Content marketing: Telling Meaningful Stories

Employee Advocacy: How to get employees to share your great culture stories!


March 26, 2017

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Social media friend Brian Fanzo posted this photo and gave me permission to reuse it here:

Every brand says they have a great culture. I challenge every brand to prove it. – Brian Fanzo and Social Media Marketing World 2017 in San Diego

Of course there’s really only one authentic way, which includes two steps, to prove it:

  • Actually have a great culture
  • Empower and enable employees to feel comfortable enough to share those stories without having to go through Approval Hell. “No, you don’t get to approve my tweets!”

And then of course even when a company has a fantastic culture there are still many people who wouldn’t necessarily want to publicly post about it. They might be too shy, feel more neutral than positive about the company or just aren’t sure if it’s OK to post stories at all.

Related: How to get employees to share stories without feeling like braggarts

Great cultures are not created by marketing sending out templated stories that employees are asked to share. Great cultures are created by fantastic leadership who empowers managers and others   implement a culture where people can thrive, where people can grow and that allows them to positively impact the business overall.

This traditional marketing story comes to mind: The product team comes up with a new product. They think it’s state-of-the-art, unique and the best ever. Of course, they created it. It’s their baby. So when it’s all done they go to the marketing team and say “could you please promote our fantastic product?”

Marketing tries to be helpful but quickly realizes that the product is crap. It doesn’t solve anything uniquely in the marketplace, it’s not different and it’s not even better.

The only way to solve this “marketing” problem is by creating a better product. It’s quite easy to market something that’s fantastic. It’s not so easy to market something that’s not so great.

The same concept holds with employer culture branding. Hardly anybody will share stories voluntarily or even mandatorily with their networks that show off a great culture if the great culture doesn’t actually exist.

Human resource departments might tell  us that the culture is one of:

  • only awesome people
  • flexibility
  • understanding
  • learning
  • honesty
  • openness
  • <other buzzwords>

Of course, who doesn’t want to work in a fantastic culture? And of course what that actually means can depend on the individual people. For example, my perfect culture looks something like this:

  • Continued drive toward a shared goal
  • Open and honest communication that happens quickly
  • Flexibility
  • Continuously more money – based on performance. Yes, money matters, too.
  • Flexibility in dress code (why do I have to wear a tie if I’m sitting in front of a computer and nobody sees me all day?)
  • The joy of working together
  • The hope to innovate for a better tomorrow
  • True collaboration
  • <Others that I forgot about this second>

Marketing people, communications people and also HR people are hired cheerleaders. Of course they will only have good things to say about the organization. And like Brian, I would challenge them to prove it.

Show me how awesome it is. Don’t tell me.  It’s a basic storytelling principle: Show. Don’t tell! 

Related: How businesses can capitalize on strong employee brands

So how do you prove that your culture is great? First of all, I’ll  assume you figured out how to actually have a great culture once that is accomplished and the actual truth, not just the marketing truth here some steps on how to get going:

  • Hold sessions for employees that offer tips and tricks on how to share stories on social media channels. Oh, and don’t make them lunch and learns. This is not an off-clock activity. If it’s over lunch, cater lunch!
  • Ask people to share those good stories. The channels are endless from Glassdoor to Facebook to Twitter, you name it. Even Google Places might apply. That one will likely show up when people Google for directions to your office. I actually left a review and rating for my employer on Google places because they were not there yet. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Recognize and maybe even reward employees for sharing the best stories. So and so is the head storyteller for the month of March because of this fantastic story recognized and  shared.
  • If an employee ever shares a less positive story, approach them and offer help to fix the real or perceived problem.
  • Amplify the stories employees share with the organizational accounts.

The last part of amplification is  backwards to what  many companies do today. Marketing writes up some feel good and marketing jargon filled post and then sends them to employees to share across their own networks.

Somebody on social media the other day called that activity “yucky.” I agree. Sharing some markety post doesn’t feel right. And I won’t do it. I don’t talk like that! 🤢😡

People should only share what they feel like sharing and what actually fits for their audience and community. My 2017 trip to the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas comes to mind. Adobe invited me out and I was given access to all kinds of activities and behind the scenes information. But I only covered what I thought would be relevant to my audiences and what I personally cared about.

For job prospects, ask for references. Ask to speak to employees. Ask about what the worst thing in the culture is. There’s always a bad thing. Even when everything is positive there’s always something negative somewhere. So when people say “the worst thing is that there’s nothing bad” or something like that that’s usually not a good sign.

What I also like about Brian’s challenge  is that it’s very journalistically based. Journalists like to say “if your mother says she loves you ask for proof.” Just because some marketing or HR person or some executive proclaims that a culture is so fantastic that does not mean that it actually is. Get proof and to those company leaders: Provide the proof. If the culture is really great it will be easier than it sounds to share stories around the great culture. If you can’t find the stories the culture likely needs to improve first. 

If nobody wants to volunteer those  stories, there is a problem. Create the culture, then share those stories around it relentlessly on all relevant channels. It helps with recruiting and it even helps with the retaining of employees.

The best true stories win long-term.


Contact me here to get help tell the stories of your organizational culture. 


Christoph blogs on The Authentic Storytelling Project and is a globally recognized content marketing expert. The IMA named him Internet Marketer of the Year in 2015. He works with healthcare organizations and other brands around the globe.

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