Being early to market feels a lot like being wrong

I’m very proud to say after helping iconic retailer John Lewis launch their staff onto Instagram back in 2017, that ‘shop floor influencers’ are now being recognised as a thing in the mainstream media and industry.

After working in content and social media marketing for over 20 yearswe spotted the opportunity for employees to become involved in their brand’s marketing very early. We could see the value this could deliver both in terms of employee engagement and in how the brand could stand out, but also how the brand could connect more authentically with customers on a more personal level. 

With the gap between brands and customers ever increasing, the need for this is greater than ever. 
But as with many new ideas – in the early days it proved to be a struggle to get this message across: 

#1 What should we call what we do? 

We struggled with the language. We’ve been round in circles on this – employee advocacy, employee influence, activating employees, empowering employees, employee social media, employee engagement. Employee advocacy has never felt quite right – but it’s the most common term in the sector. Inspired by Brian Solis’s report we launched our WAVE conference in 2017 on the topic on Influence 2.0.

#2 What kind of business were we? 

Having a SaaS platform we originally thought we were a technology business – we had an app! Now we see we’re in the business of digital transformation, culture, employee engagement and capability. We help businesses with transformation and cultural change using a blend of methods including coaching, training and technology to bring about long-lasting behavioural change and accelerated brand growth.

#3 Where were our customers? 

When you launch something new in the area of digital transformation it’s not as simple as choosing an industry or a vertical. Brands across sectors are all at different stages of digital transformation and maturity. It came down to the individuals within the business and their vision and ability to bring about change within the business. 

We’ve been aided in our growth by some very inspiration internal change makers. Always early to market Andy Thompson when at Iceland saw the opportunity to stand out. Paula Nickolds when at John Lewis,  Leah Spears when at George, Pete Markey when at TSB (now at Boots). David Enwright and Darren Jones at the Post Office.

Our venture to connect employees with social media brought us many challenges along the way. We weren’t just building a stand alone technology platform we had to navigate the continually changing rules within the social platforms. And the fast moving political environment around data and social media in society. 

But we’ve been able to navigate these because of our passionate belief in the value of human brands – creating a culture where employees have real responsibility to connect authentically with customers. And by helping them thrive through training and support means they will feel significantly higher levels of loyalty, engagement and trust in the brand.

To launch #WeArePartners for John Lewis we worked with their fantastically talented team including Eva Bojtos, Imogen Thompson and Ed Corble. It continues to go from strength to strength with their Partners launching Christmas adverts on social and winning Brave Awards.

It’s very exciting now to see many more high street brands from Marks & Spencers, SuperDrug and Coop venturing into this space. 

And brands like Currys, Dixon Carphone, Fenwick and Waterstones empowering employees to put their expertise at the forefront of the customer experience. Amazing stuff!

Thanks to brave visionaries across the retail sector – employee influencers are now part of a future of more human brands. 

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