This is the reputation or image afforded a product by potential consumers of that product. Examples include Scotch Tape and Post-it Notes. Both are well-known products despite the fact that few people know who makes them (3M).
This group of brands represents the image afforded to an organization as an entity. You could think of it as an organization's personality. Many factors influence this kind a brand, including history, financial performance, and experience as a corporate citizen. Examples include 3M and General Electric or GE. Much like with product brands, people can attach both positive and negative attributes to a firm.
This group takes the organizational brand one step further and characterizes the organization's image as an employer. Some organizations like Google and Wegmans Food Markets are branded as great places to work, while other organizations that we won't mention are branded as horrible places to work. Regardless of where your organization exists on that continuum, the perceptions of the people you need to influence are often manipulated through:
- Word-of-mouth. This channel of influence often starts off as your internal brand, i.e., how those who currently work for you perceive your organization, but it doesn't stop there. Current employees, former employees, disgruntled candidates, vendors, customers, etc., all influence the perception of you are as an employer by sharing stories with their friends and colleagues, or in all honesty with anyone who will listen. (This is often why I talk about leveraging the employee referral program to manipulate your employer brand.)
- Professional media. Simply put, this channel represents how those in the media portray your organization. In includes what is written about you in articles, presentations, news programs, radio shows, and corporate marketing collateral (both print and electronic.)
- Online/User-generated media. This channel is quickly becoming one of the most powerful and includes all sources of information that are user generated, such as blog postings, forum rants, YouTube videos, online rankings, etc.
The remainder of this article will focus on how to assess your online employment brand and methods for improving it.
Part I: Assessing Your Online Employment Brand
If you want to improve your recruiting success, the first step is to assess or identify your current image online. There are numerous ways to assess the strength of your image and determine whether it's positive or negative overall. They include:
- Search your firm's name. Start by conducting a simple Internet search (using just the name of your firm) on several of the popular search engines (e.g., Google, Yahoo, Ask) in order to see what information appears on the first three pages of results. You can look beyond that, but in all honestly, when was the last time you clicked past page three of search results?
- Search for job-related information. Conduct a similar search using terms related to jobs and employment at your firm (use any phrase that someone searching for a job might use). From these results, you can identify what information individuals are finding when they are searching for a job on the Internet.
- Hire mystery shoppers. Hire neutral individuals to visit and then assess your firm's own corporate home page and corporate jobs page. Ask these individuals to categorize the overall message of the pages, as well as to list positive, neutral, and negative aspects of the information provided on your site. Next, have them compare and contrast your site to those of your direct talent competitors.
- Conduct a search for your negatives. Perhaps the most critical assessment search to complete is to identify the number, rank, and severity of any negative comments that appear about your firm, its products, and culture. You can generally find negative information by using search terms that include your firm's name and "+unethical" (or use similar terms like evil, dishonest, uncaring, deceitful, liars, greedy, corrupt, bad, etc.). Negative information can be found on a variety of sites, including financial forums, MBA forums, company profiling sites like Vault and Wetfeet, watchdog sites like f**ckedcompany.com, user-maintained meta sites like Wikipedia, user-maintained blogs (use blogsearch.google.com or technorati.com to find them), and on awareness campaign sites. Twenty-nine companies in the Fortune 100 have negative awareness campaign sites listed in the top search results on Google. If your company is covered by a site similar to walmartwatch.com, bestbuysux.org, or killercoke.com, then you need to constantly monitor them.
- Sign up for a daily alert e-mail. It's not sufficient to conduct a one-time or annual search in order to find out what people are saying about your firm and your jobs. Instead, sign up for a daily e-mail news update service using your firm's name to monitor what people are saying about you on a daily basis. Google and Yahoo both offer this service for free.
Part II: Building Your Image and Combating Negative Comments Online
Once you have assessed your online brand image, the next step is to develop a strategy and action plan to improve that image. Here are 14 categories of things to try:
- Determine your brand pillars. Before you undertake a major effort in building or rebuilding your online employment brand, work with senior executives to determine what you can really deliver with some consistency. These major segments of your image are called brand pillars because they form the framework of your desired employment brand. Typical brand pillars might include a culture of innovation, risk-taking, great managers, concern for the environment, opportunities for learning and promotion, and great benefits.
- Attempt to lower the page rank of any negative information. One of the primary mechanisms for reducing your negative exposure is to flood the Internet with content that can earn a higher search-page ranking because of its relevance. (Search engines all operate differently, but your marketing department should be able to help you figure out what content and publication channel could be effective.) In general, you want to produce content that is wildly popular, that lots of others will link to, and that contains key search terms. This has the effect of pushing any negative information obtained from a search engine off of the first visible pages of search results.
- Counter negative comments. Encourage your employees to counter negative comments about your firm and its jobs by posting their own comments in the comment sections on websites, forums, listservs, or blogs. Suggest that they use facts, figures, and examples in their posts as elements to help create a logical argument that rhetoric cannot stand up to.
