Scaling Long Form Content from Employees
December 03, 2018 by Lindsey Sanford, Global Employer Brand Manager, Palo Alto Networks
It has only been recently that employer brand has emerged as a field, but even with several years under the proverbial belt of selling an organization to its candidates, employees rarely have a dedicated position to it. You’ll find a few here and there, but regardless, the employees are still multitasking their positions between candidate experience, employer brand, social media recruitment, sourcing, recruiting, and more. More advanced companies have started to recognize the importance of employer brand programs and candidate experience, dedicating roles and teams to its implementation – but those are the advanced organizations. More often, you’ll find companies adding on to the responsibilities of recruiters, sourcers, and talent acquisition professionals to make ends meet.
I say all this to set the stage for the employer brand environment. Employer brand professionals are rarely just employer brand professionals. If even the practitioners of employer brand aren’t solely dedicated to employer brand – let’s take a step back and look at the employees we are asking to participate in our program. These are the employees we are seeking to leverage for employee testimonials, blogs, recruiter advice, articles, website features – you name it, we know that the most powerful type of content comes from the employees in the very roles we are hoping to highlight. And contributing to our program isn’t their fulltime job either. The harsh reality is that it’s not their priority, and that doesn’t mean they won’t be thrilled to participate. But it does mean that if one of their priorities emerges with any kind of urgency, requests for content in any format will be placed on the backburner, potentially indefinitely.
How do you get employee contributions, consistently, while competing with other priorities that might make it difficult to participate? Simple – you make it absurdly easy. If you know anything about process implementation, you know that if a process isn’t easy, it isn’t happening. Scratch that, if you know anything about human nature, if a process isn’t easy, it isn’t happening. There are always exceptions – usually when an incentive is provided to go about it the right way (whether monetarily or recognition). And, frankly, we’ve seen what happens when someone is providing a monetary incentive for employees to participate in employee ambassador programs (cough, Amazon, cough).
Step 1: Sell.
The first step is educating the potential participants to the purpose of the program, and detailing “what’s in it for them”. This can be, at times, a difficult sell because the connection to the employer brand can be a little delayed. Ideally, their contributions through content would attract more people like them – with similar capabilities and values. But it’s a long-term process, so there has to be more. I typically lead the “what’s in it for me” perspective with personal/professional branding for the individual. Regardless of the platform in which the content is being published – this is an opportunity for the employee to brand themselves, and ultimately set themselves up for career progression. It helps them talk about their journey and their potential. It’s a closer sell to them and an actual opportunity for them to expand their networks – and it happens a bit faster than the hiring process.
Step 2: Educate.
Content comes in all formats - the most appealing kind is the long-form content (at least, in my opinion). I love long-form content because it can fuel so many other aspects of your content strategy (social media posts, testimonials, quotes in pamphlets, content in job descriptions). With long-form content, you have content for days, vs employee quotes, which give you one format. But, the old phrase comes to mind: beggars can’t be choosers. When you are asking for content, give your employees options. Some feel more comfortable on video (I have yet to meet them, but I’m sure they are out there somewhere). Some feel more comfortable giving quotes. Some just want to talk about their life story – and if they are willing to speak about it, you should be capturing it.
If your employees know of more options than just the hardest, most difficult kind (long-form content), they might be more willing to participate. Ink other words, educate your employees about the different formats and encourage them to pursue the one that is most appealing to them.
Step 3: Help.
Very few people are writers – and even the best writers think they suck at writing. It’s your job to help identify how the individual employee can best be helped to pursue their story (if long-form content is what they are pursuing). There are a few options:
- Question format: provide your employees with a list of questions to answer – giving them 5-7 questions total that ask around the subjects you are hoping to highlight. I find that this is the format that most employees prefer – it’s simple, straightforward, and isn’t intimidating. Of course, if you want a blog style post, you’ll have to go in and format it so that it’s more than a Q&A, but if you’re asking the right questions this should give you the fodder you need to give you a nice long-form content piece.
- Interview format: some employees talk out their thoughts, and need to verbalize their feelings over the phone or in person. You’ll find that you get a lot more context when someone is speaking to you directly, vs answering questions over email or within a form. The added benefit to this style is that you are able to ask follow-up questions that give you more context to that employee’s story. Of course, the bets format is also the most time intensive – so interviewing employees leaves a lot of the onus on you to collect their content, reformat into blog style, and then send it back to them for review. If you do it this way, make sure you are a fast typist or invest in a recording device (either a web meeting that can record the conversation, a transcription tool, or a recorder).
- Prompt format: if you have a stronger writer on your hands, go with a prompt format. You can give them an objective or guidance to what kind of stories you are looking for, but for the most part, you can leave them with minimal guidance to get the kind of material you might be seeking. It is rarer for me to use this format, given many employee’s uncertainties around creating their stories, but it is a great format because it ends in a more natural content piece because it’s all written in the employee’s own words.
Step 4: Ease and Scale.
Regardless of the format that you are choosing to gather material in, make sure that the process is so easy, someone would have to be silly to say no to increase the size of their network and brand themselves more frequently professionally.
- Question format: for this, it’s easy, create a Survey Monkey free survey, a google form, or a word document that details the questions you are looking to get answered. I prefer the Survey Monkey or Google Form because you can export all the answers into one location. From there, it’s easy to keep track of who has answered, which answers you’ve used for other content formats, and it’d also be easy to run a quick assessment of common words and phrases that might help you capture the essence of your EVP in different words.
- Interview Format: Since this one is more time intensive, it’s not as much about process as it is about reasonable commitment. Think about realistically, what you can capture (for you, or your team, depending on the resources you have). If that’s one story per week, commit to that. But the important thing to think about in this aspect is that you have to get the stories back to the employees in a reasonable amount of time. When you are creating the content on behalf of the employees, think of them as your customer. If you take too long formatting and creating it, they won’t want to participate again.
- Prompt Format: similar to the question format above, but a little less scalable because the prompt format will most likely be unique to each individual employee vs the question format, which you might use the same questions/forms, for multiple employees. You’ll most likely be using your email to send out the prompts – so copy and paste the responses into your central story repository to keep track of which employees you’ve received responses from.
Making the process easy to participate in is crucial to telling the employee value proposition through a believable voice. If you don’t have a system in place to capture these stories (and support to do so), then you’re branded material will be weaker. Recognizing that it’s not their priority to tell the employer story will help you meet them where they are, and build a case for participating, ultimately making your job as an employer brand professional, social media guru, recruiter, and/or sourcer helping with the employer brand more attainable.
After many years organizing communication efforts for local, federal, and international campaigns, Lindsey gave up her constituents for candidates upon entering the recruitment marketing world. For seven years, she worked at Symphony Talent, assisting Fortune 100 companies with their recruitment marketing content marketing strategy, attracting talent to organizations by encouraging the right fit for both the company and the candidate. She now manages a Global Employer Brand Program for Palo Alto Networks, innovating new ways to reach out to candidates, leveraging regional stories, and improved candidate experience, and pushing the boundaries of how we think about the recruitment and candidate process. In her allusive "free time" she can be found picking up new hobbies like Girl Scouts leadership, reading all the books, speaking for her cat, and asking her kids for the 100th time to pick up their toys. Follower her on Twitter @LindseySanford.
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