5 Meaningful Employer Branding Trends That Emerged in 2020
December 7, 2020
At the beginning of the year, the phrase “employer branding” tended to conjure up images of sleek offices, fun company retreats, and enviable perks. As 2020 draws to a close, that idea of employer branding has been turned on its head. In a year that has redefined how we work, socialize, and engage with our community, it was inevitable that both consumer- and candidate-facing brands would evolve to reflect the new world we live in. And many of these changes are likely here to stay.
In the latest edition of The Future of Recruiting report, we predicted that employer brands will hinge on empathy and actions. LinkedIn data backs this up. As world-changing events and social issues came to the forefront of the public consciousness earlier this year, candidates and customers increasingly looked to brands to speak up and take a stance on the issues they care about. In April, company posts about COVID-19 saw an 84% uplift in engagement, compared to the average engagement on posts. And in June, as protests about racial inequality continued around the world, engagement on company posts about diversity saw a similar spike, with average engagement rising by 24%.
This push toward greater empathy, transparency, and authenticity in employer branding has played out in a few different ways. And while there’s no playbook for navigating this radically altered landscape, it can be useful to look to others for inspiration and guidance. With that in mind, here are five of the most impactful changes and trends we’ve seen over the past months to help you shape your employer branding strategy in 2021.
1. Go beyond platitudes and focus on actions
After the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless other people of color sparked a global conversation about racial inequality and social justice earlier this year, many companies put out statements emphasizing their commitment to diversity and inclusion. In some cases, that’s where the conversation ended. But some companies proved that they’re truly committed to walking the walk by following up their initial statements with further content, discussion, and, most importantly, tangible action.
One company that was notable for taking a strong stance this year was Ben & Jerry’s. The ice cream company has long been known for its progressive values, speaking openly about issues and movements like climate justice, LGBTQ+ equality, and Fairtrade. True to its values, it didn’t shy away from talking about the big issues in 2020, including racial justice and voting rights, using bold language and graphics that stood out from the generic statements put out by some brands.
Beyond making commitments, Ben & Jerry’s has outlined specific steps that it is taking to move the needle, like improving the diversity of its vendors and contractors, in addition to its core workforce. It’s also driven action from its audience, like encouraging people to vote.
By aligning its words, intentions, and actions, Ben & Jerry’s gives candidates a clear sense of its priorities and values. Even content that isn’t specifically targeted at job seekers sends a message — by joining the company, you can help make a difference in the world.
2. Ask more questions and encourage conversation
Another way that companies are practicing empathy in their employer branding is by talking less and listening more.
HubSpot is doing this by asking frequent questions to engage its audience in discussion. On its LinkedIn company page, you’ll find dozens of questions and polls, ranging from topics like marketing strategies to more introspective conversation starters like “How do you think remote work allows you to bring more of your authentic self to work?”
HubSpot doesn’t just post a question and leave it there. The team regularly responds to commenters from the company’s account, sometimes even posting follow-up content summarizing key takeaways or insights from the conversation.
This strategy works because it shows that HubSpot is listening and cares about hearing people’s perspectives. That sends a powerful message to prospective candidates — that this is a company where your voice will be heard.
3. Show a more vulnerable side to your company
While many companies are using their social channels more and more to talk about current events, leaders are also using their personal accounts to add their voices to the conversation and publicly thank their employees for their hard work and dedication in the face of unprecedented challenges.
Amidst these posts, some leaders stood out for their willingness to be vulnerable. One example is Ed Bastion, CEO of Delta Air Lines. When the business was facing economic pressure and some employees had to take unpaid leave, Ed personally thanked one member of the IT team who used this time to make masks for frontline workers.
“Meet Cristina from IT,” Ed wrote. “She’s one of more than 30,000 who have made the decision to take a voluntary unpaid leave of absence to help Delta weather the storm during these trying times. While she takes a break from her day job, she continues to showcase the Delta Difference by skillfully sewing masks for healthcare workers across the country. … A big thank you to Cristina and the many others for reminding us that we all have the ability to make a difference in the world.”
Unfortunately, many companies had to make the difficult decision this year to let employees go or ask them to take leave. And while the response to Ed’s post was not entirely positive, many found his willingness to talk about what was happening and shine a spotlight on employees inspiring. Love it or hate it, it’s a risk that we might not have seen leaders making in previous years, and one that may lead to more open communication in the months ahead.
4. Talk openly, holistically, and empathetically about employee wellbeing
Until recently, employer branding content was aimed at candidates and employees and consumer branding content targeted customers. Those lines started to blur in 2020. Now, consumers want to know that the brands they buy from are taking care of their employees — especially during times of crisis.
This has led to a more holistic and empathetic approach to talking about employee wellbeing, encompassing physical, mental, and financial health. Companies aren’t glossing over the struggles faced by their employees, but are instead acknowledging that these struggles exist and that they care — then outlining specific steps they’re taking to alleviate them.
One post that demonstrates this approach comes from Mike Corbat, CEO at Citi. Mike acknowledges that “this is a challenging time for our families, communities and for our firm” before sharing a message of hope: “we’ve proven our ability to get through tough times before.” He also shares details of what Citi is doing to support employees, noting that eligible colleagues would receive “a special compensation award to help ease the financial burden of this situation.”
Since employer branding is now having an even bigger impact than before on the public perception of companies, this trend may lead to recruiting, HR, and marketing teams partnering more closely to create content and messaging in future. We’re also likely to see more content delving into topics that often went unspoken in the past, including mental health, work-life balance, and financial stability.
5. Build a connection from afar through live streaming
With in-person recruiting events off the table, many companies had to find other ways to reach and engage candidates at scale this year. Some companies quickly pivoted to virtual events, creating live and interactive content on platforms like LinkedIn Live.
Cisco was one of the early adopters. The tech company has gone live on LinkedIn regularly over the past year, covering a wide range of career-related topics, from virtual internships to women in tech to the future of work, in addition to more technical subject matter that lets candidates know the type of work they’d be doing. Many of these events have been viewed by thousands of people, both live and after the fact.
Even when in-person gatherings are a safe and viable option again, virtual recruiting events are likely to remain popular. After all, they’re significantly cheaper to run and allow companies to reach candidates anywhere in the world. By mastering these events today, companies can better position themselves for a future where a hybrid approach is the norm — while continuing to build and strengthen relationships with candidates and differentiate their brand.
In 2020, much of the employer branding content of years gone by would have felt out of touch. A new year might be on the horizon, but 2021 doesn’t come with a reset button. Many of the conversations that dominated this year will continue into the next, and many of the trends we’ve highlighted here will shape the employer branding landscape for years to come — so finding your company’s voice is critical.
Let your core values guide you, and lead with empathy and authenticity above all. It’s a new era for employer branding, but by being thoughtful and intentional in your words and actions, it can be an even better one.
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