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The Rise of the Employee Brand

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While the stragglers sit still trying to figure it out, the smart brands have evolved into social brands.  However, while the social brands sit patting themselves on the back for their innovation, the really smart brands are busy building engaged communities from inside out.  These wise businesses are starting to understand that they need to operationalize their social media functions internally.  Realizing that if they want to become social businesses, these brands have decided they need to start tearing down silos and engaging employees.

The very recent advent of social business has provided companies with a transformational way of getting closer to both employees and customers.  Now, the focus is all on employees and culture.  Simply put, before a brand can effectively communicate externally it must first communicate internally.

We are all on a social journey.  Brands.  Employees. Customers.  Successful brands need to find that social connective tissue, which begins with better employee communication.  As a concept at least, the formula is quite simple. If they hope to succeed in humanizing their brands, companies must first humanize their business processes.

For many brands, this transformation evolution marks a major shift in mindset.   This move requires transparency, authenticity and trust.  “But as trust has eroded away from corporations and government institutions, we are seeing the ushering in of a new era: the employee-brand,” according to Michael Brenner in his blog “Why Now Is The Time to Build Your Personal Brand.”

If brands embrace the concept of trusting their employees via education and communication, they will be well along the path toward transforming from a social brand to a social business.

Leading edge companies like AT&T understand what it means to become a social business.  Two employees, Trish Nettleship (@trishnet) and Bill Strawderman (@marketingbard), spearheaded the AT&T Networking Exchange Blog in order to bring the digital voice of their employee ambassadors to the forefront, and to help foster a social digital trust in AT&T.  Recently, AT&T expanded its program to include external bloggers such as Brian Solis (@briansolis), Mark Burgess (@mnburgess) and myself (@ckburgess) to write about social media topics.  And in the essence of transparency, AT&T is a client of Blue Focus Marketing.

I was asked to speak at AT&T’s first Annual Networking Leaders Academy Conference at their Bedminster, New Jersey office on “Expanding Your Influence: Lessons in Social Networking.”  I had the pleasure of speaking along with Terry Brock (@TerryBrock), Michael Brenner (@BrennerMichael), Mario Armstrong (@MarioArmstrong) and Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer).  We shared personal stories on how we began our social media journey and shared our social media insights.

Slowly but surely, a new era is dawning on companies, one where true competitive advantage comes not from how many ads they can put out or how many “likes” they can rack up on Facebook, but from within their own organizations.  The new proactive brand clearly understands the imperative of aligning its business goals with a culture of engaged employees.

Posted by on Mar 1, 2012 in Advertising & Mktg. Trends, Branding, Communication, Employee Branding, Innovation, Marketing, Small Business, Social Business, Social Media Community, Social Media Marketing, Social Media Trends, Strategy | 16 comments


Cheryl Burgess
Cheryl Burgess, CEO of Blue Focus Marketing, helps clients transform brands from the inside out by implementing strategic marketing initiatives that empower social employee engagement, and social executive leadership. Blue Focus Marketing is a leading Employee Experience (EX) services consultancy, delivering e-learning, employee engagement, content marketing, and social media marketing solutions. She is the co-author of the best selling book, The Social Employee, (McGraw-Hill) How Great Companies Make Social Media Work, hailed by management guru, Tom Peters as a “landmark that converts the power of social media from fiction to fact.” Her book is featured in MIT Sloan Management Review. Burgess is a special advisory board member for The Economist Intelligence Unit, and interviewed by The Economist in “Power to the People”. She is on the advisory board of CultureSphere. Cheryl is a contributor to Wharton's Advertising 2020 Project and their book, Beyond Advertising: Creating Value through All Customer Touchpoints. Burgess is listed as “Forbes Top 5 Influential CMOs”, “Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Masters” and named by Huffington Post as a social media “Passionista”, and is an IBM VIP Futurist. She is a contributor to Harvard Business Review - Italia, and expert blogger for and Cheryl is a keynote speaker at industry events, including AMP - Australia and New Zealand, Social Business Forum – Milan, Italy, IBM Connect Orlando, Dell World, Integrated Marketing Week NYC, Pivotcon - NYC, Rutgers Business School, AT&T, and KPMG. Her company blog won the MarketingSherpa Reader’s Choice Award for Best Social Media Marketing Blog. She is the winner of numerous Twitter Shorty Awards in marketing. Follow her on Twitter @ckburgess, @SocialEmployee and @BlueFocus. Google+


  1. Businesses that view their employees as assets know that they are the best brand ambassadors out there. Who else to be the face of your company but driven employees who value the trust their management has given them vs hiding behind a wall. And non-employee brand ambassadors will be faster this way.

