How brands can avoid getting dragged down the aisle of internet infamy

  1. internet infamy

By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I recently hosted a discussion around the United Airlines PR debacle. Clearly this event was a colossal system failure of a company culture. The gate agents, the police force, the cabin attendants, and the entire company set of rules and procedures had some role in this poor man being dragged and from his seat and bloodied.

It got me thinking: Do most employees embrace their status as brand representatives? An empowered and engaged workforce is your brand’s first line of defense against a potential PR disaster. People who consider themselves brand representatives don’t spit in customers’ food or write racist remarks on receipts. Instead, they go above and beyond to show compassion for customers. (Returning luggage, sending flowers–surprise and delight examples abound.)

Here are some ways that you can create a corporate culture that values and empowers employees.

Help employees to feel a sense of ownership in your brand.

You could even make them actual owners, as Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya did in 2016. At the time, the company was valued at more than three billion dollars, and Ulukaya decided to express his appreciation to the employees who helped build the yogurt brand by awarding each of them shares in the company based on their tenure. Should the company go public, many of them are likely to become millionaires.

This generous move reinforced employees’ faith in the company (and probably increased productivity, as well). It also helped to ensure that they will take their role as brand representative seriously, as they have a monetary interest in upholding a positive brand image.

Short of handing out stock certificates, you can still foster a positive work culture, and research has shown that people who work in companies with a positive culture are more productive.

Value your employees.

It’s been said that workplace loyalty is dead (or at least declining), but your company can be the exception. For inspiration, consider sausage company Johnsonville. When the company’s Watertown facility burned down in 2015, the company kept all 120+ local employees on the payroll and maintained their benefits while the facility was rebuilt. Their workers spent the downtime volunteering in the community and attending classes before returning to work when the facility reopened.

Trust your employees.

It seems fundamental that you would trust your employees. You hired them, right? But many corporate rules, processes, and documentation procedures only serve to frustrate employees and make them feel micromanaged (ergo, not trusted).

This works against you, because research shows that “employees who feel trusted have a greater sense of responsibility and give a better performance.”

Set clear goals for your employees, explain your expectations for them, then let them do their job. If employees achieve their goals in a different way than you would have, does it really matter? As long as they’re not breaking the law, give employees leeway on when and how to do their work.

Cultivate more than a few high-level brand ambassadors.

Most companies understand that they need someone to be the face of their brand. Typically, that person is the founder or a high-level executive. But truly smart businesses know that what they need is a sea of faces, each serving as a public-facing representative of the brand in their community.

Personal branding shouldn’t end with the C-suite. Offer social media coaching for employees who want to build a name for themselves (or buy them a copy of Mark Schaefer’s book, Known). As they become known in your industry, these employees will help to elevate your brand along with theirs.

The average internet user maintains accounts on 5 social networks, with connections on each. Consider just one of these networks, Twitter: the average Twitter user has 208 followers. Multiply this by the number of employees you have and you start to see how mutually beneficial it is for employees to have a positive online brand of their own.

You can showcase your employees by having them speak at industry events or by offering behind-the-scenes stories about them on your social media feeds. You could even let them take the helm in creating your company’s branded content, as Johnston has done with their branded series “Dinner is Served.”

So, remember these tips:

  • Help employees to feel a sense of ownership in your brand.
  • Value your employees.
  • Trust your employees.
  • Cultivate more than a few brand ambassadors.

If you can follow through on even a couple of these tips, you’ll improve your chances of getting the right kind of publicity, and avoid having your reputation dragged down the aisle of Internet infamy.

kerry gorgone

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is a writer, lawyer, speaker and educator. She’s also Director of Product Strategy, Training, at MarketingProfs. Kerry hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. Find Kerry on Twitter.

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