Will H&M’s ambassador program turn employees into social influencers?

Discussion
Source: H&M website
Sep 03, 2019
Tom Ryan

H&M has selected 15 employees to lead its first employee ambassador program in the U.S.

The company selected the 15 from among the nearly 16,000 H&M employees working in stores and offices across the country, choosing a  diverse group based on their social media content, personality, location, brand values and style. 

As part of the yearlong partnership, the retailer will feature the 15 on a “Meet our H&M Insiders” microsite, with images of the ambassadors links to 40 style suggestions from each.

The fast-fashion retailer said the H&M Insiders program shows “H&M is a workplace where you are encouraged to be yourself and dress your personality, no matter what that is.” 

The program encourages consumers to see how the insiders “incorporate H&M into their everyday lives, from edgy outfit styling to chic home decorating.”

H&M has featured employees in its advertising and its Place of Possible (P.O.P.) recruiting campaign. The H&M Insiders program, however, builds on the April introduction of H&M League, a year-long partnership of 22 external influencers curating, styling and creating content.

H&M League marked a shift from the retailer’s previous practice of working with 25 to 50 influencers each month. The goal of the change was to turn influencers into lifelong brand advocates rather than individuals looking to finish their quota of Instagram posts, Mario Moreno, H&M USA’s head of marketing, said at NRF NXT. 

According to NRF’s blog, Mr. Moreno’s suggestions for turning influencers into ambassadors included making the training and retention of influencers as important as it is for full-time employees, focusing on content collaboration and understanding the quirks, preferences and tendencies of each influencer.

Macy’s is another chain that has gained attention for its employee influencer program. Macy’s Style Crew enables employees to share promotional posts on their social media feeds and receive a portion of the profit realized from product sales. 

An article in The Atlantic last year said brands using employees as influencers may offset the high costs and behavioral risks of outside influencers and gain greater diversity.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of H&M’s plan to use employees as influencers as well as its new focus on lifelong ambassadors? What’s holding back more retailers outside Macy’s and H&M from recruiting staff to become influencers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"There's something more genuine about a sales associate being passionate about the product s/he sells, even as s/he is touting it, than seeing a celebrity doing the same thing."
"Keeping on top of high profile social media influencers – celebrities – can be exhausting. How do you know, let alone control, what they will do or say next?"
"This is an easy win for H&M. They’re demonstrating their faith in their workforce and capitalizing on a smart influencer strategy."

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14 Comments on "Will H&M’s ambassador program turn employees into social influencers?"


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Bob Amster
BrainTrust

It seems to me that there is something more genuine about a sales associate being passionate about the product s/he sells, even as s/he is touting it, than seeing a celebrity doing the same thing. It is more difficult to determine what the digitally-minded younger generations think. I believe that these initiatives were launched in the past on television and they were successful.

Shikha Jain
BrainTrust

As there are so many fast fashion options to choose from, employees at a particular brand already have the affinity with the brand’s style. With H&M’s employee influencer program, there is no conflict between the individual and H&M as both work for the same company. The program likely has additional side benefits – creating aspirations for employees who want to be a part of the program and increasing retention rates.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

The issue with influencers is all about how the social media audience perceives them. If they see them as hip, slick and cool, it will work. If they perceive them as employees pushing their employer, it probably won’t. The influencer concept is a tough one to get right to begin with. I think most companies have thought through the obvious problem. What happens if, say, an H&M influencer does succeed in becoming immensely popular and then has a falling out with H&M, gets lured to a competitor, is involved in a public scandal, or joins a cult that hates retailers using initials as their logo? The answer is that the program could easily backfire. If you are looking for a reason not to do this, this might be where I’d look first.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Customers (certainly not only H&M customers) will assimilate to these influencers once found. This obviously is not new but, when something seems to work well, adopt it. I applaud H&M for making their own staff members into influencers.

Stephen Rector
BrainTrust

User generated content (UGC) is critical for retailers to differentiate themselves from the competition. There has been a shift from celebrity-driven marketing in many categories to using micro-influencers and actual employees as ambassadors. Customers appreciate the authenticity of UGC – so having sales associates as brand ambassadors makes a lot of sense as it should improve conversion, particularly with their social media marketing.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Keeping on top of high profile social media influencers – celebrities – can be exhausting. How do you know, let alone control, what they will do or say next? How it will affect your brand? And does anyone really believe that they use the same products we mortals use?

