Roope Heinilä is the Co-Founder and CEO of Smarp, an employee communication SaaS provider based in Helsinki, Finland.
Smarp’s core business is in enabling organizations to harness the power of their workforce on social media. The company’s products and services allow its clients to leverage the collective power of their team members’ personal networks for functions such as content promotion, thought leadership, sales and employer branding.
The company’s platform launched in 2013 with the goal of keeping employees informed on what is going on in their industry and company, while empowering them to become brand ambassadors on social media.
The company has achieved impressive growth since its inception, boasting a client base of hundreds of organizations based around the world. Its recent Series A funding round, which closed in May to the tune of €4.2 million, will support its ambitious expansion plans, which include R&D and recruitment, while expanding its offices in Europe and North America.
Roope has come a long way since 2011, when he started Smarp in his living room with two university classmates. His passions lie in knowledge sharing, personal branding and employer branding.
What are the biggest challenges that companies face when implementing an employee advocacy program?
Roope Heinilä: The biggest challenge is always getting the employees engaged in the program. This has to start with creating an informed and aligned workforce excited about becoming brand ambassadors.
The next step is to clearly communicate what value employee advocacy brings to the individual employee, and, how it will help them professionally, while it boosts the company’s brand. If these steps are done correctly, running the program will be much easier.
Do brand ambassadors actually help employers? What types of benefits do companies using your technology generally see?
Roope Heinilä: Your employees are your most valuable asset. They should also be your biggest fans, and have a vested interest in the success of your company. Any employee advocacy program should start with an employees-first philosophy, meaning that if employees see personal benefits from participating, the company benefits come automatically.
The main benefit companies see is the increased authenticity, reach, and engagement, as employees are considered more trustworthy than companies, and their networks are usually 10 times larger than the company following.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on your quest to take Smarp into the global arena?
Roope Heinilä: Understanding that in order to succeed, you must focus on the team. And that success is the result of having a great culture, a great team, and a great vision.
The most important part is communication, and no matter what the starting point is, that is something that can always be improved. As we have grown from a two-person startup to a 60-plus person growth company, it has become apparent that the more the company grows, the more challenging communication becomes – and we must continue to develop new methods to improve it.
In your experience, do today’s business leaders generally see social media as an opportunity or a threat?
Roope Heinilä: In the past few years, we have seen a major shift in how business leaders perceive social media. When we started with our business in 2011, almost all leaders saw it more as a threat. Today, this is the complete opposite: leaders see that being active and engaging your stakeholders in two-way conversations in social media is business-critical.
The way businesses understand social today is that they have two options. They can be active and participate in the conversation, or they can be inactive – but in that case, the conversation will happen anyway, and they just won’t have the ability to influence it.
What differentiates a good employer from a great employer?
Roope Heinilä: Business leaders today need to understand that the company is the sum of its employees, not the other way around.
The companies that understand this will thrive and be great employers, while the ones that think of employees only as a necessary resource will inevitably face difficulties. This starts with hiring the right people and continues with making sure they are both engaged and aligned with the company vision and values.
Every company is unique, and no company can be the right place for every single person. So it is extremely important that before hiring, the company is transparent about the vision and culture they strive for. This way the company can be sure that the interests of the individual employee are aligned with the interests of the company.
What’s your favorite example of successful personal branding?
Roope Heinilä: The first person that comes to mind is Richard Branson. He has been extremely successful in tying his own brand to the Virgin brand and in tying the values of the two together.
I consider this type of strategy to be one of the core factors behind the success of the brand, because most of us identify better with a person than with a company or a brand.
Can marketing that originates from an enterprise brand really come off as authentic, even when using internal influencers?
Roope Heinilä: The key here is actually being authentic in the first place.
Companies need to be willing to give up some control in exchange for the benefits of greater authenticity. The messages from employees should be based on their own words and opinions while reflecting what the brand is about.
This way it works, and at Smarp we’ve seen it in action. It’s proven by our customers. Time after time, we see in the data that when employees create messages for social media, they generate much more engagement than company posts.