With no marketing or brand presence for the first decade of TSP’s history, the company still saw yearly double-digit revenue growth. With those kind of stats, how do you justify marketing spends?
That question was answered with ensuring that TSP was attracting the best candidates in the job market. By amplifying its reach and profile, TSP would make sure to have a presence not only with customers, but potential future employees.
A privately held IT services firm in Dallas, TSP opened its doors in January 2003 with four employees — “who are still with the company,” Chris Skaggs, Senior Director, Talent and Brand Management, TSP is quick to point out.
The employees were TSP’s two founders — who had previously spent their entire careers at Honeywell International building up its computer services support division — alongside two senior engineers who have now risen in the company.
When Honeywell decided to move away from the computer services support portion of the business, TSP Founders, Frank Gonzalez and Rick Skaggs, knew they could fill the void and offer customers a comprehensive service.
“They intimately knew their [customers’] needs and they knew they could do the same service that Honeywell was providing to them but at a fraction of the cost as a services-only company, which is what TSP is. We don't have any product; we don't make anything; we don't manufacture anything. Our product really is our people and the service we're delivering out to our customers,” Skaggs said.
Large enterprise customers are typical, Skaggs said, listing Texas Instruments as TSP’s first customer. TSP also works with companies like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems, Georgia Pacific, International Paper — all within the IT service space and mostly on IT infrastructure.
“We don't do anything in the software development life cycle or web development or app development. It's going to be your helpdesk, dev-side support, end-user support, network cabling, data storage, cloud management,” he said.
TSP teams are managing the quality control systems or QCS, which measure the final quality of the product coming out.
“So if it's a big roll of paper, our systems that our people manage are looking at the density of the paper, the thickness, thinness, radiation, contaminates, things like that,” he said.
For the first 12 or 13 years after starting the company, Skaggs said, “We had zero marketing or brand presence.”
Even running under the radar, he added, “We do double-digit revenue growth every single year and hired anywhere from 75 to 150+ employees every year.”
Because of that growth, it was hard to justify spending any money on marketing — the company was growing so fast already; what would the point be?
“It was kind of an internal joke around the company that we were the best kept tech secret around,” he said.
In the earliest stages of the company, he said, it was growing so fast that everyone just kept their head down and pitched in wherever there was a need.
“Everyone was wearing multiple hats daily. Again, we didn't need to get that information out there, really,” he said. “We were almost scared to get our name out there because … we were so busy with what we currently were dealing with. It was like, "What if we tell this story and it really resonates? Are we prepared to grow at that level?"
The company made a strategic decision two years ago, Skaggs said, to focus on that growth. That lead to his placement in a role building the talent acquisition and talent management teams.
“We were doing all the hard work as far as the content. We revamped our website, created marketing collateral, opened up social media channels,” he said.
Social media, he said, had been mostly a grassroots effort and very strategic and slow.
“We started really slow, focused mainly on LinkedIn at first, and really built out our presence in two and a half years,” he said.
Since starting with LinkedIn, the company has grown followers from 500 all the way to around 8,500 currently. The team achieved this significant jump posting original content, images, curated content and showcasing company culture.
One of the best competitive advantages TSP has is company culture and employees, according to Skaggs.
“We sell our people to our customers in terms of the kind of people we employ and the service they can expect,” he said. “But we also sell our people and our culture to our potential candidates … and the environment they're going to be around and the people that they're going to be able to work with, grow from and learn from.”
After LinkedIn, the company ventured into Twitter, adding in Instagram and Facebook as well. With all the progress Skaggs and his team were making, going from nothing to full steam ahead in producing quality content, they realized they might have been missing something.
“We saw we were losing such an opportunity with our employees,” he said.
Employees would occasionally share content when they saw it, he said. The desire to share it was there, but employees didn’t directly know what was going up, and when.