On the consumer side, store employees are believable because they are “real” people who are approachable in the stores. You’ll probably never buy the couture fashions or get near enough to a Kardashian to see her heavy contouring up close, but you could work with an employee ambassador on the sales floor and be able to ask for his/her style and makeup suggestions. The local word of mouth potential for these ambassadors is huge.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Whether it’s an influencer or an employee, we are still talking about a paid sales pitch. That’s not necessarily bad, it’s just also not necessarily authentic. It’s a paid sales pitch. I don’t want to be sold. I want to discover, to learn — and yes, I will be listening to a lot of sales pitches in that process. And of course there will be both influencers and employees who are both paid AND authentic. Which to me is demonstrated over time.

Heidi Sax
BrainTrust

This is an easy win for H&M. They’re demonstrating their faith in their workforce and capitalizing on a smart influencer strategy. Better to employ a smaller group of true brand evangelists (even if they have a smaller following) than to partner with less committed mega-influencers with wider reach. Smaller reach = greater engagement (and, ideally, conversion).

I’m not surprised they’ve changed course — earlier in the spring I noticed mega style influencer Arielle Charnas touting H&M in an ad. The partnership read as disingenuous — there’s no way luxury-loving Charnas is incorporating H&M into her everyday wardrobe and her followers know this. Using influencers who actually stand for the brand makes a lot more sense. And being that they are employees, H&M will be able to exert a little bit of creative control and keep them engaged in the partnership.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Developing a culture that starts to generate ideas and fashion from the inside is a good plan. And doing it over time is even better. As these new influencers are able to express themselves through the brand it will breathe excitement and life into the whole organization (and of course shoppers). Of course, if the brand tries to express itself through the people it’ll be a non-starter. It’s a fine line, but certainly doable. I think other retailers are watching to see how it’s done…

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Since sales associates (should) have extensive knowledge of H&M’s merchandise and clientele, it is a clever and authentic strategy to turn top employees into brand ambassadors.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Employees are invested in the brand. They can see, touch, and even smell the products and they also receive an employee discount so they are shopping and living the brand. What better group could there be to become influencers … they are truly ambassadors for the brand.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I’m curious what happens if or when one of these people quits and goes to work for someone else.
Anyway, back to basics: it’s a mixed bag – no pun intended: employees probably seem more “real,” but perhaps too much so in that few people have heard of them outside their influencer role … which would seem to defeat the whole point of the exercise. At any rate, I would think however the selection is made, the process would be compromised by the knowledge that these are compensated endorsements.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

For most brands, especially those outside of the high-end or hot new brand realm, there is NO better influencer than an employee. When I worked in stores, I was an automatic influencer in that I was proud to work for the brand I was wearing and talking about, and they gave me a hefty discount to make it easier to do so. That was all free, btw.

I totally get the influencer thing, so don’t get me wrong, but don’t you think that influencing is better off happening organically vs intentionally? If your brand is hot/good enough, it’s going to happen (a la Supreme), but if you have to “force” it to happen, especially from employees — who you would think should be automatic influencers — maybe there’s a lot more than influencing that needs re-thinking. As in, the truth.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

In the past I’ve seen brands who hire their biggest fans on the basis that if they’re already an advocate for the brand, then they will be much more passionate, engaged and committed as an employee. This is another step along that road.

On the one hand I think it’s great that H&M is recognising its staff in this way. It’s one way to make them feel valued and that their contribution is recognised. They don’t just work for the company, but are seen as representing it.

On the other hand it’s hard to just make someone an influencer. Customers connect with influencers for all sorts of reasons including looking up to or admiring them. These staff are not your typical influencer, which may resonate well with some customers. Others may wonder what the difference is between them and influencers paid to promote brands — H&M is still funding them. An interesting one for sure.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"There's something more genuine about a sales associate being passionate about the product s/he sells, even as s/he is touting it, than seeing a celebrity doing the same thing."
"Keeping on top of high profile social media influencers – celebrities – can be exhausting. How do you know, let alone control, what they will do or say next?"
"This is an easy win for H&M. They’re demonstrating their faith in their workforce and capitalizing on a smart influencer strategy."

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