United Sorry About Dog Death — Make Employees Brand Reps?
United’s brand is tarnished again by a frontline incident that some say has little to do with marketing. But it does, and here’s why: Your brand is what customers see. For United Airlines yesterday, the brand was a flight attendant who was being blamed for a French bulldog’s death.
For YouTube in April, that had been an algorithm that allowed ads to run with videos of questionable content.
In both situations, marketers may have been able to prevent brand disasters. United could have trained the flight attendant better or could have hired a better-trained employee, so the front-facing person could be a brand advocate instead of a brand liability. YouTube could have hired its human video vetters sooner.
In both cases, the companies admitted fault and worked to make it right. In United’s case, the airline is investigating what happened to the canine placed in an overhead bin during a flight.
NBC Chicago reported yesterday:
“This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin,” the airline said. “We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.”
In YouTube’s case, the brand apologized to advertisers and added content oversight to ensure the marketers wouldn’t see their ads next to objectionable content again. That involved hiring humans, who are now the frontline face of the brand.
It’s easy enough to blame brands after the fact, but here’s what marketers can do to create effective frontline employee brand advocates:
The first step in creating effective brand advocates is letting employees be brand advocates, Meghan M. Biro writes in Forbes a couple of years ago. It may sound like circular logic, but here’s her reasoning:
“Everyone is out there building a personal brand: blogging, tweeting, doing the Facebook thing, writing, commenting, posting or reviewing. Or all of the above: it is rare indeed to find someone who is not weighing in, though certainly some of us are better at it than others. Companies that consider every employee a potential brand ambassador are playing to far better odds.”
- Be Open. See what employees can do before telling them they can’t do it. Biro says: “Just because a 40-year-old manager doesn’t understand the impact of Snapchat, that doesn’t mean the savviest 20-something employees don’t. … Caveat: nothing against 40-year-old managers.”
- Be Transparent. As United’s situation yesterday shows, brands are transparent with the public whether they want to be or not. So trust employees to be brand advocates and do the right thing.
“Employees have to feel empowered enough to want to speak up, which also means hearing what they want to say. They need to feel like they’re free to choose to represent the brand or not as well: you can’t, and don’t want to, require a plastered on smile. LinkedIn … research also found that 61 percent of LinkedIn members who follow your organization are ready, willing, and able to act as your brand ambassadors. And we know that employees garner more trust than entities, so let them.”
- Share. This gets into the training aspect. Also, United employees who are dealing with the frontline of the brand crisis now can be supplied with enough information to be advocates and reestablish brand trust.
“Confidence is key with employee advocates; if they don’t feel like they know what the organization is doing, they can’t advocate with enough authority — or candor. Make sure your employees are truly privy to what’s happening, and activate them to be able to share that message as well. [A] global survey (by Weber Shandwick) found that 39 percent of those employees have shared something positive and complimentary about their employer. What does it take to get that number higher? Give them more to say. If you want employees to invest their own personal brand in your brand, then build that bridge. They need to be privy, feel on the inside, in order to become engaged, not just with your brand, but with its success.”
- Measure. “Is it working? There are countless ways to find out,”Biro writes. “You need to be looking for a range of key performance indicators (KPIs), including social leads, reach, mentions and engagement.” (And a Target Marketing suggestion — these brand advocates are people rather than numbers, so perhaps reward them for positive brand sentiment, ROI, etc.)
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.