How GE Developed a Brand Ambassador Program - HR Open Source
At GE we usually categorize Employment Brand at GE into four big ‘buckets’: candidate experience, brand ambassador programs, messaging, and online presence. The truth is the brand ambassador component is the glue that plays into each part of employment brand at GE.
We started our program four years ago out of crisis for what candidates were seeing online before coming in for an interview. However, it quickly developed into something we offer for all GE Employees that want to volunteer to be a brand ambassador.
In teaching the basics of storytelling, finding your ‘why’, and nurturing social amplification behaviors we have implemented an army of over 13,000 brand ambassadors, with little to no resources. These new ambassadors are yielding in fantastic reach and helping us engage talent in new ways.
Why We Did It
A few reasons led us to create the brand ambassador program – like many change initiatives, they were rooted in limitations.
First, we had a $0 budget starting this adventure with GE. I looked around and asked ‘what do I have?’. One of the key assets we had was access was 350,000 colleagues around the globe.
The second challenge was our lack of polish in online profiles. I looked around at what our recruiters and hiring managers looked like online (not great). Many reacted with shocked expressions when I mentioned that candidates were doing their homework and googling them ahead of time. Connecting these dots for them helped set this initiative in motion.
There were also core business reasons that made this the perfect time to implement this initiative.
1. Our company was going through a massive transformation to a Digital Industrial company. We had to tell the public about it, but most of our communication channels were B2B. The question then became - how do you get word out to people?
2. Transparency is not just ‘in’, it’s becoming an expectation. Customers/candidates could care less what we say about ourselves (they don’t trust it – exhibit A). They want to know what it is like to work at our companies from our employees.
3. We had a huge culture shift going on as a company. How do you convey this externally? How do you help employees to discover and experience this?
4. Talent Acquisition use to be job led. It is now brand led. How do we now shift this in our processes and the way we approach candidates?
What We Did
We used the voices we have in the company (the 350,000 potential marketers) to humanize our brand and represent us as people instead of an overwhelming corporate entity. To lay a firm foundation we started with a pilot and quickly grew it as we evolved the training. We also tried to involve as many key stakeholders as possible from the beginning, and along the way, that could evangelize and promote the training where it should be promoted.
We created a basic one hour course and then other more advanced components that those with passion to represent the company can choose to join. The foundational course has been fused into other trainings that employees receive along their life cycle at GE such as New Employee Orientation, Hiring the Right People, and Executive/Leadership training. This ensures that we entice people to get involved and bring it to mind along their career path at GE.
A big part of any brand or ambassador programs is about keeping it going - the longevity. To do this we implemented a strategy where we evolve and offer the training quarterly, as well as create full marketing strategies to involve our brand ambassador’s in and keep them engaged. This continues to create a buzz and enhances our marketing campaigns to increase the reach, engagement, but most importantly the longevity.
How We DID It
Pilot -> Feedback -> Update
We started with a small group of recruiters (that were in most need of help but also a group that I would call skeptics – I knew we would get all the feedback we needed). Then we incorporated their hiring managers. We held these sessions live and learned a LOT just from facial expressions. Of course there was no shortage of direct feedback as well.
We post-training surveyed through a quick online tool we have a GE. It included rankings for each part of the training as well as some open form fields for feedback. We maintained the same survey after the pilot to ensure data continuity/integrity and be sure we continued encouraging feedback. The open feedback helped us iterate and refine the training so it is highly tailored to our audience.
One last note is that the training should evolve at least quarterly. Online presence and social channels change so rapidly that you need to be sure you are keeping up to date.
Involve Key Stakeholders
HR Managers, TA Leaders, and Recruiters – This audience is usually a great ‘test pilot’ if you feel your HR teams need help in this area. They’re often your best proponents as well.
As a massive global organization, broad messaging can be a challenge. One of the ways we get the word out to all employees on training initiatives is through our HR team. They’re the ones ‘on the ground’ working with teams and know who could use this type of training.
The HR team is also sensitive to those that might not be involved as much with technology, slowing up on hiring, or perhaps going through sensitive times losing headcount and such. We made it easy for them… an email they could forward to all their teams/contacts.
