When you have an ambassador pool of over 70K employees, how can you activate them to share your culture story?

If you’re Carmen Collins — Social Media Lead for Cisco’s Talent Brand team — you engage, encourage, empower, and elevate them. Carmen shares how these four “E’s” are the key to the WeAreCisco Talent Brand Team’s success and how they used them to grow their February #WeAreCisco #LoveWhereYouWork social media contest.

Carmen’s team’s first “E?” Engage.

This is the closest way that we as a talent brand can get you in front of an employee to see what it’s really like.

“Our team knew through social media listening that our employees were already posting in about what a great place Cisco was to work,” says Carmen. “So the first thing we had to do was engage with them through #WeAreCisco and tell them someone was listening.

“They told us later that they felt like they were a lone voice in the wind, but when we brought them together with other like-minded people, they felt like they were a part of something bigger — which is very much in line with our employee value proposition, what we call the ‘Our People Deal.'”

Once they engaged with their active employees, the talent brand team’s next task was to make use of their second “E” and encourage them to keep posting and sharing their stories with WeAreCisco.

Cisco’s biggest talent brand campaign, the #WeAreCisco #LoveWhereYouWork contest, began in 2016 in an effort to bring together those employees and encourage them to post more — while encouraging employees who weren’t posting yet to contribute as well. The contest just finished its third year, with each year getting bigger and garnering better employee stories.

It takes place every February — “the month of love,” Carmen says — and spotlights Cisco employees from across the globe who love their jobs and the work they do there by promoting their Cisco pride on their personal social media channels.

The talent brand team took #WeAreCisco, which employees were using organically to talk about Cisco’s culture, and turned it into a company-wide culture initiative.

By encouraging employees to be active on social on behalf of their culture, the Cisco Talent Brand team could help employees connect with like-minded employees — and give them a chance to win some awesome prizes in the process.

The first year the contest had 1,000 entries. The second year, it grew to 1,300 entries. This year, the team nearly doubled last year’s entries — thanks in large part to utilizing partnerships with other teams, such as employee communications.

This contest has become an integral part of the talent brand’s strategy and a big component to its success in the past few years.

User- and employee-generated content can be scary things to companies.

“This contest serves two purposes,” Carmen explains. “One, to get employees used to and understanding that it is okay to share on social and that we want them to. And two, it fuels our content funnel for the We Are Cisco campaign because all of our channels are filled with us amplifying employee photos.” Thanks to this year’s contest, the WeAreCisco team has enough employee stories to run two employee-bylined blog posts twice a week until June (with more still in the works).

But, just as importantly to Carmen, it strikes a tone of authenticity and candidness to their company culture. “As a brand, we can say all day that it’s a great place to work, and people will say ‘eh, okay, you say it’s a great place to work, but do I know that?’ This is the closest way that we as a talent brand can get you in front of an employee to see what it’s really like.”

Once the contest is over, employees still use the hashtags year round, Carmen says, “because we spent three years getting employees accustomed to using them.” Which moves the team into their third “E:” Empower.

When an employee posts using #WeAreCisco (both during the contest and throughout the rest of the year), the team asks permission — out in the view of everyone in social media — to use those photos in social media.

“We also ask specifically for that employee to tell us more about the photo so we can write out a caption. Then that story comes in and gives us fodder for other outlets — perhaps a blog, perhaps an Instagram Story, or another opportunity. So far, we’ve never had an employee say ‘no.'”

Furthermore, this content empowers employees to be the voice of Cisco’s culture. The talent brand team identifies “super ambassadors” and gives them extra guidance that allows them to become employee influencers.

“We have an employee takeover every single day on Snapchat. When we do an Instagram Live or a Facebook Live, it’s our employees broadcasting on our behalf,” Carmen explains. When the team began the Snapchat takeovers and Facebook Live broadcasts, she sourced her first ambassadors from the employees who were #WeAreCisco super-users.

Starting out with 20 ambassadors on Snapchat, Carmen and her team have quickly grown the project to over 70 ambassadors and counting.

Facebook Live videos give us the ability to still reach our Facebook audience.

“The Snapchat program started out as a pilot — and three weeks after launching our ‘pilot’ we were told we weren’t a pilot anymore and we should go for it. And that’s a testament to those ambassadors.”

For Carmen, it was worth developing that strong network of ambassadors because it not only provides consistent, excellent content, but it also keeps them ahead of the ever-changing social landscape.

Carmen explains, even with the algorithm change, “Facebook Live videos give us the ability to still reach our Facebook audience.”

And the employee-focused live content works better for their goals.

“Anything can happen live,” Carmen says, “Which is bad for television, but great for what we do because when an employee messes up or says the wrong thing — or their wifi goes out in the middle of a presentation and they come in and say ‘oops, sorry, technical difficulties’ — all that does is make the broadcast more real and makes the employee more endearing.”

The team expects to have over 100 ambassadors on Snapchat and is planning to grow their Facebook and Instagram Live broadcasts in the next few months. They’re looking forward to continuing to showcase Cisco employees and their company culture.

Then, to make sure the content gets the visibility they need, the talent brand team closes out with their final “E:” Elevate.

Each time a blog, a Facebook or Instagram Live broadcast, or a Snapstory comes through, the @WeAreCisco social channels elevate that content and amplify it back out to the world. This elevation continues the circle of content creation and starts the cycle of “E’s” all over again.

“User- and employee-generated content can be scary things to companies,” Carmen says. But, “In the relationship that we’ve built with our ambassadors, they want to do well. At least once a week, we will have someone reach out and say ‘hey, did you see my Snapchat this week? How can I do better next time?’ or ‘How did you like it?’ They want to do well because we have that inner-circle feeling that we’ve built with them. We also share metrics with them and treat them like extended team members.”

Cisco’s focus on building relationships with employees that spotlight individuals and Cisco’s culture has been very successful — and Carmen and her team have the trophies to prove it.

“It’s just a testament to how great our team and our ambassadors are,” Carmen says. The WeAreCisco team has over 40 awards for their work in 2017, and Carmen Collins is the winner of the Digital Communicator of the Year, Digital Leader of the Year, and Top Women in PR awards for 2017.

“We do some cool stuff,” as Carmen notes, “But it takes a village.”

Carmen has been a Board Member of SocialMedia.org Talent since 2017. You can follow her on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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