant Amber Avines agrees that the last point may be the most important. ““Break down the barriers,” she says. “Employees are people. They work their hardest and care the most when the people in power remember that. Create a culture shift in your company to ensure upper management is accessible, visible, and approachable. You will reap the rewards in how your employees represent you.”