Another great outcome of getting HR involved first was that it answered the initial question most employees were thinking… “You mean GE is okay with this?” GE had a legacy of conservative views towards social presence and profiles, so employees needed reassurances that was evolving and their engagement was now encouraged. Not an easy culture shift.
Leaders/Diversity Leaders (or specific recruiting initiative leaders) – This audience can also be your biggest (and most important) advocates. Not only can they promote, but they can also lobby for other parts of the organization to get involved (this is how we were able to plug it into the Crotonville/GE University Executive courses).
Sometimes adoption is best advocated through examples. Our CEO at GE Power contacted us at some point along the journey. He shared that his 18-yo son said that people were looking at him online and rating him, etc. He wanted to know what he could do.
We set him, and his executive team, up with personal brand ambassador training. Not only did he passionately participate, but he also sent the invite to the next general session to EVERY GE Power employee. When your boss is doing it… you want to too.
Marketing/Culture Comms/Branding – These teams are crucial partnerships for brand ambassador programs. First, you want to be sure to walk in sync and follow the brand of your company for obvious reasons. At most companies their employment brand will not be as mature (or respected) as their corporate brand. Employment brand is the ‘new kid on the block’. Having corporate brand alignment and buy-in will help ensure that your program is a success.
The way we did this at GE was by proving engagement data, sharing credit, but most importantly - provide them good content. The stories that our brand ambassadors could write after bring trained to think about their ‘why’ were exactly what marketing was wanting for their content portfolio. They know that people-centric stories spur emotion and cause a connection. They were hungry for content from our employees.
3 Key Components (all voluntary and for any GE Employee):
101 Digital Industrial Brand Ambassador Training – ~1 hour
Training Delivery Methods
- Live/WebEx – customized per audience (example: Affinity Network, Leadership Program, etc.)
- Quarterly sessions offered at 3 times in one day to help with global time zones – General / All employees can join
- LMS – online training available through our LMS – can be taken as one course or broken into modules
- Additional audiences and fusions:
- New Employee - An overview and short tips are addressed in our NEO training (New Employee Orientation)
- Manager - A portion of the brand ambassador training has been fused into “Hiring the Right People” training that every new manager participates in
- Executive - Our Crotonville (GE University) references portions of the training and the full training as part of Executive training
Agenda for training:
- Win/Win – professional branding for you and (if you choose) GE
- Being safe online
- Maximizing your LinkedIn profile
- The art of storytelling; your ‘why’
- Other places you can ‘hang out online’ – social, review, content sites
- Resources (see below)
Flexibility ~Employees chose how much time to invest:
- Join a distribution list for all ambassadors
- 30 Minute Monthly Tips and Tricks sessions
- Resource website for ambassadors
Behavior of Social Amplification (Employees pick the tool/method that works for you) ~10 min /week:
- Sites you can refer to for great content
- Monday morning email of updates for each company (usually video, engaging content to amp)
- LinkedIn Elevate License
- GE Eddie (internal social amping / news broadcasting tool created with Dynamic Signal)
Continue the Buzz….
Being able to train and promote participation in brand ambassador training is valuable, however part of the plan needs to be about sustaining the program and campaigns. This is where the brand ambassador portion of employment brand is weaved through everything.
For example – our women in technology campaign. GE has committed to have 20,000 women in technology by the year 2020. We launched the marketing campaign, gathered leads that fell in love with the idea (not necessarily looking for a job), and have continued to have conversations with them. Eventually this will result in enticing them in and seeing how and where they fit at a company where they truly agree with the cause. But to do this we must continue the conversation. We achieve this in several ways.
- Leverage hashtags: for this we picked #BalanceTheEquation – be sure all your brand ambassadors know if they upload a photo to instagram, twitter, etc. to use this hashtag and GE will amplify, retweet, repost, etc.
- Use your Brand Ambassador's ‘why’ stories - Email stories of women rockstars at GE – highlight the cool jobs that make up STEM jobs (see results for how this has turned out so far) – these stories come straight from our brand ambassadors and their ‘why’ – you can find an example here.