Skaggs realized what was possible when he saw an Edelman Trust Survey that showed how much more influential employees’ voices could be. In fact, Edelmen’s 2016 study highlighted that employees who trust in leadership are more likely to advocate for their company, and that peers and employees are more credible than CEOs, even.
“We were doing all the hard work; we just needed to mobilize and get that information out to the masses,” he said.
TSP is a very virtual workforce, he said, so one of the challenges was finding a system or vendor that could easily get out content and sharing information to employees.
“I needed something that was easy, was virtual, had an online platform, and [employees] didn't have to think about it. We needed to hand deliver it to them,” he said.
Step #1. Find the right partner for the campaign
Skaggs looked at two platforms before finding the vendor he wanted to work with. The issue with the others he looked at was that “they were built for much larger companies than ours … I was a marketing department of one,” he said.
At the time, he didn’t have a social media or content team, and he needed a partner in this project who would be able to effectively work with him without those teams in place.
“From their end, I was the kind of resource they were targeting to work with. From my end, it was a solution that was exactly what I was looking for, at a very economical cost to be able to get that information out there,” he said.
TSP doesn’t have “a lot of red tape,” Skaggs said, so directors are given a lot of freedom. “If we believe in a product and a system and a tool or a process, as long as we can back it up, we're given a lot of leeway.”
Since he found a partner that allowed a trial period with no long-term commitment, he was given a quick go-ahead.
“I'd say within probably a month of our first phone call, we were up and running on the platform and pretty immediately saw so much more engagement on our content just by the mere fact of, again, notifying our employees when content was going out there,” he said.
Since Skaggs was creating original content himself, it was “difficult and time consuming,” he said, but it was amplified by letting employees know when the original content was being published.
He made a specific decision not to try to amplify any of the curated content via employees, saying, “In my mind, if I'm pushing out content from Forbes or Fast Company or TheMuse or Entrepreneur, they don't necessarily need my amplification on that. I'm sure they appreciate it, but it's not like we need our employees sharing that information. We were trying to get our original content amplified.”
Step #2. Identify employees to participate
Skaggs took an “old school” approach to identifying employees who might want to participate in being initial ambassadors, later dubbed #TSProckstars.
“I went through probably a month's worth of social content,” he said, adding that it was mainly LinkedIn and Twitter.
“Basically any employee in the last month prior to the kickoff of this campaign that had either liked, commented, shared, favorited, pick your metric, whatever they had done on any piece of content, I sent a quick little email out to them and let them know this was coming and asked them if they wanted to be part of this to help tell our story,” he said.
When appealing to them, Skaggs made sure to put up front that not only would they help to further the TSP brand and message, but “this would also help create their own personal brands and position them potentially as thought leaders within their networks as well.”
He believes that every person he initially reached out to signed on, and after seeing the success from the first round of ambassadors, he decided to reach out to a secondary group after a couple of months.
It was important to identify people who might be especially interested in this program and not to pressure employees who weren’t active on social.
“Our age range here at the company varies from millennials to retirees. So, I get it. Not everyone is going to be on every platform — or any platforms, possibly. So, I didn't want to make this, ‘Everyone come on and join. Everyone should be on social media,’ because social media is not for everybody,” he said.
What would be worse than employees not participating, he said, would be employees participating, but “being completely inauthentic with it and having it be forced and make it look like we're just making them ‘like’ things to get those vanity metrics.”
He was interested in getting authentic engagement and creating conversations, he said.
Once employees are signed up to be ambassadors, they receive daily emails, sent out around 1:00 p.m., to show the content that Skaggs wants to amplify. Employees can see all of the content, tweets and posts that are going out from TSP, all pulled onto a platform they can access.
Step #3. Evolve program based on feedback
Teams have been set up within the sharing platform based on individual brand ambassadors’ requests.
For example, “if you're not active on LinkedIn, I'm not pushing LinkedIn requests to you. If you're only active on Twitter and Facebook, you're only getting Twitter and Facebook requests,” Skaggs said.
