Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The power of social and digital media to make or break an employer brand: how to master the opportunity in 2023

By Steve Leigh, MD, Sensu Insight.

A turbulent economic landscape and employment market is putting increasing pressure on businesses to retain and attract talent. And in fast-paced and typically high-turnover labour markets such as the PR, marketing and communications space, the value of employer brand cannot be overstated.

In 2023, social and digital platforms are increasingly becoming go-to ‘shop windows’ for potential employees that businesses cannot afford to ignore – for example data suggests that 40 million people search LinkedIn for jobs every week. With a catalogue of employment opportunities at their fingertips, digital native audiences now seek online evidence of what an organisation is like and how it looks after its staff, looking at an employer’s channels and beyond for reaction and response across the digital landscape. 

Those businesses that fail to grasp this opportunity and use digital channels to effectively convey employer brand – that is, the extent to which an organisation is perceived to be a desirable employer – risk losing out on talent to the competition. Meanwhile, online evidence of a negative company culture – such as a former employee taking to Twitter, forums or job review sites to call out an employer for a poor experience – can act as an immediate red flag to prospective talent, tarnish business reputation and make future hiring more costly.

There is a misconception that employer brand isn’t ‘measurable’, but at Sensu Insight we use a range of methods to evaluate reputation. These consider variables including whether prospects have ‘heard’ of an employer; if they know that an employer is in the market for their skills; and whether the external ‘brand’ matches the reality of the offer. We’ve found that understanding existing perceptions and gathering market insights equips businesses with data to inform strategic decisions that can help influence external attitudes. 

We begin by garnering insights from staff satisfaction and industry surveys which provide an overview of the market and employee sentiment. But while traditional methods remain an important part of the mix, most employers tend to rely solely on this type of research. There is a massive opportunity to analyse ‘macro’ data alongside individual insights from across digital platforms in real time. This enables employers to look at the broader picture of what current and prospective employees feel about a brand and why, while tracking and predicting how attitudes may go on to shift. A useful comparative tool, data analysis can also enable businesses to benchmark against those competing for the same talent. It can even provide a competitive edge by identifying emerging issues that talent face, equipping employers with insight to capitalise on labour market opportunities. 

When it comes to using social and digital media to examine the strength of an employer brand, there are several recurring factors that we consider in our research and reporting:

  • Awareness – how visible is the business among prospective talent? 
  • Understanding – what is the business ‘known’ for, from the quality of products and services to the skillset and expertise it looks for in employees?
  • Performance – is the business ‘doing well’; will it go on to succeed? Is it innovating in its space, or is there reason to doubt future job security? 
  • Trust – does an employer live up to its promise, treating staff in the right way and providing opportunity, reward and a positive work/life balance? 
  • Governance – are ethical commitments being delivered on? Is robust leadership in place to steer the ship towards its corporate goals?

Of course, employer brand is subjective and people value different things; for example, our employer brand report showed an almost threefold increase in the importance that Gen Z places on the social consciousness of organisations, compared to the attitudes of older generations. Time and trends also drive evolving attitudes towards work – for example, the pandemic accelerated a shift to more flexible working practices, while the MeToo movement rightly brought the inclusion and equality agenda to the fore. Understanding reputation drivers like these and having an inherent awareness of what makes target talent ‘tick’ is critical before undertaking action to amplify – or rectify – employer brand. 

Ultimately, social and digital media can be a hugely powerful commercial asset for employers and help drive the success of future recruitment endeavours. Drawing on insights about existing perceptions can help employers to make informed content decisions that help influence reputation, addressing misconceptions or drawing attention to their offer in the areas that target talent care about.