When Nestlé USA launched its employee advocacy program called NOW@Nestlé in 2018 to drive a positive company and employer brand reputation, the plan was ambitious. Nestlé USA went big. Way big. The program was rolled out to several offices of about 5,000 people across the country.
But the early results were surprising.
The vast majority of content shared by employees to their social media networks – approximately 90 percent – came from just 200 power users.
So, Nestlé USA did something that might seem counterintuitive.
“We decided to focus small to go big,” said Liz Caselli-Mechael, Digital Corporate Communications Lead. “We thought, ‘What could we do with this group if we really supported them when they’ve already shown an incredible impact on their own?’ There was a real opportunity to empower people who were enthusiastic early adopters, rather than force the same behavior for everyone and spreading our efforts too thin.”
In early 2019, an exclusive group of 70 highly engaged employees was selected to become the first cohort of the Nestlé Ambassador Program. They received the tools needed to share their own employee experience while also helping to attract high-quality talent as their future colleagues. The team then took what it learned from this pilot group and has begun expanding the number of engaged employees for the future.
After launching the Ambassador Program, NOW@Nestlé soared.
The results include:
- 10 percent increase in shares on the NOW@Nestlé platform, powered by Dynamic Signal
- 55 percent increase in external clicks driven by employee shares
- 46 percent increase in content engagement driven by employee shares
“The Ambassadors have driven this entire program,” added Riham Osman, Employee Ambassador & Thought Leadership Manager. “The results were so fast that we were a little surprised that a small group of people really could outperform an entire organization and make such a big impact.”
At the recent Summit by Dynamic Signal, Osman and Macarena Ivanissevich, Communications Manager, talked about what they’ve learned in a session about the Ambassador Program. The presentation was so popular that Osman and Caselli-Mechael followed up with a webinar on the subject, titled: “The Secret Recipe to Nestle USA’s Employee Ambassador Program.”
The company had good reason to embrace an employee advocacy strategy.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found that more than half of the general public believes regular employees as “very or extremely” credible when forming opinions about brands. Also, a 2017 FleishmanHillard Global Study determined that consumers are three times more likely to trust an employee rather than a CEO. Meanwhile, research also has shown, on average, that employees have 10 times more connections on social media than companies.
“For us, it’s really about driving corporate employer brand and a positive reputation for our company,” Ivanissevich told the Summit audience. “We know that our employees are the most credible messengers for that.”
The heart of the effort is the Ambassador Program.
“For our main criteria, we wanted to identify people who are comfortable telling their own story and like to get out there and talk about their experiences with the company,” Osman explained.
After being onboarded, Ambassadors take part in a required digital presence training workshop. Then, they’re asked to share content at least twice a month as well as participate in a minimum of one volunteer opportunity annually. Ambassadors are invited to elevate their voices and participate in sessions with senior leaders and provide feedback.
A wide range of content is available that’s not only about Nestlé. That includes trends in food – which, of course, is Nestlé’s specialty. But perhaps the biggest reason for the program’s success is that it’s about the Ambassadors themselves, not just the company. It’s an opportunity for them to build their personal brands, network, and tell their own Nestlé stories.
That gives an inside-the-velvet-rope feel to the Ambassador Program.
“They’re totally our VIPs,” Caselli-Mechael said, laughing. “They get hands-on coaching and support with live events, like product samplings to share on their Instagram, and feedback meetings with leaders in more intimate settings. All of that gives us an opportunity to trial and learn with a manageable group. Then we can take some of those things to the broad employee environment.”
That was the real benefit to this small-then-big approach. Nestlé USA created a tiered system of ambassadorship to drive an employee advocacy culture across the company, reaching each group at the right time in the right way, and instilling pride that translates into everyone sharing their experiences.
The number of Ambassadors now is growing.
Getting buy-in from leadership hasn’t been inherently difficult because the results speak for themselves, and the program runs lean, Caselli-Mechael added.
“People only believe so much about what companies say about themselves, especially in our digital environment the way Millennials and Gen Z view large companies,” she said. “They’re coming at what a company says with a pretty high degree of skepticism. But it’s different when you see an incredibly sincere, personal voice from an employee. It radiates with excitement and enthusiasm. It’s like being excited to try a restaurant with a great review on Yelp. It’s more credible and more believable.”
- The Human Touch. In-person interactions bring out the best from ambassadors. “When you can get people hands-on with products and to talk to one another, you’re building the inspiration and ideas that are going to translate into a digital environment,” Caselli-Mechael said.
- Tap into the Passion. “Pick the most engaged employees who also are already sold on the benefits of digital sharing,” Osman said. “Focusing on people already sharing their content is a better investment of your time, rather than trying to reach everyone and anyone.”
- Data Matters. Make a persuasive case about impact through analytics. “For instance, LinkedIn can be an expensive platform for advertising,” Caselli-Mechael said. “When we can show the cost savings and added value that comes from the engagement generated by employees, that’s a language everybody speaks.”
- Focus on Training. “It’s really important to help people know how to find their voice online, what content to use, and other guidance,” Osman said. It allows employees to feel more comfortable and confident with social media.
- Quality Over Quantity. Don’t ask people to share everything. “Have enough material so that everyone finds something that they connect to – and then can add their voice and experience,” Caselli-Mechael said. “That’s what makes it credible. They should be putting their time toward something that means something to them rather than be in spam mode.”
- Feedback, Feedback, Feedback. The program continuously evolves based on Ambassador input. “We let everyone know that this is new, we’re learning, and that we need their help to figure out what’s working and what’s not,” Caselli-Mechael added.
- Capture Your Culture. Think about what makes your company unique and what will resonate with employees. “An Ambassador program, at its heart, needs to be about what your employees want,” Osman said.