By guest blogger, Sally Brand
Advocacy is a big and powerful business. Taylor has Swifties (all 78 millon of them). Beyonce pays credit to her Bey Hive. Rihanna has her Navy, Lada Gaga loves her Little Monsters while Ed sticks with his Sheerios. Even the previous Labour party leader, Ed Miliband, brought together the ‘Milifandom’ during the election battle.
Fanbases. Today they’re the key to a celebrity or business success. A group of super powerful, highly influencial individuals who dedicate their time supporting and championing their chosen idol or organisation.
In music, fanbases have the power to change charts. Even though he was heading for the UK Christmas number one, Justin Bieber called upon the power of his Beliebers to back the NHS Choir in order to help them storm to the top instead. He said, “For one week it’s OK not to be Number One. Let’s do the right thing and help them win.” His support was rewarded and he was quickly placed at the top of the UK chart the following week.
And it’s not just Celebrity fans that can bring about change. Just last month, Cadbury’s announced that following an online campaign by ‘Tiffin’ fans, they would be reviving this popular chocolate bar. And supporters at Anfield walked out at the 77th minute of a match after price hikes were announced the
week before. The flags across ‘The Kop’ read: ‘Supporters not customers’, bringing about a swift u-turn from the directors regarding ticket prices.
In a study by digital marketing analysts, KissMetrics, the true power of a fanbase and it’s relevance to business was officially confirmed last year. While 64% of Twitter and 51% of Facebook users stated they were more likely to buy from brands they follow, it was the secondary impact of their support which proved the most interesting reading. Almost four in 10 people would become a ‘fan’ of a brand they merely saw a family member or close friend following. And when it came to acquaintances, a third of people would support a brand because a friend of a friend did.
It’s therefore easy to see the impact upon the performance and potential of a business that a strong consumer fanbase can have. The likes of Coca Cola (with just shy of 1 billion likes on Facebook) and Kim Kardashian (who has 70.4m Instagram followers alone) have capitalised on fan support over the years; leading to fast growth, new products and multi-million pounds worth of revenue.
Can the same be achieved with an employee fanbase?
Strength in numbers
Like it or not, your employees are already a fanbase. Sadly though, too many businesses fail to recognise this; missing out on the perfect opportunity to look inside the organisation to build strength, positivity and influence among our very own people.
Employees are ambassadors, advocates and activists. They have the power to lift a business high into the clouds. However it’s all too easy for them to become haters, opponents and saboteurs; putting business at risk and damaging future prospects.
It’s therefore foolish to discount employees as fans. At the same time, how possible is it to achieve a merry band of employee fans who have a fundamental impact upon the organisation?
At Changeboard Magazine’s Future Talent Conference, Amy Sawbridge, Head of People Strategy at Virgin Group and panelist at Purple Cubed’s next business breakfast, spoke about her ‘Virgin Tribe’; describing it as “a truly strategic brand asset which not only engages and rewards employees; but is also a very highly effective customer acquisition channel which comes at zero cost”.
She concluded her session by stating “We believe that in today’s world [turning employees into brand advocates] is far more effective than any marketing campaign your brand colleagues can think about.” Powerful stuff.
So where do you begin? Some may assume fanbases are solely about employee engagement. Of course this is a vital element to the formula. However creating a truly powerful employee network must focus on connection. Connection to the brand, connection to each other, and connection to the bigger picture.
Looking to the celebrity sphere once more, this is entirely evident. Daily photos of their lives, exclusive first listens to new music, videos which let us in behind the scenes all reinforce a personal connection between fan and idol.
In order to strengthen the connection between employer and employee, you must first be clear on your purpose. This isn’t about posting a few selfies of the CEO and the finance team on a night out (even though that may well help humanise leadership and support engagement efforts). Even Kim Kardashian has a very clear purpose (‘to epitomise the American Dream and inspire people from across the globe’) and has built a strategic approach to reinforce the connection with her fans on a daily basis.
Every photo and post is carefully engineered to support her purpose.
So start with your purpose – and if that’s a challenge you may need some objective help in the form of facilitation from an ‘outsider’.
The super fan
Merely finding your purpose and engaging people with that mission isn’t enough to create a group of truly connected individuals. Creating an employee fanbase is about finding and nurturing, supporting them to ‘super fan’ status. The people who, as we say at Purple Cubed, ‘bleed purple’. The ones who feel as strongly about the brand as employees as they do consumers; for example those at motorcycle firm Harley Davison, many of whom have the company slogan or logo tattooed onto their bodies.
For some businesses spotting these individuals is critical to the success of a change programme. At new hotel brand, Project 1898, the businesses identified ‘change gurus’ in each of the properties – people who passionately believed in the business and the changes that were being made – that used them to communicate and rally other employees on the journey. While it’s too early to be specific on the measurable impact, the success so far has been impressive, with many employees citing the use of these ‘superfans’ as a ‘genius move‘ by the leadership team.
Is it easy to spot these individuals though? Steve Rockey, previously head of people for BBQ restaurant, Big Easy, suggests so: “It’s about identifying your ‘highly engaged’ cohort and often that’s about watching their daily interactions with the brand. So they might be an individual who’s worked a double shift; only to bring their family in for dinner later that night. Or the employee who religiously travels on your trainline and not because of the 50% discount.”
He comments that this is about pride. “These people, even if they didn’t work for you, would still like you on Facebook, tweet you on Twitter and buy your product. Because they aren’t just employees, they are proud to support you and proud to show you off to their connections. That’s the the extra step from an engaged workforce to a powerful internal fanbase. And it significanty enhances any business.”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.