How to Salvage Your Employer Brand As a Small Business

By: on June 29, 2017

How would you like to be the new PR Director of United Airlines? Or the next CEO of Uber?

When big companies are in the midst of a PR crisis, we love to talk about the impact on customers and investors. But what about recruiters? Sometimes all it takes is one wave of negative publicity to put a pungent stink on the employer brand that convinces skilled job seekers to run far, far away.

The same can be said for small businesses. For a restaurant, it might be a failed health inspection. For a small medical practice, it could be a Facebook rant from a patient that goes semi-viral. And for everyone else, it’s that most dreaded scenario: a scathing Glassdoor review.

When that happens (or maybe it already has), you need to be ready to do damage control.

In this article we’ll recommend five steps that every small business should take when they need to right the ship on their employer brand.

1. Decide who will own employer brand management

 CHALLENGE:  Employer branding is one of those nebulous responsibilities that doesn’t fall squarely into any one department in your company. When your employer brand takes a serious hit, who should respond? That’s something your small business needs to figure out—preferably before disaster strikes.

 HOW TO ADDRESS:  A general rule of thumb is that employer brand management should be a collaborative undertaking between marketing and recruiting. Updating content and responding to online comments and reviews should be divided up depending on the source:

Recruiting should own
Marketing should own
Careers page

Figuring this out early on can help you put out employer branding fires down the road.

2. Respond to online criticism with the right person and message

 CHALLENGE:  With the who figured out, it’s time to get down to the how. How should you respond when an ex-worker with a chip on their shoulder posts something like this:

 HOW TO ADDRESS:  Our first suggestion would be quickly! The longer a negative review like this one goes unanswered, the more damning it looks in the eyes of job seekers.

Kristy Nittskoff, founder & CEO of recruitment strategy consultancy Talent-Savvy, has helped a number of her clients respond to online criticism on sites like Glassdoor. She offers a few more tips:

  • Pick someone who has authority on the subject to respond. A response from the wrong person can come across as disingenuous, so make sure whoever responds is knowledgeable of operations in the area of the complaint. “The reply doesn’t have to be from HR or from a CEO,” Nittskoff says.”It can be from a sales manager. It can be from whatever leader is relevant for that review.”
  • Begin with empathy. Whether the criticism is warranted or not, someone was frustrated enough with your company to talk about it online. Be empathetic with their plight. “Say we understand that’s a frustrating thing for our employees,” Nittskoff says.
  • Be honest, and explain your plan to fix the issue. If the criticism is true, own up to it. Then explain how you’re working to address the complaint. “Say you’re right, we’re a startup, we’re still figuring things out,” Nittskoff says. “Something to say yeah we get it but here’s what we’re doing to change that.”

You can’t get rid of complaints online, but you can at least mitigate the damage in the eyes of social media-savvy job seekers with a great response.

3. Learn how to address concerns in interviews

 CHALLENGE:  Interviews aren’t just a time for employers to assess the candidate; they’re also an opportunity for the candidate to better understand the employer. If an applicant knows your company has a dark cloud hanging over its head, they’re more than likely going to ask about it.

 HOW TO ADDRESS:  Remember—there’s no need to preemptively apologize. If you’re lucky, the candidate might not even be aware of the negativity surrounding your employer brand at the moment.

“You don’t want to draw attention to things that don’t need attention drawn to them if it’s not drawn by the candidate,” Nittskoff says.

If a candidate does bring something up, be straight with them, explain the situation and tell them it’s an area of priority for improvement. Then pivot the conversation.

Talk about your great benefits. Talk about how long employees have worked for you. Whatever it is that you makes you a desirable employer, steer the candidate in that direction to leave them with a good impression.

4. Ask workers to leave feedback at opportune moments

 CHALLENGE:  At this point, you should have a handle on how to combat negativity harming your employer brand. Now you need to boost your image with positive messaging, and who better to talk about how great of an employer you are than your own employees?

There’s a problem here though:

  • Leave it up to workers to post greats things about the company on Glassdoor or LinkedIn themselves, and they likely won’t be motivated to do so.
  • On the other hand, if you tell all your workers to leave great reviews or post positive messages, it’s going to appear shady to them and incredibly spammy to job seekers.

 HOW TO ADDRESS:  Asking workers to talk about their experience working for your company online can be risky. Catch someone on a bad day and they’re bound to add fuel to the negative fire.

The best solution then is to tip the odds in your favor by asking workers to leave feedback at opportune moments.

For example, after someone accepts an offer with your company—a very exciting time for someone who’s been job hunting—you could ask them to leave their thoughts on the interview process on Glassdoor. The likelihood that they’ll say something positive about the experience is pretty high, and it will be completely authentic.

Another opportune moment would be when the hiring manager has their regular check-ins with new hires (something you should definitely be doing, by the way). Nittskoff notes that it’s a great time to get positive feedback that you can potentially share with the outside world.

“You follow up and say thanks so much for sitting down with me, it sounds like things are going really well for you, we’d be thrilled if you shared some of that feedback on Glassdoor.”

Kristy Nittskoff, founder & CEO of Talent-Savvy

Being more selective with who and when you ask for feedback will help generate more positive buzz around your employer brand online.

5. Prioritize evergreen employer branding content

 CHALLENGE:  You want no part of big company PR woes, but I bet you’d kill for their resources. As a small business, your teams simply don’t have time to consistently push out fresh employer branding content to social media, careers pages and local press.

 HOW TO ADDRESS:  You need to prioritize, and priority one should be evergreen content.

Evergreen content describes any online content that doesn’t expire, so to speak. It’s always relevant for readers.

In other words, don’t worry so much about capturing happy employees at their desk and posting it on Twitter with the most relevant hashtag that day. Instead, focus on areas like your careers page and your company profile on sites like Glassdoor—places that don’t need to be updated constantly.

“If you don’t have a lot of time and you have zero budget, the place I would start is by sprucing up things like Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn,” Nittskoff says. “It does take time upfront, but then it’s static.”

Conclusion: Tools to Help Your Employer Branding Efforts

Say what you will about their current woes, but I can at least tell you who United Airlines and Uber are. Job seekers likely can’t say the same for your small business, which is why having a great employer brand is so important: it allows you to communicate to job seekers what you do, what your values are and who would thrive in your organization.

Here are some tools that can help you craft and maintain your employer brand:

  • Brand management software can help your company create and maintain employee branding assets, come up with creative campaigns and assign project tasks to workers in various departments.
  • Social media management software can help your team schedule employer branding social media posts in advance and track mentions of your company across sites so you can quickly respond.
  • Recruiting software can allow you to build an enticing careers page, track applicants through hiring processes and gain insight into which online sources are providing the best and worst candidates.
To learn more about some of these tools, check out our free e-book: 28 Software Tools to Conquer the Social Media Recruiting World.

You may also like:

What the Best Careers Pages Teach About Designing Your Own

How Job Seekers Use Glassdoor Reviews

Employment Branding: Recruiting Videos That Do It Right

Free Download: The 28 Best Social Media Recruiting Tools