In times of economic uncertainty and social unrest, being an employer branding professional can be challenging. It’s not always easy to quantify the impact of powerful storytelling.

Whether or not your business is actively hiring, investing in your employer reputation now can set you up to attract top talent in the long run. The best part? You don’t need a million-dollar budget to make it happen. We’ve put together some high-impact, low-cost approaches from experts in the field to help you create more powerful employer brand content.

Think like a journalist

Many employers want to showcase the fun perks that make their company a great place to work. But this can distract from what’s really at the heart of your company culture: the people. Emily Firth, the former global head of employer branding at travel site, says to focus less on the “stuff” and more on stories of real employees doing real things.

“Take your phone and … film people in your organization talking passionately about … the things that reflect your culture that aren't necessarily about the day-to-day work,” Firth explains. In addition to being cost-free, this strategy has the benefit of bringing public relations (PR) and human resources (HR) departments together, she adds.

“I always encourage employer brand managers to think more like journalists,” Firth says. By telling “a human story about how you treat people at your company, … you get more freedom [than with] traditional marketing, because you're not hard-selling the product. You're trying to create an emotional connection.”

Think creatively about groups across your organization with stories you can share. Potential is everywhere — from traditional storytellers in corporate marketing and employee resource groups to your information technology (IT) and operations teams.

Be competitive

You’ll always be competing for people’s attention. In a world where Canadians spend upward of 5 hours on digital media every day, how do you cut through other brands’ noise? 

Draw inspiration from competitors when telling your own company's stories.

Don’t be intimidated by flashy, big-budget employer branding campaigns from corporate powerhouses. Instead, draw inspiration from their tales and apply those approaches to your own company’s stories about what makes yours a great employer. 

In fact, competitor data can be useful in thinking through how best to convey your employer brand. “You don’t have to compete with Google if they’re not your competition,” says recruiting strategist and author Jack Whatley. “All you have to do is be a little bit better than the next guy.” 

When targeting potential talent, you can also stay competitive by leveraging the same insights and research your marketing teams use to develop content for clients. Firth says: “What [your] customers are interested in talking about is also very relevant to what [your] employees and talent are talking about.”

Crowdsource employer brand content from employees

Consider incentivizing participation in content creation with swag or some form of recognition.

Employer brand content development doesn’t have to fall solely on the shoulders of employer brand marketers. Think of creative ways employees can share content about their personal work experiences with their own networks. For example, a memorable hashtag for a company-wide mental health day can encourage employees to post about what they’re doing on their day off — and illustrate your company’s commitment to worker well-being.

“Our employees are eager to talk ... about what we're doing, and talk about our culture, they just need some guidance,” says Rian Finnegan, formerly Instacart’s Senior Manager of Employer Brand and Recruitment Marketing in the US. Use internal communication tools, such as weekly newsletters or a company intranet platform, to provide employees with guidance around what, when, and where to post employer brand content. 

Consider incentivizing participation in content creation with swag, a competition, or some form of recognition. You can even formalize your crowdsourcing strategy by creating an internal brand ambassador program that workers can join. 

If you haven’t already, establish a close relationship with your leadership team. This keeps you in the know of company-wide happenings — and opens opportunities for employee content creation — while reinforcing how valuable their hard work is in building your brand’s reputation as an employer.

Educate and empower the recruiting team

Insight into the initiatives and narratives leadership wants to promote is important.

Just as important as your company-wide communications are your conversations with talent attraction (TA) and recruiting teams. They’re the direct points of contact with potential talent, so having insight into the top-priority initiatives and narratives leadership wants to promote —  along with what is (and isn’t) okay to say — is important.

“We're all marketers,” says US-based Chrissy Thornhill, Senior Manager of Global Recruitment Marketing at Salesforce, noting that all recruiting team members are often required to take a training course on recruitment marketing within their first 90 days.

Empowering your recruiters to become recruitment marketers can be as simple as educating them on the correlation between sharing employer brand content and successfully attracting quality candidates.

Thornhill says she hosts quarterly sessions to teach Salesforce’s recruiting team about finding and sharing content and to “show the ... brand awareness that they're able to create compared to what our social channel can create.”

Make the business case for employer branding

That close working relationship with leadership is also invaluable when it comes time to demonstrate brand marketing’s return on investment (ROI). Feeling confident in your work amid budget cuts, layoffs, and lingering economic uncertainty can be tough, but when “presented in the right way, it is quite obvious … there is a lot of evidence now that you can use to reinforce the position,” Firth says.

In today’s reality, news coverage around a company’s treatment of employees is hugely influential in customer perception, thus impacting shareholder value and a business’s bottom line. Firth reminds us to connect those dots: “This impacts our internal engagement; people are feeling lost and scared and confused, and you need support with that. Our PR team [is] struggling with these negative headlines. Our people team is overloaded trying to deal with all these situations.”

Firth also comments that leadership is likely to be “more interested in what you're doing because it's not [just] an HR thing” — it’s more directly and obviously aligned to business goals: “You are invaluable — you just have to put your hand up, build a case, make allies, and be brave about saying, ‘This is something I can help with.’” 

What you do now will set you up for success later

In spite of challenging current events and economic conditions, you are uniquely positioned to demonstrate just how impactful branding professionals are in bringing in and retaining top talent. By investing time and resources in your employer brand today, you’re not only serving your business in times of crisis but positioning your organization to better attract top talent in the long run.