With the wealth of information provided via the internet coupled with the advent of social media, an organization can no longer attempt to paint a picture of itself in the marketplace and trust this alone to shape people’s perceptions. There are countless sources available to someone wanting to know the “real story.”

That “real story” is paramount in employer branding.

Consider this recent experience:

Last week, I discovered a great new startup, the kind of situation that causes my heart to pound when I consider the possibility of helping to build a team. However, before approaching the CEO to make an introduction, I did some research and within an hour, had changed my mind in spite of a compelling service offering and a very spiffy website which included the CEO/Founder’s heartwarming story about how the whole thing started. In a short time, this had all become irrelevant to me.

Through social media, I learned another part of the story, starting with the CEO’s own Twitter feed (history of comments on Twitter). This was obviously not intended to be an “official” representation of the company. However there were a couple of comments in the 10 or so listed that were critical of another person – critical at best, but, really, could be defined as caustic. Not at all like the very nice person whose bio appeared on the company website.

Then, I found a blog post via Google that brought any remaining interest to a skidding halt. A former employee recounted the horror story of working with this same CEO. This was followed by several comments from other former employees with a similar experience. This company is barely a couple of years old and already this sort of history! By then, I wouldn’t touch the company with a 10-foot pole, in spite of my initial heart-pounding excitement – unless, of course, the VC wanted my help in finding a new CEO!

What if I had been a prospective employee, perhaps one that was vital to the company’s next initiative. Unbeknownst to this CEO (and probably the VC), the company's "real story" or at least a part of it – and a negative part at that – might have steered me away.

An employer brand is the image of your organization as a "great place to work" in the minds of current employees as well as key stakeholders in the external market. These key stakeholders include clients, customers, both active and passive candidates, and other stakeholders, people whose goodwill you want to cultivate for your organization's continued success. (Definition borrowed from Brett Minchington, founder of The Employer Brand Institute and author of the classic, Your Employer Brand.)

Perhaps due to the influence of my extensive work in recruiting marketers over the years, I have become a strong proponent of the concept of brand. I have seen companies with comparable products or services experience much different results in the marketplace with one of the vital differences being their ability to build a strong brand. In a conversation with Richard Tait, co-founder of the game company, Cranium, during its earliest years, I asked him at what point he began focusing on “brand.” His response: “Day One.” This company went on to make history with its award-winning games, carving a powerful niche in an already saturated market.

I propose that the employer brand should also be considered a high priority during a company's early stages. Given that a company’s success is acutely dependent on the quality of the people hired (and retained), focusing on the employer brand from the beginning seems like one of the most significant investments a company can make – not just for meeting the immediate need of building a strong team, but in anticipating future growth.

The extensive range of social media options makes it more feasible than ever to establish an employer brand. For the same reason, the need for a positive “real story” to reinforce the “image” has never been more critical.

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