For years, people have praised or panned businesses on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and countless other social media, but other than the occasional oblique rave or sideswipe, individual employees have been largely out of the loop.
We&Co, an iPhone app soft-launched last month by some current and former packaged-goods marketers, aims to change that . Built on the Foursquare API, it lets customers click to provide thanks to service employees individually by name (albeit not full name and with profile photos optional).
Since the profiles are portable from job to job or among current jobs, We&Co has the potential of letting service employees build their personal brands like never before. Of course, it will have to get bigger than the 6,000 users signed up in its first month, but it does have some substantial marketing experience behind it and plans to get another 100,000 downloads in the next few months.
Atlanta-based BeDo, the company behind We&Co, is a social-innovation firm founded by former Coca-Cola Co. marketer and current Unilever Senior VP-Marketing Marc Mathieu. He remains chairman following his appointment to the Unilever post earlier this year, but isn't involved in day-to-day operations, said Ryan MacRay Jones, another BeDo co-founder.
Mr. Jones hails from Unilever rival P&G, where the West Point graduate most recently worked in marketing on the company's Geneva-based prestige-beauty business and led global prestige beauty e-commerce efforts.
With We&Co, it's never been easier to say "thank you" to a service employee, other than, well, saying "thank you," or forking over a big tip. We&Co isn't meant to replace either of those things, Mr. Jones said, but just to provide some better ways of keeping tabs on who gets thanked the most -- and who's thanking them. That creates the potential for customers to extend their social-media influence to favored service workers.
"I was excited about the idea of creating a service that could help service employees," said Mr. Jones on his move earlier this year from P&G to work on We&Co. "We worked with beauty consultants in the prestige-beauty business, and it's tough to be a salesperson on the ground."
As with the Facebook "like" and the LinkedIn recommendation, the We&Co "thank you" has no opposite. The idea is to focus on positive reinforcement, and the employee who gets the most thanks at an establishment becomes "The Boss."
A web version that will make it easier for employees to create their own profiles should be available next month, and the company is working on developing an Android version, Mr. Jones said.
Besides building their brands, of course, service workers could also help attract stalkers on We&Co. But Mr. Jones points out that 's a risk inherent in all social media, including Facebook and Twitter.