- Provide more in-depth information on your own website. Most individuals seeking employment will eventually visit the organization's official website and its career section. As a result, it is important that both contain a large amount of positive information, along with solid examples of management programs and practices that effectively address any concerns that a potential candidate might have. Providing streaming videos, notes on awards, and employee testimonials will also send a clear and positive message to potential applicants. Linking your site to numerous other popular websites (including strategic partners) can improve the ranking of information about your firm within the search results. Don't be afraid to speak candidly about your organization. One of the biggest complaints about employment sites by top university candidates is the lack of candor they present.
- Encourage blogs and podcasts. Blogs are now extremely popular and, given the fact that they are also now included in most search engine results, firms should encourage their employees to write externally-viewed blogs. Obviously, guidelines should be established to limit the content, but blogs written by real employees are generally more credible and believable than most company-provided information. Firms can also offer podcasts (video or audio) for interested individuals that describe what it's like to work at the firm (these are also known as jobcasts).
- Encourage forum and bulletin board comments. Many professionals regularly participate in online forums, listservers, chat rooms, and online bulletin boards (33% have used one form or the other). One of the most effective ways to build your online brand is to encourage your employees (as well as consultants and vendors that you work with) to monitor these on a daily basis. When appropriate, they should counter negative remarks and support positive comments by providing positive examples and best practices on these forums. Also encourage them to proactively post compelling stories on a regular basis.
- Social networking sites. Providing that you have an engaged workforce, encourage your employees and recruiters to post profiles on social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace (20% of the population use them) in order to expand the amount of information about your firm that is available on the Internet. By posting profiles, you also make it easier for potential applicants to contact your employees directly so that they can seek out the real and personalized stories about their experience at your firm. Many of these sites also allow your firm to post its own profile, albeit for a fee.
- Work with PR to increase your popular media exposure. Because most print and broadcast media outlets now place much of their content on the Internet, it's critical that you increase the number of times that your firm is mentioned in the popular and business media. Writing articles, being quoted, and speaking at professional events will eventually impact your online brand when this information is later posted to the Web. (I have found that many organizations not only fail to leverage this category, but also actively block it. Pretend to be a reporter and call your organization to see what happens. Nine times out of 10, you will be transferred to a PR department that informs you that the company doesn't participate in such stories, or you will be transferred to the legal department which is even worse.)
- Utilize YouTube. If a picture's worth a thousand words think of how many words a moving picture is worth. As streaming videos become more popular (56% of Americans with Internet access have viewed a video or listened to audio online), it's important for firms to either place their own videos or to encourage employees to place their positive videos on the Internet. Periodically search these video sites to ensure that the available videos provide helpful information about your company and your jobs. Still pictures that are appropriately labeled with your firm's name should also be posted in order to improve your exposure and search results.
- Have a presence in virtual worlds. Virtual reality websites like SecondLife are increasingly popular (9% of U.S. adults report having created on online personality or avatar) and are beginning to be used by many major firms to help spread their images (participants include IBM, Deloitte, eBay, Bain, Verizon, Microsoft, and HP). Having your organization or its products mentioned within video games is another way of increasing your exposure to those that spend a lot of time online.
- Hold online contests. If you want to increase your exposure to professionals that are frequently online, consider sponsoring online contests. Because there are prizes involved, these contests usually generate a lot of Internet traffic and buzz. In addition, the competition allows you to identify and later recruit the individuals with the best solutions.
- Awards and lists. The fact that your employees win industry and functional awards should be proactively spread. And, if your firm successfully lands its name on any best-place-to-work lists, that will also provide a great deal of mention throughout the Internet. You can further increase the buzz created by the awards by issuing press releases and by making managers available to the press whenever your firm is contacted.
- Write your own e-newsletters. The top professionals are continually trying to learn about the best practices and latest innovations in their field. As a result, providing regular content through e-newsletters is an excellent way to reach the best employed people that are not looking for a job. You can either issue a general circulation "answer guy" functional or industry-specific e-newsletter, or alternatively, a "friends of your firm" newsletter that covers what is happening within your organization. Linking to or owning other content-rich websites frequented by working professionals is also a wise move.
- Link with your product brand. Product brands and employment brands are often closely related. If your products are viewed positively and they appear throughout the Internet, consider including encouraging messages about your firm and what it's like to work there alongside your product brand-building messages. Providing dual messages works because most individuals who love your product are also likely to be curious about what it's like inside the firm that produces that product.
The time will come in the not-too-distant future when the Internet will not be just another source, but instead be the primary source people use to get information about everything, including a firm and its jobs.
On a typical day in the U.S., 4.9 million people look for information about a job online and that number is growing at double-digit rates each year. The time has come when it is no longer acceptable to be naive and unaware of what information potential applicants find when they go online.
In the new world of recruiting, periodically assess and manage your Google rep and your online brand, or you will certainly cripple your firm's recruiting effort. It's really just that simple.