Answers to Common Questions About Employer Branding During a Pandemic

Posted by Jillian Einck  |  August 17, 2020  |  Employer Branding

On a recent Recruitics webinar on the topic of “The Impact of Employer Brand in Times of Change: Insights & Tips from a Panel of Experts,” I was a panelist among employer branding and recruitment experts that shared insights and information on how they are navigating challenges of COVID-19. During this webinar, many questions about employer branding came up, so in this post, I am diving deeper into these questions from actual webinar attendees. Here you go!

Q: “What advice do you have for those who are leading the employer brand in companies that are on hiring freezes or going through layoffs?”

A: Don’t react with non-response. Your audiences are surprisingly understanding about the need for businesses to do lay-offs and furloughs; it’s how you’re handling them that is a reflection on your reputation. Be truthful, transparent, and authentic. If you’re in a hiring freeze, focus your communications on how you’re taking care of your existing employees and addressing culture. If you’ve done lay-offs or furloughs, shift to a place of the steps you’re taking to rebuild as a company, and highlight the wins and efforts of your existing employees. Be humble and humane in your messaging; don’t allow yourself to come from a standpoint of being defensive.

 

Q: “How are employer brand teams and corporate communications teams playing nicely in the sandbox with seemingly competing priorities?”

A: I think part of what we’re seeing is the realization that their priorities aren’t competing quite as much as before; your employer brand and your response and treatment of your workforce is at the forefront of your company’s overall reputation right now, and we are seeing leadership at these companies opening the doors to communications and finding ways to move through this time from both corporate and employer perspectives.

 

Q: “There are some harsh realities in companies right now. What challenges have you seen employer brand teams have with corporate communications teams, or have you had to scrap employer brand launches or reduce content flow to shared channels in response to COVID-19?”

A: We have seen some clients shift their focuses with employer brand work and development; but, rather than pausing work, it’s been a pivot to new efforts. If they’re in a hiring freeze, their content is being centered around workplace culture, tips for remote productivity, or CSR efforts. If they’ve had to ramp up hiring (for instance, healthcare and essential businesses), we’ve seen a shift towards messaging around helping people provide financial support to their families during this time, or being on the frontlines and supporting their communities.

 

Q: “How are you balancing the COVID-19 messaging that employers want to distribute with the burnout of audiences on pandemic messaging?”

A: This is a very real concern, especially now that we’re at least 6 weeks into widespread social distancing behaviors. It’s all about balance right now; our audiences want to be informed and they want valuable content, but they also want some escapism. Don’t feel like everything you put out has to be stamped with “COVID-19”; you will just be adding to the increasing white noise. Instead, find ways to develop content that is relevant to your audiences current reality, but doesn’t come with the crisis baggage. Information on wellbeing, mindfulness, and work-life balance can be especially useful and consumable right now. Lead with some levity and light humor; a gif of someone’s dog interrupting their Zoom call or people getting creative with digital backgrounds. It speaks to our current times (our “new normal”) without the weight that the crisis itself brings to communications.

 

Q: “What are some of the most persuasive arguments to make to leadership to convince them to lean-in on employer branding during this time? How are you selling the value of employer branding to executives who aren’t even thinking about this right now?”

A: The easiest sell is by reminding them of what’s at stake here; consumerism is down, unemployment is up, and people are home consuming digital content at unprecedented rates. Brand loyalty and reputation has shifted away from product-focus and towards people-focus; our audiences want to know that the brands they love are treating their employees with respect. Think of all the companies lately that have gone viral for things like executive leadership taking pay cuts in order to avoid layoffs or providing stimulus packages to help with personal expenses. Now think of the companies that have gone viral for inhumane treatment of staff, mass layoffs via email, etc. Both of these situations are going to stay in the minds of the public and form the company’s reputation as an employer (employer brand reputation) for years to come, and both are direct results of either strong or weak employer branding efforts.

 

Q: “How will we remind decision makers of the importance recruiting and employment branding are post-pandemic?”

A: By reminding them that the companies who are still standing and going strong post-pandemic will need the people power to deliver on their missions and work. This is only our current reality, not our permanent state; companies will resume hiring and expanding in due time, and employer brand efforts shouldn’t be saved only for hiring peaks. It’s a long-term goal that needs continuous management and care.

 

Q: “Is there a trend in negative comments being left on essential businesses’ employer branding social sites?”

A: While we have definitely seen an upward trend in reviews mentioning things like lay-offs and furloughs, it’s not necessarily negative reviews. When we have seen those, it's typically around essential businesses and their response to employees during this time; not providing safe work environments, lack of PPE supplies, etc. 

 

Q: “What recruitment marketing and employer branding tactics are you taking to prepare for when the crisis slowly ends?”

A: The brands who have consistently maintained recruitment marketing and employer branding efforts, even if messaging has pivoted, will likely continue in the same vein. It helps to think of COVID-19 almost as a campaign or an initiative; it shouldn’t reshape your entire brand, it should dictate messaging and efforts for a finite period of time. However, the companies who have had to do drastic organizational changes as a result of the crisis may see branding shifting its focus and goals entirely. In which case, realigning on values and vision can help to guide the new direction.

 

Q: “Hiring will come back. What are your messages around when we do come out of this current situation? What are your thoughts about communicating as we emerge from this crisis?”

A: Your messages should be clear and direct around when you’re able to hire again. You can reference your company’s response to the crisis (if the response was strong and proactive) as a way to show faith and loyalty in itself and its employees. This is also a good time to utilize employee-generated content to help drive hiring; they weathered the storm with you and can showcase what it’s really like to work at a company in a “pressure-cooker” environment. These messaging tactics can help to differentiate you from what may inevitably be a competitive talent landscape.