    How many brands do you champion just because they have a great product? How many more do you champion because they have great employees. I think of the small business that somehow thrives even in the face of big business competition. It is through personal relationships which is what Social Technologies are built for. They are interpersonal relationship engines. And smart brands harness this!

    • Howie,

      Thanks for your comments. You focus on the true advantage of employees who are “driven” to succeed to repay the “trust” management has given them. Great point about the power of relationships.


  2. Cheryl,

    Interesting post. It never ceases to amaze me how firm place restrictions on their employees around social media. We know of firms where staff are not allowed to have LinkedIn accounts, can’t use Facebook and can’t follow a twitter stream. Just what are these employers afraid of? My view is that if they engaged their employees and thought more about making the firm a great place to work then the trust and loyalty will shine through making their employees a great advertisement for the company.

    What say you?


    • Peter,

      Great point about how some firms actually restrict their employees use of social media. The social media policy for these firms simply says “no” to social media.

      Think of the true opportunity lost in this approach.

      Thanks for your comments.


    • Peter, I believe these kinds of companies are walking dead. They may last for many more years, but I don’t know *anyone* who is on the cutting edge of implementation who would even consider working for such companies.

      I should make a disclaimer: I live in the San Francisco Bay area, and spend a lot of time working with and socializing with people who are building the social infrastructure. Smart people who moved here from every country in the world to pursue passion and ambition.

      Companies who refuse to consider employing bright, forward thinking people will fall behind companies who do.

      Besides, the rise of globally visible social networking is going undo (and them some) much of the ill-mannered behavior induced by a decade of relative anonymity online. No way companies can police behavior near as well as peers and colleagues. Heh.

  3. Cheryl,

    I like your perspective here (and congrats on working with AT&T on content!). As employees, as well as partners like yourself, become more visible and visibly connected with organizations, I believe we will start to discuss a two-way stream of brand equity.

    One direction the corporate brand reflects on employees. For instance, if Forrester or Sirius Decisions hired me as an analyst, I would instantly inherit a bit more credibility from their brand.

    The other direction is the one we don’t talk about nearly enough, but is increasingly an opportunity for nearly all businesses. Blue Focus Marketing’s credibility stems from the brand you and Mark have built for yourselves as individuals. Your “employee” brand, in this case, is driving your “corporate” brand, and by improving your personal brands you continue to boost your corporate brand as well.

    Exciting times ahead, thanks for sharing!

    — @wittlake

    • Hi Eric,

      Thanks for your wonderful comments about the importance of building brands.

      I love the way you describe how an employee brand can drive a corporate brand. Without question, it all comes down to credibility.


  4. Cheryl,

    What a great perspective and thanks for the mention. If companies could just imagine the power of their employee-brands, putting their influence and passions to work, they would see value unimaginable!

    I am so impressed with At&T is doing and they are lucky to have you and Mark and Brian to support them.

    • Michael,

      Great comment about the importance of companies realizing the power of their employee-brands. Just think of the energy (and passion) that is unleashed into the marketplace.

      Really enjoyed your ATT NLA presentation on Personal Branding.

      Michael, we’ve been twitter friends a long time and it was wonderful finally meeting you IRL. Being in your “circle of trust” is an honor. So happy you were in my “#Nifty50 Top Twitter Men“.


  5. Cheryl,

    I think you’ve hit on 2 really important points. Culture is at the heart of the social business transformation… and trust is at the heart of influence – which applies to both personal and company brands.

    Michael @BrennerMichael reminds us how powerful it can be for brands to recognize the value of this cultural shfit, and Eric @wittlake raises an interesting point of view – that this trust equity works in a very complementary 2 way stream. It’s an exciting time for both brands and people to figure out this social brand dynamic.


    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your great comments.

      I agree that culture and trust are fundamental to the process of social business transformation. Indeed, the companies that can grasp the importance and take positive actions will be the ultimate winners.

      Thank you again for inviting me to speak at AT&T’s First Annual Networking Leaders Academy Conference. It was truly an honor and pleasure meeting you and the AT&T NLA members.


  6. Cheryl:

    Another thoughtful post!

    For many companies the greatest potential of social media might be internal communication and relationship-building. Imagine what might happen if you could engage your employees!

    Keep inspiring us!

  7. I LOVE that Every THING is becoming social. It works well for me ’cause I come from a sale background. My boys, however, don’t get the social other than hanging with their friends and texting. I do fear for the next generation as they have a harder job world to enter and much less opportunities ON THE SURFACE. If, however, they embrace what their generation has to offer, they can do just about anything!

    • Bruce,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I bet your boys are adorable! Just imagine the future for your boys. The new social landscape is rich with opportunities.



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