Building & growth

Why startups should invest in employer brand

Written By

Anna Burgess Yang

Graphic illustration of two circles intertwining with a linear striped background | Blog on the importance of employer branding for startups | Mercury
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Customer acquisition is at the forefront of every startup’s mind. Rightfully so, since without customers, the business doesn’t exist.

But what about employee acquisition? Attracting and retaining talent is also a critical part of building a successful startup. The right people can innovate, bring in new business, and, if treated well, remain loyal and help the company flourish.

Bringing in top talent is more than an enticing job description or an attractive compensation and benefits package. Startups with a strong employer brand will have no shortage of talent knocking at their doors — an investment that pays off well beyond the time spent building the brand.

What is employer brand?

Employer brand is the external perception of your startup as an employer. It reflects the company’s culture, values, and personality. If you have a stong employer brand, potential employees have a sense of what it’s like to work at the company.

There are many ways to share information about the company, including social media, the company’s blog or newsletter, videos, and more. But when it comes to building a strong brand, consistency and regular maintenance is key. Sharing one blog post per quarter with company updates won’t be enough. Creating an employer brand has to be a very intentional practice, with regular, authentic content that has a consistent brand voice and tone.

Why should startups invest in employer brand?

The more you share about your workplace (assuming it’s a great place to work!), the more benefit to your recruitment efforts.

Social media management platform, Buffer, has been in business for 13 years and put a lot of effort into its employer brand. Head of Communications and Content Hailley Griffis says this has a direct impact on the company’s hiring. “Applicants will tell us in interviews, ‘I love the way you’re building Buffer’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to work here.’ It comes up quite a bit.”

Buffer was recently hiring a Content Writer role, and Hailley intended to accept applications for two weeks. Instead, Buffer had to close the application window after one week because they’d received over 1,500 applications and only had a small team to review them. Hailley says that they see higher quality applicants, including a high number of people who are already familiar with Buffer, and it makes a big difference.

Ways to build your employer brand

Employer brand will touch a lot of external-facing content. You never want it to feel forced, but you’ll want to develop a regular cadence and routine of sharing information about your company.

Here are a few ideas:

Talk about company culture

Give potential applicants a clear idea of what it’s like to work at the company. If you embrace remote work and flexibility, talk about that. If the company gathers at fun locations for company offsites, share photos from those. You might share information about parental leave policies, reimbursement for continuing education, or career paths.

Culture also comes from the day-to-day, so share content about how employees are supported at work. Some companies have no-meeting days, for example, and that can be really attractive to potential applicatants who see it as a signal that the company works hard to protect employees’ time and created dedicated deep work blocks. You could also talk about the collaboration tools you use or how employees come together to make decisions, all of which help show the cross-functional culture at your org.

Build in public

Potential employees often look beyond work culture to the company itself and, more specifically, how the company does business. The more transparent your startup, the more applicants can make such assessments. This might include how product decisions are made within the company, strategic direction, diversity efforts, or other business decisions.

Hailley says that Buffer holds itself to a really high standard, transparently sharing salary information and revenue metrics. “It’s creating a level of trust that someone has in Buffer,” she says. “We’ve heard from a lot of people that they know more about Buffer than they do about their own work.” Creating this level of transparency can give prospective employees confidence in how leaders at your company operate with trust and transparency at the core.

Get employees involved

You’ll also establish your employer brand if potential applicants feel like they know existing employees. It might be easy for employees on the sales or marketing teams — or even the founder — to share their experiences on social platforms. Their roles are often tied to their visibility, and they’re comfortable creating content.

But you can get other employees involved as well. You can write blog posts featuring people on the product or engineering teams or host AMA sessions. When you put faces with the roles, applicants will want to work with the company not only for its values and culture, but also for potential teammates.

Develop a consistent brand voice and tone

People often associate strong brands with a consistent voice and tone, and the same is true for an employer brand. Hailley describes Buffer’s tone as genuine and human — “a small team doing all of this, not some big, faceless organization.”

While it takes time, documenting a voice and tone guide goes a long way. You may notate certain words that are used or not used in content. It can talk about punctuation or the use of emojis. The guide can, and should, be a work in progress. To supplement the guide, an internal editor can review the company’s content around employee branding to ensure that it’s consistent with the desired voice and tone.

Building your employer brand takes a lot of work

Hailley emphasizes that building a strong employer brand is not easy: “We’ve had times when we’re much better at sharing more content we want to be sharing. And we have times when we haven’t been as good.” Buffer often creates topics around timely topics, such as discussions that are held internally. “You start to create systems and flows, and it gets easier with time,” Hailley adds.

Building an employer brand isn’t something that can be moved to the back burner if your team is busy. If you recognize the positive impact it will have on your applicant pool, then your employer brand needs focused effort. You need to develop a strategy, carve out the time, and create some amazing content that reflects the best parts of your startup.

Written by

Anna Burgess Yang

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