 

Q: “What is your advice for or thoughts on level of transparency (both internally and externally for B2C brands) for companies that are having to do some layoffs or furloughs, but also are still trying to sustain and grow business and might even be hiring for certain key positions?”

A: Transparency is always advisable; however, I would caveat that with saying sensitive transparency. Layoffs and furloughs are unfortunately inevitable for many companies right now, and sustaining or growing the company is what will keep future layoffs or entire shut down at bay. However, remember the humanity behind this messaging; these are your employees, individuals who have their own worries around personal sustainability and survival top of mind. Do not come from a defensive standpoint when messaging about these things; criticism of difficult decisions should be expected, and it should be listened to. I always recommend to our clients that they turn the mirror around; what would they want to hear from their employer? What would comfort them or ease their mind? What would make sense to hear around these decisions? And conversely, what messaging would put them off?

 

Q: “When talking about RIFs (reductions in force) externally, how do you protect the employer brand?”

A: If we are talking about permanent RIFs, this may actually be a time to look at realigning the employer brand. A permanent or drastic change in the workforce could lead to a shift in overall positioning and values. That being said, the best way to protect the brand is through direct and honest communications. Treat workforce reductions  similar to a PR event; you want to get ahead of it, you want to help shape the story that will arise yourself, and you want to be sure that you’re addressing it in an authentic and respectful way. Don’t ignore or shy away from criticism, but address it head-on.

 

Q: “What are some tips on strengthening employer brand through social media?”

A: The great news is that everyone right now is at home and on social media! Social media is already a great place to get your brand voice out there, engage directly with your audience, and drive awareness. A consistent presence is always advisable; get into a regular organic posting cadence on all the major channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram). LinkedIn is great for company updates and careers-driven content. Facebook does very well with community engagement and a focus on “tips and tricks” and informational content for candidates. Twitter allows for smaller, snackable content and real-time engagement with your audience, as well as other brands that may be closely aligned with you. And Instagram is a fantastic platform for employee generated content; images of work culture and employee experience, day in the life videos, and direct engagement.

 

Q: “What do you do when you are not ready to recruit and/or in a hiring freeze?”

A: Continue to strengthen your brand. Remember: an employer brand is not merely a means to an end for driving applications. It is the voice, essence, and reputation of your company as an employer, and stretches from candidates to employees. Your branding efforts should not be tied strictly to your hiring cadence because a weak or neglected brand will have a direct influence over the quantity and quality of applicants when hiring resumes. Employer branding is having a very strong moment right now because the public is looking at companies and how they are treating their people as a measure for whether they want to do business with them in the future, and it’s up to the company to influence and drive the conversation as best they can.

 

Q: “What do you find the biggest challenge is for rebranding one singular piece of a large business brand?”

A: I think it helps to think of the employer brand as a sibling to the larger corporate brand rather than thinking of the employer brand as a singular piece of a large business brand. So, as the business objectives shift, as the culture shifts, the brand itself will as well to varying degrees. Corporate brands and employer brands should complement one another, but are distinct brands in and of themselves. If you lock yourself into being a smaller piece of a larger puzzle, you will have a harder time finding the flexibility to adjust to changing workforces and environments than if you think of it as its own distinct element.

 

Q: “What metrics do you use to measure employer brand strength?”

A: Employer brand strength and health can be measured by looking at the following four categories of metrics: perception, sentiment, loyalty, and performance. Perception is measured by top-funnel employer brand awareness metrics. Sentiment is measured through the language and emotion conveyed in employee reviews and candidate interaction. Loyalty is measured through employee advocacy with your brand and net promoter score measurement. And performance is indicated by brand connections with mid-funnel metrics.

 

Q: “With more people working remotely, how are you leveraging employees to create content?”

A: This is definitely a time to get creative and think outside the box with employee-generated content. Using tools like Altru (an employee-generated video content platform) can allow for employees to create quick and easy culture and day-in-the-life videos from their remote work environments. Employee quizzes, games, and interactions can be leveraged for content, showcasing employee experience and culture on a larger scale. You can even allow for “virtual takeovers” of social channels to allow for specific employees or teams to assume the responsibility of posting on the company’s behalf on Instagram or Twitter and give a deeper look into what their work life is like.

 

Q: “Any tips on the use of visuals in employer brand communications?”

A: Be mindful of what is both relevant and accessible. If you are an organization that has not gone remote (essential workers, restaurants, etc.) then show what their reality looks like. This is actually a great way to show, rather than tell, the efforts your company has made in regards to employee safety and wellbeing. Don’t feel like you need to be slick with your visuals either; a screengrab of a Zoom meeting with engaged employees in their respective WFH environments is authentic and impactful, and showcases the “new norm” far better than stock imagery would. But, at the same time, don’t try to be “on trend;” if you’re an entirely remote company, you don’t need to show people in masks and gloves because it’s not your reality.

 

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I hope you found these helpful! 

Learn more about employer branding on this resources hub. Also, the Recruitics Blog and Recruitment Marketing Resources page both have tons of other great resources about recruitment marketing, talent acquisition, employer branding and more. 

Additionally, you can get access to the full webinar recording here, or you can watch the section of the webinar on “Employer Brand & Messaging Lessons Learned from Leading Brands” below. 

 

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Posted by Jillian Einck

Jillian Einck

Jillian Einck is a marketing director with seven years of experience in the world of branding, marketing communications, and design. From the world of private clubs, to healthcare, to now recruitment marketing, she has effectively utilized her obsessive attention to detail by channeling it into creative and successful marketing campaigns across a variety of platforms and communications channels. Jillian earned her Bachelors of Arts from San Francisco State University in Theatre Arts in 2006. She spends her free time with her husband and young daughter, reading, watching classic movies, and baking elaborate desserts that she frequently finishes eating in a single sitting.

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