Monday, March 10, 2008

message bearers: the near and dear

We often say that organizations (nonprofit and for-profit) don't do enough to cultivate potential message-bearers among their "near and dear" audiences -- the friends, family, vendors, retirees and alumni who've worked closely with them and have more knowledge and reason to support key messages. Today's New York Times looks at a clever initiative of Hewlett-Packard to turn its retirees into a volunteer corps of endorsers and sellers.
To hear the participants tell it, it's social networking of a different type: Last Monday, Chuck Ernst, 91, a former customer service manager, attended the retiree meeting with Frank Musso, 75, who spent 25 years at H.P. They said they might not have too much time or energy to get involved in volunteer projects, but they liked the way the company was reaching out. They said the company’s embrace of its retirees started in earnest several years ago and has been intensifying.

“H.P. wants us to feel connected, and they’re doing all this work to keep us connected,” said Mr. Ernst. He said he thought the company probably ought to pay retirees to get involved in sales, but it’s not something he feels strongly about. “We’re proud of the company, and we don’t hesitate to let people know it.”
It's not as easy as pioking up the phone to muster these new regulars in the brand wars, but your organization should consider orientations for your nearest allies to share your business goals; "friends and family" visiting days so they can see the work up close; and providing them with information and training if you plan to put them to work representing the company or group. Especially smart on HP's part: Enlisting retirees with high loyalty and more time to devote to community outreach.

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