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Michaela Kühn

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Corporate influencer – still just a buzzword?

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Influencer marketing, content strategy, corporate influencer – these hotly debated terms have been haunting the world of communication for some time now. For me, though, they all represent pretty hollow concepts that tend merely either to mislead or to inspire exaggerated expectations. For me, the sobriquet “corporate influencer” in particular suggests a job that in reality does not exist! 

„Corporate Influencer“

Corporate ambassadors have been around forever. But who are these newfangled “corporate influencers” then?

Anyone can become a content author in this age of social media and online content. And that also applies to companies whose employees produce content. Such individual activities provide a way of addressing people that an enterprise can’t usually reach using the same method. Because people prefer to communicate with real people rather than the anonymous accounts of a business.

Testimonials and ambassadors are nothing new 

The concept of the brand ambassador is not new. And testimonials have been around since I can remember. Employees have always talked about their employers at social and family occasions. So far, so unspectacular. But at some stage businesses and their communications departments have begun to rethink their views in the face of the ever increasing influence of the social media. Facebook grabs every opportunity it can to apply its algorithms, and such platforms as YouTube, Twitter and Instagram are fast following their example. The result of all this is that businesses are now no longer visible. So what can we do about that?

One possibility is of course to buy up the services of well-known influencers. They can be deployed to provide testimonials, reducing them to mere advertising billboards for the company. At its best, the reach achieved by such actions can increase the visibility of the company. But the effect is rarely very lasting. It becomes no more than just another advert among many.

Board members and employees as brand ambassadors

To maintain public interest in the longer term, what you need are credible, memorable business stories. And stories are best told by people ... by employees. But you inevitably come up against the views of the company CEO and board members. They will often see the risk more clearly than the opportunities posed by such story telling. The result is that they may often reject such ideas entirely or outsource the task of maintaining their social media presence. In my view, for a board member’s account to work, it needs personal input to arouse the interest of readers. And accounts operated exclusively by employees have merely the same effect as any other communication channel for the company. Such accounts often tend to be wooden, and rarely provide a genuine exchange of experiences. I think there is little to be said against the Board of Management or Communications department providing a “helping hand” for such story tellers. The important thing is that the message gives a truly authentic insight into the working world and the thinking of the board of management! A number of “Social CEOs” are now already attracting positive attention through their activities on social media.

And yet other opportunities are emerging from the use of employees as ambassadors. Some have already discovered the potential of social media for themselves and carved out their own niche within the topics they are interested in. Others would like to become active in the social media, but have not yet dared to take the plunge. There are very good reasons for becoming an ambassador. Doing so has benefits both for the business and for employees who have a passion for their topic and/or for their company.

Now the challenge is to professionalize such passion and to provide support for passionate employees. They need the tools and, even more importantly, the backing of their employers. And a number of programs have been set up to provide precisely such support, like Otto’s internal job ambassadors or Detecon’s employee advocacy program. 

Deutsche Telekom has also launched an initiative. As early as 2015, Deutsche Telekom ambassadors got together to form a community. Under the hashtags #Werkstolz (or #PrideInOurCompany in English) and #MeinMagenta, they talk about their everyday work, communicating their passion for the company via the social media. The community of Deutsche Telekom ambassadors is constantly growing and attracting the interest of more than just employees.

From buzzword to real opportunity

My own conclusion is that together with our employees we have the opportunity to shape and breathe life into the concept of “Corporate Influencer” – which was previously no more than an empty buzzword. Brand ambassadors give a face to a business and provide an authentic insight into their everyday work – whether the ambassador is a board member of rank-and-file employee. And both employees and the company stand to benefit.

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