Jessie Paul on Services Marketing For a FlatWorld

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is Marketing the new HR?

I was inspired to write this after a recent Gautam Ghosh post which refers to the possibility of HR being the new marketing. HR folks want to rule the world, of course, but I will concede that there was a bit of logic in the idea. Social media puts employees up front, and as I say in my book No Money Marketing, anything an employee says is way more credible than what the company says. What social media has done is given employees a free, global, soapbox. If the employee is a good communicator, their reach can rival even traditional media - Padmasree Warrior, the CTO of Cisco, has 1,093,430 followers today. Employees and employers should be geared for this “employee-as-newscaster” scenario.

Here are some of the broad trends which I think bring this into high focus:

Old Economy New Economy

Lifetime employment

Lifetime employability

Managed careers

Enabling careers

Faceless corporates

Corporates on Facebook

Feature sales

Experience sales

Top-down marketing

Social media immersion

From an employee perspective, if there is no implicit contract of lifetime employment , then it is in their interest to keep themselves employable by building up their professional image. If you are expected to manage your own career (as opposed to having a paternalistic boss do that for you) then you have to engage in marketing, just like any other product manager.

Ok, that’s for the employee. What’s in it for the corporates? Well, social media, in its current format, is about people interacting with people. It amplifies the good things that employees do, and puts the bad things into extreme magnification too. ( A good post to read is Tom Fishburne’s Corporate Twitter.) The initial reaction

of marketers was to try and enforce a gag order - “thou shalt not tweet”. That was supported by the CTOs’ “thou shalt not access social media within the firewall”. But I think we’re now all pretty convinced that this authoritarian model (a) is not enforceable (b) isn’t benefiting the company.

If a company is able to coach and enable its employees to represent it accurately in the social space, it can reap huge benefits - imagine 100,000 people engaging with potential customers in an unfettered environment! (Direct mailers seems soooo 20th century!) This has to be voluntary - one cannot have people interacting from a script. That may be the starting point but the person has to be equipped to improvise. All good companies say that their strength is their people - and for the good ones, it’s true. What social media does is what the open kitchen does to restaurants - it shows customers how their stuff is really made. Are you ready for it?

Here’s what I think employees can do to spruce up their brands and at the same time help their companies:

  1. Study the company’s published blogging/online policies. If you disagree with them or your company doesn’t yet have a clear policy, work with marketing and legal to get the policy changed. But don’t just ignore these guidelines - that could get you into big trouble.
  2. Find out your organization’s key focus areas. Offering to blog on these might allow you to piggy-back on your company’s established infrastructure, and extend the reach for your content. The company benefits by getting free content.
  3. Set up your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter accounts. Try to get your vanity url to be consistent across all your online properties. In your profile, clearly state where you work - this will help your online followers understand your perspective on certain issues. Even in your personal capacity, avoid publicly opposing your company’s stand on business issues, unless you are taking it up as a cause/or expose, and are willing to defend it. This is because for your readers the logical question would be “If you’re so opposed to your companies stated vision/values/goals, why do you work there?” Many companies have an established online presence - link to them in your individual capacity, and when possible, help it by forwarding or endorsing content.

What can employers do?

  1. Publish a clear blogging policy
  2. Allow access to social media sites that are deemed appropriate
  3. Create an internal social media channel so that employees can experiment within the safety of the organization before venturing out
  4. Provide mechanisms in the official channel for employees to participate eg provide links to appropriate blogs, retweet good content from employees
  5. Conduct a social media workshop for key employees

And coming back to the title of this blog, no, HR is NOT the new marketing. But marketing might be the new HR!