How Much and What Kind of a Relationship Do You Have With Former Employees?

I was excited today reading product news and updates from former coworkers at Exact Software in my Twitter feed.  Without a pause, I retweeted the goodness forward, offered congratulations, chatted about successes, and even engaged in a few insider development jokes with another former employee who was equally fired up. Years have passed since I’ve worked for Exact, yet I’m still an evangelist for the company, the products, the customers and the partners.

I wondered out loud in Twitter if other companies recognize the voices past resources have in social media.  Do organizations actively engage them or include them in their SM marketing strategies?

Rick Ladd stepped in as an unintentional instigator to further define the questions.  Rick shared that he’d suggested further engagement with past employees to leaders in the aerospace industry; an idea shunned by those with an old school, command and control mindset.

Initially, that seemed short-sighted to me, but gradually it became clear that the type of relationship is dependent upon the role of the resource.  Rick recently wrote an opinion piece ‘How Much of Relationship Do Your Customers Actually Want,’ in which he questions marriages of necessity between customers and vendors.

I’d like to flip that around, asking: How Much and What Kind of Relationship Do You Have With Former Employees?

When should you enter into a marriage of convenience or work towards an amicable divorce?

Like Rick, my own perceptions are coloured by my experience with a past employer, but in my case, Exact seems to be doing it right.

A little background on my history with Exact… I started out with Exact a decade ago as an Implementation Consultant, with a brief stint in Dev R&D thrown in for giggles.  After a few years, I left to become a freelance gun-for-hire, working for Exact’s Partners in North America.  Lucky me, that meant I still worked with many of my past customers and coworkers on a daily basis.  Ultimately, this lead to a jump forward working exclusively for a Vendor that developed premium add-ons for Exact’s Synergy line; still in consulting Heaven working with passionate people sharing the same goals.  Ultimately, Exact acquired the partner, the code, and me, which closed the circle, bringing me back under the Exact umbrella, and on the payroll for the acquisition transition period. 

It was the best decade of my career to date.

Which is probably why a corporation doesn’t need to put a lot of thought into strategizing or budgeting time to engage a former employee like me. It flows naturally and the message doesn’t need to be reconfigured or redirected. It’s authentic and true.

 The keynote above is that I was already a forward-facing voice with clients, at trade shows, on forums, and presenting to user groups long before Facebook, Twitter and other SM channels were the norm. The message is the same, there are just new mediums to use for sharing it.

If you’re following along closely, you might have recognized a trend: the people you employed in the past for customer centric positions are still, and will likely always be, facing outwards.  They’re the talkers who already enhance the buzz.  Feed & fuel them with regular doses of useful corporate content.

A different strategy is required for marketing to past resources like Rick’s engineers, (who aren’t the easiest to communicate with at the best of times.  You know it’s true. ;>) These resources aren’t likely ardently active in the same social media channels that the corporation is selling to, yet still hold much value as back-channel voices in their industry.

I would still ‘market’ to these other old job-holders, but I think I’d use the same approach that Exact implemented. Exact NL addressed this by organizing several lunches and parties throughout the year with the specific purpose of bring past resources together with other former, current and new employees.  It’s an opportunity laden with the promise of knowledge sharing (dumping), courting past brains back into the fold, and learning about new technologies and techniques, especially since many of these folks moved on to other partners, vendors or competitors, like I did.

When devising an SCRM plan, it is important to study, listen to and engage with your past employees, asking these questions:

  • Who is their audience?
  • Are they part of your target community?
  • What are they passionate about?
  • Are they forward-facing or active in peripheral industry/development channels?
  • How influential is their voice with customers?
  • Would they recommend you as an employer?

It is always about the audience and their influence, isn’t it?

Do you think engaging with past employees is valuable?  Would you include marketing to your past resources in your planning?

(Updated to include Rick Ladd’s insightful response:
Companies Should Pay Attention to Former Employees  )


10 thoughts on “How Much and What Kind of a Relationship Do You Have With Former Employees?

  1. nice post Kelly. I agree with you that once you have a good relation with your colleagues in a company, that shouldn’t have to stop once you decide to move to another opportunity, joining another company. The BBQ’s that Exact organizes for its former employees, are always a very joyful event, people in the IT business sharing their thoughts and interests, recalling the fun time they had together. Does this lead to direct revenue or measurable results? For sure not, but it’s not an exception that new leads, cooperations or ways of addressing a business problem are a result of such events. besides that, it’s a lot of fun. I’m quite surprised so little companies do this or actively promote it.

  2. I am surprised more companies don’t promote it, too. Which is why I wanted to float the idea out there. I think more companies need to understand the intangible benefits that come with continued relationships with former resources. do they stop being resources the minute they leave the organization?

    I don’t think so.

  3. […] with on Twitter a friend) Kelly Kraft (@KRCraft) posted a blog asking the question “How much and what kind of a relationship do you have with former employees?” Her experience is much different than mine, though I think her conclusions make perfect […]

  4. Hi Kelly – A point I didn’t make in my blog post (see pingback), is that I spent over two decades at my last job. Many of the people I worked with I think of as family, not merely co-workers. I attended weddings (officiated at more than a couple as well), funerals, and other celebrations with dozens of my former colleagues and continue to stay in touch with them through Facebook and email. The company, however, does very little other than to have an occasional affair for people who were there far longer than I. I’m glad you brought this up. It dovetails with other issues I think need addressing, e.g. using social media inside the firewall to connect current colleagues (E2.0) – an ongoing passion of mine. Thanks.

  5. Indeed nice post, Kelly.

    Ironically since traditional HR is often uncomfortable with social technologies, former employee relationship (FER) is often zero.

    In modern companies like Exact the social relationship is extended through an Alumni network. Social media technologies can sustain the FER network.

    I think few companies promote FER because support functions like HR and IT are not aligned with the commercial benefits of social networking systems used in other functions.

    Enjoyed my time with Exact.

    • Clive,

      Nice to here from you, Sir.

      I hadn’t realized that FER was an acronym, but it makes sense. Perhaps we have to be ambassadors to push it forward?

      Additional thanks for tweaking another thought for me tonight: Why is it that Alumni networks are so prevalent in learning institutions, but not as common in tech or other industries? Yet, there are disctinct similarities in that both are tightly knit communities who host avid R&D followers? Closeness woven in the trenches.

      I’d love to see a great use case study of the commercial benefits of social networking by past employees. This is one example of input without study:

  6. Dear Kelly:
    If you are indeed the Kelly I knew some 30 years ago. Bob doesn’t translate well in Japanese so I go by my middle name the past 21 years living here in Japan. Self-employed with a silk and tea farm and a school.
    Spend some time each year working in ethnic minority villages in north Laos. I haven’t spent much time in Canada. Still very close friends with Ingrid M after all these years. If you are the Kelly I think you are and you remember me. Please drop me a line.


    • Bob!

      What an exciting adventure you’ve been living. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your travels – and wondering about Ingrid M. I hope she also has news of Ingrid S. and the rest of the crew.

      I’m stunned you’ve found me after all of these *decades*. I recall those days quite fondly. I’m off to drop you a line.


  7. […] How Much and What Kind of a Relationship Do You Have With Former Employees? « Thoughtelf’s Bl… […]

  8. […] is a teenhood friend who resurfaced in my life via my blog to my surprised delight, after many years out of touch. During the intervening years, he enjoyed […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s