Asked about John Lewis’s greatest attribute against the digital giants in Vogue, Paula Nickolds, Managing Director, had two words: “It’s people”. 

It sounds simple, right? But in an increasingly competitive marketplace, brands need to be smart to reach prospective candidates and then attract and retain the best talent – something existing employees can help with when given the opportunity to become advocates for the business.

Charu Malhotra, an expert in Employer Branding who has worked for Primark, BP and Unilever believes HR is becoming more like Marketing. She says: “The candidate experience has changed and people think ‘I’m no longer going to respond to an ad that feels like it’s for everyone’. We’re moving to more of a consumer marketing model - with personalisation and segmentation – and people are saying ‘engage me, don’t bore me’."

She continues, "Having employees create content and talk about the company they work for is a natural trend that feels right. People don’t trust CEOs or governments in the way they once did but they think ‘I’m going to trust my friend’, as long as it is written in the person’s voice and sounds authentic.”

Companies with a one-size-fits-all recruitment marketing approach are increasingly perceived to be tone deaf. And it matters because the cost of replacing one employee stands at £30,614 according to a report by Oxford Economics and Unum.

For potential candidates, existing employees advocating for a business are gold. Employees have a high degree of trust in their individual networks and are able to talk with integrity and authenticity about their brand, products and services. As Malhotra adds: “Asking employees to be involved in creating content can be scary because we’ve been in a command and control culture for years. But those brands who do employer branding well know that it comes down to harnessing employee generated content, and that your employees will harness 10x more engagement.”

Here are five brands using employee advocacy to attract the best talent and drive down recruitment costs: 

1. Mastercard's puts trust in employee ambassador programme

Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer and President, Healthcare Business, Mastercard, said in December: "As we look at our priorities for 2018, let’s commit to putting talent development at the top. There’s much we can do to help develop the ‘super human’ marketers needed to succeed in today’s tech savvy world…”

Part of its talent development has been creating an ambassador programme for 400 of its staff that allows employee advocates to share content across social media. 

According to Altimeter Group 21% of consumers said they "liked" employee posts about companies, an engagement rate that far surpasses most social advertising campaigns at a much lesser cost.

The ambassador programme allows empowered employees to share a diversity of content, distribute different perspectives from different internal businesses and be a better employer by communicating clearly with its colleagues day to day.

2. Sky's employee networks secure diverse talent 

Where many companies recognise the need to include diversity and inclusion in the candidate experience, Sky has been lauded for going further than most. The candidate experience has changed and potential employees want to read authentic reviews, and expect to be able to research a company to find out what the employee experience is like from people who actually work at the company, or did work there.

Sky has an active #lifeatsky hashtag on social, which celebrates a range of experiences at Sky, and the company encourages employees to share content. It’s used by some of its most recognisable presenters such as Kay Burley.

Sky’s employee network includes parents, LGBT and women, and their work led them to The Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers in December.

A range of recognition schemes is run for employees who live and breathe its values, and there is also a graduate and apprenticeship scheme on offer. It will be interesting to see Sky’s plans for 2018 following the new hire of Debbie Klein to the newly-created role of group chief marketing and corporate affairs officer.

3. ASOS rebrands HR as 'People Experience'

ASOS has been a frontrunner - and rightly celebrated - for its work in advocacy, something that helped propel it past Marks & Spencer’s market valuation in 2017. However, it has also been recognised on the Top Companies list for the UK compiled by LinkedIn for “those that have figured out how to attract top talent and then keep them”.

A new flexible working scheme and improved Net Promoter Score (up from 63 to 66) compliment an intern scheme that has garnered praise and newly transformed HQ offering health and workout facilities, a library and technology bar.

The first ASOS Festival of Learning was held last year to drive engagement with around 1,200 attendees taking part in 55 development workshops and masterclases.

From a CSR point of view, the ASOS Foundation helps employees who want to get involved in charitable initiatives such as the recent ‘Walk for water Challenge’ to raise money for Project Pipeline, a water infrastructure in Kenya.

ASOS People Experience Director, Peter Collyer, told the CIPD: “Our focus is always on the customer experience – everything we do is about that. And my agenda is to do the same for our people, which is why I rebranded HR as the ‘people experience’ (or ‘PX’) team last year. We all know that happy people mean happy customers; it’s not rocket science, but I think we’re doing a lot more work on this than a lot of companies.”

In turn, the online retailer benefits from happy employees advocating on their behalf about what it’s like to work at ASOS, making talent acquisition more effective.

4. Admiral invests in learning and development

Admiral is 25 years old this year and its roster of accolades runs to more than 100 awards for being a good employer, including Sunday Times 30 Best Big Companies to work for 2017 and World's Best Work Places 2017. The average length of service for its staff is six years with 12 members having been with them for over 25 years.

Keeping employees engaged and informed is at the heart of the dedicated training and development programmes that has helped Admiral to hire the best talent and deliver a high retention rate – it now has more than 8,000 staff across the world and is one of Wales’ largest employers. 

The Admiral Academy is made of 25 staff who are able to support their colleagues in personal development. The Academy is also an approved Institute of Leadership and Management Centre, and staff also have the opportunity to work towards an in-house post-graduate qualification, accredited by the University of South Wales.

More than 5,800 employees went on courses of their choice in 2016 and self-learning is encouraged. 

5. River Island promotes employee led career development 

River Island turns 30 this year but shows no signs of slowing down as a family business. Its family ethos carries through to its outlook as a brand, with an HR video shared over Christmas highlighting its 'people are at the heart of our business'. This is no lip service when they are consistently winning multiple awards for being a best employer and being the best HR team.

The River Island Virtual Academy (RIVA) keeps employees engaged with an innovative portfolio of relevant videos, workshops, podcasts and downloadable books, available 24/7 in any role, to increase knowledge. It describes personal development as a culture of ‘employee-led career development’ and employees themselves describe the company’s ideals and history.

Its tech team has grown by around 220 people in seven years. Part of this shift has been empowering employees with android-based devices in store, so they can feel more confident: checking stock, placing orders and completing purchases for customers. Other benefits include generous staff discounts and ‘Summer Fridays’ when head office employees are able to leave the office at 3.30pm each Friday.

The brand has also recently launched a diversity advertising campaign, focused on celebrating the individual for Spring 2018.

Related reading for Econsultancy subscribers:


Published 16 February, 2018 by Andrew Seel

Andrew Seel is CEO of employee advocacy platform Qubist. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

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