Turning employees into brand ambassadors: Stories from Starbucks, Walmart, & Macy’s
Today’s “customer-obsessed” culture can sometimes make us forget that employees are an integral part of any successful business. And we’re not just talking about the work they do behind the scenes. When supported and amplified, employees can do far more for your brand than just fulfill their job descriptions.
Whether they work in your corporate offices or in brick-and-mortar retail stores, employees go into work everyday to ultimately help drive growth and profit for the business. When you think about it, they are some of the best advocates for any company because their daily routine revolves around improving the brand and its products.
And since they have such a big hand in building the business — from product development to sales — they are looked at as true brand experts. It’s no surprise your customers ask employees for product recommendations and advice before making purchases.
So, what can brands do to leverage the power of employees?
Turn employees into brand ambassadors
While many brands have chosen to turn influencers into brand ambassadors, not many have tested the potential of employee ambassadors. However, research by DSMN8 has shown just how important employee advocacy programs are:
- Audiences increase 561% when a brand message is shared by employees versus shared via a corporate channel alone
- 90% of your employee network is new to your brand, meaning you’ll open up a previously untapped audience
- 26% of employee influencer programs helped increase revenue year-over-year
By turning employees into ambassadors, you can exponentially expand your reach and grow your community of brand lovers. Not to mention, you’ll have brand insiders representing your brand and accurately educating consumers.
Which brands leverage employees as ambassadors?
The most forward-thinking brands are already implementing employee ambassador programs into their overall marketing strategy. Check out how Walmart, Starbucks, and Macy’s are engaging their employees and leveraging their influence.
Walmart’s Spotlight program is increasing online engagement
In the fall of 2020, Walmart rolled out Spotlight, a new initiative that turns its employees into small-scale influencers and public-facing company advocates. As part of Spotlight, each employee is the brand, taking their audiences backstage into their life at Walmart.
For example, one pharmacist at Walmart posts on her personal Instagram account about grocery delivery services offered through Walmart’s subscription program, as well as her advice for student pharmacists.
Other Spotlight members have gravitated to TikTok (a platform Walmart may become a stakeholder in), posting everything from the “Walmart cheer” to the cross-country “Walmart dance party” hosted through TikTok’s duet feature.
Spotlight is an expansion of Walmart’s My Local Social program, which asks volunteer employees to post on behalf of their local stores. As the retailer rolled out Spotlight, it recruited its top-performing My Local Social ambassadors to join.
Now, the company has gotten so serious about amplifying its employees that Spotlight has its own dedicated app that houses themed campaigns — built around a series of questions or TikTok dance challenges — to inspire employees to post. In the app, each Spotlight member can select certain skills, personality traits, or hobbies on their profile so that Walmart can recommend well-aligned campaigns for them.
But what’s in it for the employees? Spotlight members are not only standing out to Walmart’s executive team through their social content, but they’re also increasingly getting opportunities to be compensated for engagement.
For instance, in November, Walmart introduced a partnership with action figure brand Funko. Spotlight influencers were asked to make posts with Funko products and the top 10 posts (based on engagement metrics) received $200 each in cash. More recently, Walmart posted a challenge with the hoverboard brand Hover-1, where the top winner will receive $1,000.
One company spokesperson said, “By giving a voice to its front-line associates, Walmart is humanizing its brand and giving customers authentic, relatable content that they actually want to see and engage with.”
Starbucks is growing its global community through its partners
Starbucks’ partner program is its version of employee ambassadorships. It has created partner accounts on social media to encourage its employees to share posts — photos, stories, and discussions — and build a community around the beloved coffee brand. In Starbucks’ guidelines for partners, it states, “We’re called partners because this isn’t just a job, it’s our passion. So, go ahead and share it!”
And it’s capturing the hearts of Starbucks’ global community.
The Starbucks partner accounts — NOT the main @starbucks account — have garnered hundreds of thousands of followers across Facebook (380,000 followers), Twitter (50,000 followers), and Instagram (140,000 followers).
And while it doesn’t seem like Starbucks has a partner account on TikTok yet, many of the coffee chain’s baristas have been sharing their favorite drink recipes on the short-form video app. Their drool-worthy videos have even catalyzed these recipes to go viral!
The partners program empowers employees to share their stories around the brand and creates a sense of belonging, which leads to lower staff turnover and ultimately more motivated employee advocates.
According to Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz in his book, Onward, “[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers. [Employees] elevate the experience for each customer – something you can hardly accomplish with a billboard or a 30-second spot.”
Macy’s Style Crew is inspiring audiences far and wide
In May of 2018, Macy’s launched Macy’s Style Crew, an ambassador program composed of in-store employees and personal stylists who could provide style tips across their personal social media channels, as well as the Style Crew platform on Macy’s website.
Incentivized by a 5% commission, ambassadors share short video clips that showcase their personal interests, while featuring related products carried by Macy’s in order to drive conversions. For example, one Style Crew member posted a bartending tutorial that links out to glassware and other cocktail accessories on Macys.com, while another associate posted a workout featuring athletic apparel and sneakers for purchase.
By the end of 2020, Macy’s Style Crew expanded to 3,300 employee participants, who helped generate over 1 million views and grow its community.
And while the program has been exclusive to Macy’s employees since it launched, the company has now opened up its Style Crew ambassador program to applicants from outside the company — following the majority of its employees being furloughed due to the pandemic. According to Marc Mastronardi, Macy’s chief stores officer, “[The program] is really about just being able to have a platform that allows you to talk about and be passionate about our products and our business, and to be incentivized and rewarded for doing that.”
Empower employees through brand ambassadorships
Chances are, you have some really passionate employees on your team. These individuals can serve as wonderful ambassadors because they have a lot of brand knowledge and thoroughly understand the company’s values. So, harness the power of these employees, turn them into brand ambassadors, and let them tell your story in an authentic way.