- Use conversational social media - Facebook Live sessions of events going on at GE with our women executives or through our Women’s Network (our internal affinity program) have been very valuable. They’ve resulted in quick uptick of conversation externally, live engagement, and a transparent point of view – over 50K reach in 24 hours – email attached to use as template to ask for internal support
- Think outside the box – We launched a RV bus tour to college campuses around the US where we were able to get an RV wrapped in the women in technology campaign and created some amazing activities we could do to educate what it was to be a woman in technology at GE.
- Increase in applicants - With our first big push through the brand ambassador army of the Owen commercials we saw an 800% increase in applications the following month.
- Increase in quality/hires - Connecting to the right/quality candidates pays off – our Women In Technology Campaign provided over 18K leads within the first few days. Engagement with this audience through email and text led to at 75% open rate, 25% click through rate, and a 10% apply rate.
- Social Ambassadors - Over 75% of our global employees have a profile on LinkedIn, and are actively engaged on social media (most are engaged and many are very active = 100 + postings / month).
- Connected/Reach - Able to use brand ambassador army to reach more organically than many paid campaigns – our brand ambassadors have 19.7M unique first connections – we see this increase on average 15% per quarter for the last three quarters.
- Know what content engages - We can learn by the masses of content that candidates / customers engage with (and in turn educate our brand ambassadors AND marketing teams). We now follow the 3-2-1 rule. Three pieces of smart content, two pieces of thought leadership, to every one piece of content about a job or product.
- Make emotional connections - Employees understanding and articulating their ‘why’ – long term we believe this will even help with retention.
- Organic engagement taking place of spend targeting campaigns - Social amplification from brand ambassadors gaining over $3M equivalent in social target campaign spend for $0 in Q1 2017.
What We Got Wrong
Involve your leaders earlier They can help ramp up faster. I was a bit timid of involving executive/senior leadership because at the beginning I heard things like… ‘don’t make our employees look good, they will be poached from us!’ or ‘I’m not sure if we want our employees speaking on behalf of us.’ I was worried they would say we can’t and leaned towards asking for forgiveness over permission. Looking back this was one of the ways we saw the biggest ‘uptick’ in interest. When leaders got involved and 1) posted their own ‘why’ externally but 2) promoted with their employees, we saw significant growth and respect of the program.
Customize training (or add-ons needed) per function (i.e. Sales will want to add in/use differently than IT community) – possibly even label a ‘super’ brand ambassador to help promote in that region/function/business and recruit other employees.
Have a clear channel/process for gathering the ‘why’ stories Including easy ways to broadcast externally. We created MyGEStory.com and it works well. However there are so many tools and technologies out there that make storytelling and collecting very user-friendly (and less manual) or time consuming for employee.
Decide early on to be tool agnostic Just teach behavior of social amplification (we lost time arguing internally on the best tool for this).
- People tell great stories that cause connection. You need to equip them with tools for confidence and time to get it done – and most importantly permission.
- Brand ambassadors are ‘free’ marketing campaigns.
- When employees learn their ‘why’ they share it They stick with the company through the hard times. It is too early to tell in numbers, but we are seeing a pride through hard times in each business that we have never seen before. Positivity and camaraderie can also be impacted, as brand ambassadors attribute engagement to believing in what they are doing. Having brand ambassadors discover and write about their ‘why’ gives them a sense of belonging - not just a job.
- Brand + Data + Relationships = Recruiting - The focus of recruiting doesn’t solely land on our HR team. Our brand ambassadors are some of the best ‘recruiters’ we have!
- PowerPoint – to put the training together
- WebEx - to host virtual quarterly trainings (WebCast once we went past 300+ participants joining each call)
- LMS - to host online course and give credit to learners in their portfolio
- Email distribution lists and internal communication tools (Yammer) - to provide a sense of community to the brand ambassadors
- Email/LinkedIn Elevate/GE Eddie (built with Dynamic Signal) – to promote / help with social amplification behaviors