Hurricane Harvey and Irma left parts of Texas and Florida devastated, and there were countless stories across social media about power company linemen working in dire conditions to restore power. Those stories were golden for utility companies, as linemen took on the status of heroes helping victims in the ravaged areas. The payoff for that kind of exposure is much more lucrative than traditional advertising campaigns, because trust in advertising has taken a hit in recent years. Frontline employees have the power to greatly influence how key stakeholders “experience” an organization. So, it is not a question of “if” frontline employees will influence stakeholder trust and perceptions – it is a question of “how well” they will influence perceptions. This realization is resulting in more organizations looking at customized brand ambassador programs to help their frontline succeed.
There is good data to support this move toward ambassador programs. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, employees now rank higher in public trust than an organization’s Founder, CEO, or PR department. Why? The public sees them as authentic and credible! A well planned and well-executed brand ambassador program can protect and even grow your brand by providing your frontline people with branding skills and a framework that includes communication, presentation and other skills. The following are some foundational considerations:
- Power of Beliefs – There are hidden diamonds within your frontline employee base and it is a good idea to provide a basic ambassador awareness program to help identify the best candidates. Employees who feel strongly about the organization’s mission and like connecting with people tend to make the best ambassadors, but sometimes you will be surprised! It is also a good idea to offer different participation levels within an ambassador program, so employees have control over their time and involvement levels; this will appeal to a wider range of employees and also guard against burn out. Flexibility is essential!
- Empathetic Communication – Your stakeholders have different points of view, beliefs and perspectives. This is why corporate talking points or research data delivered through traditional marketing or communication channels often fails to break through to stakeholders. But, trained ambassadors can listen to stakeholders’ points of views and empathize with them. Empathetic communication requires listening at a deeper level to truly understand stakeholders’ criteria, beliefs, emotions and perspectives. This is an essential quality for successful brand ambassadors and requires sensory training.
- Nonverbal Awareness – A UCLA study shows that people rely heavily on nonverbal cues to make decisions about the meaning of any communication. With the right nonverbal skills and awareness, frontline ambassadors can effectively read and align with stakeholders concerns and objections. To connect with someone at an emotional level, you must understand what is really important to them, and nonverbal cues are more telling than words – accounting for up to eighty-eight percent of the meaning of a communication. Information is power, and your ambassadors can unearth the hidden gold in the meaning of nonverbal language cues.
- Social Media Power – Even in 2017, some companies are still wary about allowing employees to engage with stakeholders via social media. But, with the right planning, support, and guidelines, social media offers an unlimited and rewarding platform for connecting a select number of employee ambassadors with your wider stakeholder base. Adobe is one company often cited as having a successful social media ambassador program. The company believes the program has been good for employees and customers. The organization has provided training to help employees understand good judgment and boundaries as they represent the company on various social media platforms. Adobe also makes the outreach program fun for employees by using contests and recognition systems to create buzz within the organization.
An ambassador program can also do more for your brand than just boost stakeholder trust – it can also boost employee engagement within your organization. A Gallup Poll shows that employee engagement among US companies remains stagnant, hovering around just 32 percent. Engaged employees go the extra mile, and a brand ambassador program is an effective way to recognize high performers and encourage better engagement by even more employees.