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Interview with Rani Mani

by | Feb 20, 2020 | Interviews, ,

Rani Mani

Rani Mani

Head of Global Employee Advocacy at Adobe

Key Topics:Influencer Marketing, Employee Advocacy, Community Management
Location:San Francisco, USA

Rani is the Head of Global Employee Advocacy at Adobe. She is passionate about cultivating and nurturing communities and coaching others to do the same. She is currently working across Adobe teams to drive understanding, excitement, and advocacy among the global workforce in order to enable and empower all employees to be the company’s biggest brand ambassadors. Nicknamed the “Velvet Hammer,” Rani’s mantra is to make the impossible seem possible through her humour, grace, and passion. When she’s not asking provocative questions and making declarative statements at work, Rani is making magical memories with her husband and four kids as they continue to visit the many wonders of the world.

Why did you decide to work with influencers?

A role opened within our marketing and comms department where they were looking for an influencer relations enablement person to provide best practice advice and counsel to the different teams within the org. I already had a lot of propensity towards cultivating and nurturing communities and relationships; I’m very much a people person and enjoy working with people who have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening next. So, when this rolled up it was just Nirvana for me, and I jumped into it. That’s not strictly my job anymore, even though I still do it because it’s hard to pull away from that, given my relationships and passion for the work. My current title is Head of Global Employee Advocacy, which is very much about mobilizing our employees company-wide. I still unofficially work with our external influencers and the teams that work with them all the time, because to me, it’s all part of the same spectrum.

Why do you think Adobe want to work with influencers?

We are a smart company and we know the best way to scale, and have our fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in the industry is to work with these brilliant minds and creators. Why try to do it all on our own, when you really can’t? You would never be able to hire the number of resources on your books that it would take to service the millions of customers we have, so it’s about being relevant today and it’s about scaling.

Our influencer program really varies from business unit to business unit. On the B2B side it’s a very evergreen and ‘always-on’ type of program, whereas on the creative side that might be more campaign-based and more event-focused. It all depends on what the immediate need is, what the KPIs are, and who the influencers that can support that are. So, there’s really no ‘one size fits all’ kind of approach, we’ve done all sorts of things that you’ve seen in the market.

Could you tell us a little bit about what your employee advocacy program at Adobe looks like?

We’ve got about 1000 active employee ambassadors in the program right now and we’re just trying to mobilize them at the corporate level. We want them to fully embrace the corporate narrative and understand what it means to be loud and proud on social media. We want them to tell compelling stories about our value proposition and not just at the product level. So right now, we’re laying the groundwork and treating everyone the same. Over time as we evolve and mature the program, I expect we will do some segmentation, but right now we just want to get them all energized and mobilized.

My team handles the exec social comms for a select set of execs and that’s separate from the employee ambassador program. We do try to integrate them whenever possible. For example, when employees create some great content that’s right in the wheelhouse of the exec, we’ll have the exec retweet or engage with it and that means the world to that employee. It works the other way around too with employees engaging with exec content. We try to make sure there’s as much integration and cross-pollination as possible. We want our employees to be themselves, we want the lines of personal and professional to blur. We not only encourage that, but we expect it, because that’s what really makes our programs unique and helps build employees’ credibility and thought leadership. We’re moving away from employee advocacy 1.0 that tends to be much more employer-centric and moving into employee empowerment, which is so much more focused on the employee.

The way I communicate these messages to our employees is not by telling them but by showing them. We bring in outside speakers, we do personal branding training, we create and ideate on programs that put them front and center. For example, we are working on a roving reporters program where we will have employee ambassadors actually serve as reporters and drive exposure to executives. It will also offer VIP access to certain sessions at conferences that they are being asked to cover. Truly showing them in our actions that we are investing in their personal development and growth and trying whatever we can to accelerate their careers under the umbrella of empowerment, versus just giving a lot of lip service to it.

It’s very much a global program, but obviously I don’t have a counterpart in all of the regions so I’m currently soliciting people in the comms department and trying to package up tool kits, give them the vision and get their input and help to execute the plan. The majority of it is in the US, but the intent is for it to be global because we’re a global company, and that’s the only way this is going to work.

This focus on the employees is the very same recipe that I give to our internal teams in terms of what I believe is the secret sauce to working with influencers. Really lean into ‘what’s in it for them?’ and the value exchange. Over rotate on providing value for the influencer. I just find that this not only makes for an amazing relationship, but the influencers are also so grateful because that’s not the normal m.o. of the brands they’re used to working with. It’s usually about ‘me, me, me, can you post this, can you amplify this, can you write this?’ verses ‘what are you trying to do in the world and how can we leverage this iconic Adobe brand to help build yours?’ I’m incredibly genuine when I say that, and they hear it, feel it and believe it. That just makes for a much deeper relationship.

What activities are you currently partnering with influencers on?

We co-create content with influencers where we quote them, or they might be the interviewer. They will come on our podcast and we will go on theirs. Everything goes both ways, so the influencer might be writing an article that they need an Adobe quote for, so we might give them access to specific experts or executives. Sometimes we bring them in in small groups to be exposed to strategy sessions and product roadmaps to get their feedback. Other ways we engage with them is when we actually bring them to our premier industry events and have them be digital correspondents on the ground, to help us amplify the messaging beyond the 4 walls of the venue. So there’s a myriad of ways that we engage with our influencers.

What value do you feel the influencers have brought you as a brand?

It’s tremendous in terms of giving us that outside-in perspective, giving us access to audiences that we may not normally have, bringing energy to what we’re doing. Sometimes it’s so easy to pontificate and not be able to see the forest from the trees. I can’t stress the importance of that outside-in perspective enough. Then of course it’s that authentic and human voice; it’s that name, personality and face behind the logo that really humanizes the brand.

What business outcomes are you seeking to achieve by working with influencers?

Share of voice and awareness are always that top of funnel KPI that we look for, but also from a business standpoint we’re interested in stickiness. Those authentic voices tend to be so credible that I would say they’ve actually done lead generation for us. There’s a lot of qualitative feedback that talks about the customer retention we’ve been able to garner because of our influencer work.

Trying to convert employees into influencers is not essential, but I certainly will identify them and see which way they might want to contribute. To be a thought leader doesn’t mean you automatically have to be on social, there are many of our thought leaders who are actually quite introverted, and they don’t enjoy being on social. By no means am I trying to twist their arm, but they love being mentors, they love sharing their knowledge and through employee advocacy tools we are able to amplify things externally. Then it becomes an online community where we can have knowledge sharing and have some of these folks shine in a more closed environment. So that’s worked out really nicely for us.

What metrics are you using to measure success?

Volume of mentions, engagements, those are all easy to measure. We also measure brand sentiment. Lead generation is a little harder but we’re focusing on that and customer retention in the future.

What would you say the most common challenges you faced running these programs?

It’s intimacy at scale, we don’t want this to be a cookie cutter transactional thing, so it’s tough. If you think about having a couple of hundred really close, intimate friends, which is how we really like to see our influencers, it’s not easy to keep those relationships going, to constantly feed and nurture them and be present. So I think resourcing is tough.

If there was one piece of advice you would give to an influencer marketing practitioner what would you say to them?

To be deeply invested in that influencer’s success and to be obsessed with helping them achieve that. I often start my discovery conversations with the influencers by finding out what really makes their heart sing, what does success look like to them? I like to think of it as a “give to get” kind of strategy. What is it that I can do to help them get closer to where they want to be? We’ve got a tremendously loyal passionate group of people and they see how very invested we are.