by John Andrews and Ted Rubin
The Influencers Inside Are Building Local and Personal Engagement for Brands
Practically everyone is a content creator now. We don’t just send texts, we send emojis and memes and AR-enhanced videos. Content creation and sharing IS social media… AND The Content IS The Ad. From the articles shared on LinkedIn to photos on Instagram and videos on TikTok, content drives conversation and engagement… “Old marketing was dictation, new marketing is communication. Change from Convince and Convert to Converse and Convert!” ~TedRubin.
We are in fact, in a content glut, with way more supply than demand, or at least capacity for content to be consumed. Add in branded and paid content, and more people and platforms are desensitized to much of what is coming their way, and manage the content tsunami through filtering (email), scrolling (Instagram/Facebook/TikTok) and simply avoiding most of the content that is coming at them through the digital firehose. However, there is one type of content we all consume willingly and even seek out… that which comes from our personal networks, friends, family, and professional communities.
Community is the original driving force behind influencer marketing… Everyone Influences Someone. People that we either know or relate to have supplanted celebrities and branded content as trusted and approachable media. Influencer marketing was always with us (we all had friends we look to for recommendations), digital channels gave it commercial reach and scale. Most brands today have an integrated influencer marketing component of their media mix. As more influencer content is created, efficiency naturally moderates and evolves into specialized subsets. One of the fastest-growing forms of influencer marketing has become brands and retailers leveraging employee’s content creation ability, along with their networks, as a valuable form of influencer marketing, the influencer inside approach.
The Influencers Inside
Like all influencer marketing, employee created content has always been with us through word of mouth, networking and personal connections. These used to be informal and unstructured forms of communication but increasingly, marketers are recognizing the ability of company employees to connect with their networks and affect “personalization and localization,” two of the most important parts of modern marketing. With large and loyal employee communities, retailers, in particular, can benefit from content-enabled employees that have the tools, training and encouragement to create and share company content. “Empower your Employees… and they will Power your Brand!”
Walmart has quickly become a leader in employee content enablement. The world’s largest retailer has thousands of local-store employees creating content using TikTok and other social media platforms. Walmart is taking a formal approach to the new layer of influencer marketing and actively tapping its associates to participate through its Spotlight program and giving them tools and more importantly, content creation training. Walmart marketer Zach Lones is one of the leaders of the effort and is an accomplished content creator in his own right.
“Walmart also organizes regular speaking events with social media and copywriting experts to teach workers about social media. According to Lones, employees from TikTok recently gave a session.”
Walmart is no stranger to influencer marketing and was one of the first retailers to build a ‘people as media’ business in 2008 with its Walmart Elevenmoms influencer marketing program. Content creators like Katja Presnal, Jessica Smith and Monica Brady created stories sponsored by Walmart supplier brands including P&G and Campbell’s that brought to life how it helped them manage their lives with the help of Walmart’s low prices and shopping experiences. Walmart’s early embrace of new media forms has helped it stay ahead of its competitors and connect on a more personal level with its shoppers. With over 2 million employees in the US alone, employee content enablement is a powerful competitive tool in a rapidly changing retail landscape.
Many other retailers, brands, and organizations are adding employee created content to their marketing approaches. Amazon, Dunkin, RE/MAX and St. Jude are all leveraging their employees and partners to create and connect more closely to a broader community of customers. A variety of approaches is being used from Amazon’s Twitter based FC influencers that share inside stories of work-life at the company, to a more community-based approach from St. Jude on TikTok to bring awareness to the stories of its work with kids suffering from cancer.
With a focus on storytelling, content creation platforms have become critical to these efforts and most mainline platforms have added story functionality with even business networking platform LinkedIn joining the fray to ‘reach younger consumers’. Adding to the trend, content creation platforms like TikTok and Snapchat are adding private dedicated workflows for companies to use to provide brand creative elements, training and management for employees. Likewise, content creation platforms like Canva, Adobe Spark, and our own Photofy (the quick and easy to use option) are designed specifically for this task.
As with any employee engagement effort, training and support are key. By taking the fear out of the process and simplifying complex digital and social marketing, every employee can leverage content to connect with consumers and economically scale content creation and support the brand.
Brands are also beginning to leverage insider content creation, blending traditional influencer marketing with the content of employees and partners. Bluetooth Eyewear company Lucyd is blending the stories of tech influencers utilizing the Photofy content creation platform for its 3,000+ crowdfunding investors to provide new avenues for growing its community. Lucyd marketing leader Calvin Peters was a pioneer in retail influencer marketing for Walgreens, recognizing early on that content marketing was the key to growing digital communities. Calvin was the first marketer to achieve over 1 million organic Twitter followers at a retailer by combining the stories of Duane Reade’s VIP Blogging Team with integrated mobile and PR approaches, a model he dubbed as #ParallelPersuasion which allowed them to overtake powerhouse Walmart in community size. Calvin’s approach has always been to leverage content to enhance the shopper’s experience across all digital touchpoints.
“Our goal has always been social community building and expanding relevant engagement to enhance our overall customer experience”
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of employee content enablement is scale. Retailers have massive workforces that all have strong personal networks. The beauty of these networks is that they are much more engaging and connected than brand networks. The average Photofy enterprise user has over 1000 connections and receives between 6-8% engagement. Because most personal networks are also localized, they are an organic connection for branded content at a local level. Scale is also a key feature of this media format. One of our enterprise partners with around 25,000 of its associates using Photofy regularly is averaging over 500,000 pieces of shared content posts per month across almost all platforms including, private networks like groups and text.