How Companies Like Facebook Can Fix Their Reputations as Employers
Employees increasingly looking to quit? Here's how some well-placed talent experience dollars can burnish a company's reputation internally.
In possibly the least surprising news of this year, Facebook — or as it's now called, Meta — was recently voted the worst company of 2021 in a December survey of more than 1,500 Yahoo Finance readers. The race wasn't exactly close, either. The poll had the company receiving eight percent of write-in answers, which is 50 percent more than the second-place finisher.
Over the past few years, the Silicon Valley darling has fallen from grace amid accusations of censorship, choosing profits over user safety and violating antitrust regulations. Leaders at Facebook/Meta are well aware of this public persona. So they decided to change the company's name and logo back in October in an attempt to shift the narrative. But most people aren't buying it.
Though it's not just Facebook/Meta's customer-facing brand that's affected by the company's scandals and desperate rebrand attempts. The shadow also falls directly on Facebook/Meta's employer reputation. Indeed, recruiters are seeing more Facebook employees looking for an exit since the rebrand announcement. And after ranking as the top employer in 2018, the company's employer reputation fell several spots in 2021.
The power of employer branding (and where Facebook went wrong)
Mark Zuckerberg hoped that renaming his company would help cover past sins. But employer branding doesn't work like that, though he's not alone in his thinking. Very few leaders have truly thought through how to strategically cultivate their employer reputations in order to drive their business forward.
But when leaders do focus intentionally on their reputation from the start, it's the difference in branding vs. rebranding and employer reputation-building vs. employer reputation-rebuilding.
Zuckerberg and the rest of his leadership team must prove to the world that Meta leaders are good corporate citizens, that the company does have a culture of belonging and that it's a place where people can advance their careers. It's a tall order, but it's not impossible. After all, about 30 percent of Yahoo Finance's survey respondents said Facebook/Meta could redeem itself by owning up to its mistakes, apologizing for its shortcomings and taking steps to reverse the harm it has caused.
Consider this a wake-up call. Employer reputation matters, and building it by design will bolster the public perception of your organization. Not only that, but it'll give the organization insight into where to invest in its talent experience.
The art and science of investing in talent
All organizations have finite time and resources. This can make investing in the talent experience difficult. Trying to be all things to all people is not achievable or practical. As such, you have to pour those resources into the places that will serve you the best.
Most organizations tend to overinvest in some areas and underinvest in others. They should invest in areas that directly contribute to the type of employer reputation they're trying to build.
As CEO and founder of a global employer branding agency, I like to think about it under the model of the three C's: career catalyst, citizenship and culture. Consider which C suits your company best and dock your employer reputation there. Here's how.
1. Career catalyst: Invest in the alumni experience
The candidate experience is arguably the most overinvested facet of the talent experience, and the alumni experience the most underinvested. But if you hope to cultivate a career catalyst employer brand, you have to flip that equation. Your alumni experience will directly correlate to the caliber of talent you attract.
Think about it. You want to be known as a workplace where high performers flock to progress quickly and leverage the experience for upward or outward mobility. As such, people's success post-departure is a more profound proof point for candidates than the success those employees experienced during their time at your organization. And a 2017 study from Glassdoor discovered that job seekers consider former employees to be some of the most well-trusted information sources, so this matters.
With that in mind, focus on building an alumni community. McKinsey & Co. is a great example of a career catalyst company. It invests heavily in growing its global alumni community of 35,000-plus people. Rather than grumble about the shrinking tenures of young employees, McKinsey embraces that its talent may stay only a few years, and it markets itself as the perfect breeding ground for career acceleration. That's a compelling message for bright, young talent with big dreams.
2. Citizenship: Invest in the employee experience
Today we're seeing a heightened demand for more humanity in business. Yet, good corporate citizenship is tricky to authentically integrate into an employer brand. If you need an example, look no further than Facebook's attempt to manufacture a new narrative without putting in the work to live it out. If you hope to cultivate a citizenship-minded employer reputation, that integration is imperative.
Let's say you claim to be an employer with empathy and compassion. That sounds great on paper, but to model that citizenship, you need to focus on story doing. We often hear people talk about telling a story when it comes to building an employer brand. But without the doing, that story feels like a piece of fiction. To provide proof points for your compassion, you might highlight new supply chains to demonstrate your earnest commitment to the ethical sourcing of raw materials.
As far as talent experience investments go, citizenship companies should focus on the employee experience. Perhaps you can offer a unique employee benefit that aligns with your company's mission (e.g., employer-sponsored volunteerism). Or like Ben & Jerry's, you may unapologetically voice a political opinion that drives away some candidates and attracts others.
Whatever you do, don't try to outsmart an audience that's only compelled by action, evidence and impact. Remember the sharp criticism Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden drew when he laid off employees via Zoom in 2020? His having to downsize isn't what drew ire — sometimes that's an unfortunate reality of business — it's that the dehumanizing dismissal flew in the face of Bird's supposed commitment to good corporate citizenship.
3. Culture: Invest in the candidate experience
Throw a rock, and you'll hit a story about the impact of culture on the 21st-century workplace. And from a talent-acquisition perspective, culture is incredibly important. Because whether someone vibes with your culture is one of the best indicators of whether they'll stick around long-term.
Therefore, when building an employer brand around culture, you need to focus your attention on the candidate experience in order to repel the many and compel the few. Consider Google, which makes it well known that it's a challenging place to work. For some, that sounds exciting — it's why Google receives more than two million job applications every year, according to Staff.com. But others will self-select out of the application process because they understand that Google's culture doesn't fit their needs.
You can't totally control your company culture because it's an amalgamation of the behaviors and norms in your workplace, but you can tend to it. Collect feedback from current employees to better understand where your culture falls short. Then, make necessary changes based on what you hear. Consider as well that 70 percent of job seekers will not even bother applying to a company if its culture has a bad reputation.
Facebook/Meta didn't lose its good standing by accident, and it won't gain it back that way, either. So ask yourself: What do we want our employer reputation to be? In the end, the answer undoubtedly impacts your company's ability to create a world-class talent experience that ensures you attract and retain the highest-quality people.
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