Brand evangelists are people who speak consistently, frequently, passionately and positively about your business. They aren’t paid spokespeople. The best evangelists are people with a personal connection to your company and nothing to gain by spreading the word.
In public relations, real brand evangelists are very powerful messengers who can do amazing things for the image and growth of your enterprise. Evangelists work because they have genuine energy and enthusiasm around what they are saying -- they believe it. The public can spot false (or paid) evangelists pretty easily so finding the real thing is as important as it can be potent.
In other words, authenticity matters. While evangelists may benefit from advice about how to tell their stories, they almost never need to be told what to say. If you’re telling someone what to say, they are not an evangelist, they are a spokesperson. That’s a big difference.
In looking for and cultivating brand evangelists, most PR experts and company leaders look to customers who have paid for the product or service and been delighted. You’ve seen that before, “I was so happy with company x, I really didn’t expect them to do y, but they did and I’m so happy.”
But PR teams and business insiders often overlook another source of powerful brand evangelists -- employees. Done well, employee brand evangelists are just as good as customers. In some cases, they are even more so.
So how do you find employee brand evangelists? Here are four tips on how you can find, direct and unleash them:
Give employees a space to share, then listen
Because authenticity is the hallmark of brand evangelism, start by finding employees who already have real passion and good, personal stories to tell. To do that, make sure they have the internal space to share their thoughts and insights about the company, their co-workers, and managers – whatever is on their mind.
Related: The 7 Tenets of Branding
Creating that space doesn’t have to exist on its own. Companies like Chairlift - a cloud based talent management platform, offer that type of opportunity as part of their HR/performance review and employee feedback system. As such, Chairlift is a great place for managers and PR teams to look for employees with the passion and voice to become evangelists. When employees post often and share great, unique stories about their personal experience at work, flag them – they are strong evangelist candidates.
“Finding team members with strong voices is absolutely one of the real benefits to having an open, engaging, and ongoing review and feedback process in place,” said Rita Ginsburg, the Director of Customer Experience and Chief People Officer at Chairlift, Inc. “Meaningful, clear processes help make happier, more satisfied employees who can make a difference both inside and outside the office walls.”
Give them external space
After you’ve identified a few potential evangelists, ask them if they’re willing to start sharing their thoughts outside the company – on their own. If they are willing, help them get set up. There are oodles of free, influential places for employees and others to share their stories including the well-regarded Medium (which works especially well with Twitter) and LinkedIn.
In fact, the Daniel Roth, the executive editor at LinkedIn wrote a lengthy piece last year about how vocal employees were changing conversations. “The best [companies] are actively encouraging their employees to get their voice out there…” he wrote.
While you absolutely want to stay aware of what your newly visible employees are saying, resist the urge to direct it. The last thing you want to do is turn an employee’s honest voice into PR mush.
Don’t ask them to write about stock reports or company newsletters. Do make sure they understand and follow company guidelines and decorum in public -- about offensive language or revealing sensitive customer or employee information, for examples. Make sure they have access to someone who can proof-read and lightly edit for them. And make sure they understand how much they are helping the company and your mission – don’t turn spreading the good word about your company into homework.
Also, share their work – both internally and externally.
Raise their profiles – make them part of the brand
If an employee really connects with sharing their stories and experiences at your company, elevate their works and words. Be assertive in finding new and higher-profile opportunities for them to engage the public.
Internal, employee brand evangelists make excellent speakers at conferences and guests on radio and television shows. As they get more comfortable telling their stories, these vocal and passionate leaders should make their way to the front of your public relations efforts.
Keep in mind, it’s their real voices and personal stories about working with you -- meeting your company and social missions -- that resonate with the public. As such, they can be far better at elevating the reputation and visibility of your company than even you are. Good brand evangelists are worth finding, cultivating and promoting and you can do it if you give them space to step forward on their own, support their efforts and give them the freedom to be who they are already.