He wanted employees to feel like participating was as easy and individualized as possible. Now, at the beginning of the ambassador sign-up process, they’re asked what platforms they’re active on and interested in getting amplification requests for.
A key aspect, he said, was starting small with a group of initial ambassadors and growing out from there. This enabled them to evolve the campaign before opening it up to other employees so that it was as smooth as possible for them.
“I didn't want this to ever become a hindrance to an employee or just noise [because] they were getting so many notifications,” he said.
One recent evolution is that employees can set the cadence of the emails they receive. Now, employees can be sent an email with all the content that needs to be amplified in one email, instead of individual notifications of every piece of content.
“Now, there's not that issue. I can load them all up and then send them all out at one time, and that helps the employee,” he said.
There is also a gamified aspect to the sharing within the platform — employees collect points based off how much they share, and employees are placed onto a leaderboard based on that.
“Some of the craziest emails I get from our ambassadors [are] questioning the point value — ‘I share every time you send me something, so why am I only at number 12?’ They really get involved in that and try to make their way up the leaderboard by sharing content. It creates a little bit of an internal competition,” he said.
Blogs are posted about once a week, and typically, once a week they have “Wisdom Wednesday,” where TSP will quote a historical figure on a branded image and post it on all channels.
While TSP has worked with a vendor for its employee ambassador program, “even for a smaller company that really has no budget or no spend, just by notifying your employees that are requesting information on it, you can do this same process,” he said.
Obviously, he added, “It's not as slick … as using a system … with the customized hubs and the leaderboard and things like that, but that's as grassroots as gets, sending out an email to the people [who] wanted to be notified that said, ‘Here's a link to the content. Go interact with it. We appreciate it.’”
He’s hoping to evolve the program so that employees will put a more individual spin on the sharing — put a personal message with it.
“If we've created a blog post about employee engagement and put in some sales copy in there as a suggestion, my hope for this is that they're going to put in what employee engagement means for them at TSP or an example of how our mission speaks to them or how our values speak to them,” he said.
“I think when you look at all the employee-engagement-type metrics, that's certainly a big push not only with millennials, but even other generations in the workforce as having that sense of oneness, where your values align with the company,” Skaggs said.
All employees want to feel as though they’re more than just a cog in the wheel, he said, and as the company produces more original content, he wants to see employees putting their personal perspective on it.
“I know that's going to take some time,” he said, “At least we've packaged it so that they can pretty quickly share it on their own channel as their own post. The ultimate goal will be for [employees] to manipulate that copy into really what it means to them.”
In the meantime, Skaggs said that the team has seen “fantastic results,” including:
Anecdotally, he said, company recruiters have told him that over the last year and a half, candidates they’re reaching out to have actually heard of TSP before.
Also, instead of sending candidates that have applied the general “thanks for your application” email that most systems generate, Skaggs said they are sent to a customized landing page that features original content offers.
For example, he said, “We're giving them an option to download a LinkedIn infographic at that point, information about how to make their LinkedIn profile stand out to hiring managers.”
This also gives the team more information on that candidate to see if they’re doing additional research on the company.
“Recruiters are certainly saying this is helping them. They feel like they're able to spend time with candidates more on the job itself than selling the company,” he said.
With many candidates coming in already knowing about the culture, he added, “To me, if they're following our company on LinkedIn or they're subscribed to our blog, they've already virtually raised their hand as a candidate and said, ‘I'm interested.’”
With current employees, this turns the TSP culture from a “best kept secret” into a story that they can share and be proud of — especially with virtual employees.
“It’s really hard, obviously, to create meaningful employee engagement with … one TSP employee in the state of South Dakota, the lone ranger out there,” Skaggs said. “But if we can have them feel some sense of accomplishment and pride in TSP and connection back to the company, then that's the whole goal.”
FirmPlay - TSP's employee advocacy software vendor
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