leveraging employees

The power of word of mouth referrals from existing customers is widely understood, especially with the increasing use of social media and rising value of social shares, but many companies overlook the value of their own employees as both satisfied users and people with knowledge about the products and services that they help create, support, and sell. Fairly or not, other people are going to expect your employees not just to be familiar with the range of products and services you offer, but to have some level of experience and insight as a user and not just as an employee. After all, if your own employees aren’t using your offerings, why should someone else?

Give them access to your products or services

Employee discounts or free access to a company’s offerings aren’t just perks, they’re a way to make sure that employees really understand the day to day reality of using products. This is especially important for anything that is a daily or near-daily use item, whether we’re talking about appliances, mobile devices, computers, productivity software, casual clothing, food products, or anything else that you would hope would become a part of our customer’s routine. A demo or a trial isn’t sufficient, because people are going to expect a more thorough familiarity than that from your employees. You simply have to commit to making it easy, practical, and affordable for all of your employees (not just upper level or sales employees) to use your products. If you’re primarily a business to business (B2B) company, you can’t and shouldn’t expect your employees to use your products in their personal lives, but you absolutely should be using them in your own day to day business operations so that your employees have that same level of day to day familiarity with what they’re working on to create and support or what they’re trying to sell.

Educate employees about offerings across the company

Don’t limit employees’ knowledge of what your company is working on to what is specifically relevant to their job function. It may not feel necessary to tell your consumer products division what your industrial division is working on all the time, for example, but it is. All of your employees should be able to speak intelligently on at least the generalities of your entire scope of products and services. That doesn’t mean that every single employee should be able to do every job in the company, or that every piece of information should be disseminated to the company wide distribution list, but it does mean that some kind of monthly updates or quarterly all-hands meetings where everyone catches up are going to not only make all of your employees more knowledgable, it’s going to make them better ambassadors for your brand outside of work.

Don’t make it mandatory

You want to offer access, not mandate use. You can encourage employees to personally use your products in a lot of ways, and you can make it easier and more practical for them with discounts and similar perks, but if they want to use something else, or just don’t want to use a product or service in your market category at all, that’s their choice and should be respected. You’re better served by investigating why an employee wouldn’t want to use your products than by worrying about implementing a rule to force them.

Craft your social media policy carefully

This can be tricky, and there is no single correct approach. You may want to allow your employees to talk about your products or services on their personal social media accounts for the sake of that word of mouth recommendation to their friends and family with no restrictions. You may want to allow them to talk about your products, but without self-identifying as employees to avoid anything they say being taken as some kind of official statement. You may want to prevent them from discussing the company at all online and avoid any potential statements being taken out of context or credited to the company as a whole and accept that it limits their potential word of mouth support of your brand to one on one communication with friends and family. All of these are valid approaches, but it is critical that you decide on one that fits with your general company culture and social media strategy and that you have a clear, documented policy that all employees have been made aware of and explicitly agreed to.

Employees are, beyond everything else, a company’s biggest asset and it’s important to remember that not only are they helping to continually create your products and grow your business, they’re also end users with a special degree of knowledge who can share that with other people in their personal lives. It doesn’t require destroying the work-life balance or forcing them to take advantage of their potential power as ambassadors and promoters for your brand.