Macy’s is taking control of its influencer network by recruiting its own store employees and personal stylists as brand ambassadors, rather than enlisting the latest hotshot bloggers.

Beginning earlier this month, employees around the country became eligible to apply to the Macy’s Style Crew program, in which they share promotional posts on their own social media feeds featuring Macy’s products and services. After first starting with a trial period of 20 ambassadors last fall, the program has since expanded to include more than 300 Macy’s employees. These ambassadors share short video clips produced in partnership with Macy’s and the branded video platform Tongal that are designed to showcase the employees’ personal interests, while featuring related products carried by Macy’s in order to drive conversions. For example, a video showing an employee leading a bartending tutorial links out to glassware and other cocktail accessories at Macys.com, while another of an associate hiking in Los Angeles features athletic apparel and sneakers for purchase. Participants are incentivized by receiving a portion of the profit, similar to the way stylists receive a commission on sales at brick-and-mortar Macy’s stores.

According to Cassandra Jones, svp of fashion and digital strategy at Macy’s, Style Crew is part of the company’s push to be viewed as a more fashion and trend-driven retailer with the help of influencer marketing. The program is also part of a larger investment in digital and e-commerce efforts, an important priority for the company as it identifies ways to prevent sliding sales and waning foot traffic in malls. In addition to experimenting with influencer marketing, Macy’s has also improved the user experience of its website, enhanced its mobile app and rolled out a new loyalty program.

A recent Macy’s Style Crew post from an ambassador 

With the Style Crew, Macy’s joins other retail companies like Kate Spade and Everlane that have recently turned to their internal teams to find individuals to act as the face of the brand on social media. In September of last year, for example, Kate Spade featured a general manager from its Madison Avenue store in an unboxing video shared on YouTube and across its social accounts. Similarly, Everlane regularly features its head of social media on its Instagram page, modeling new styles and making announcements.

Though Macy’s has worked with external influencers in various campaigns in the past, tapping internal employees helps cut back on the resources needed to vet potential candidates and curb the rising costs of influencer marketing. By tapping associates that are already on the Macy’s payroll and compensating them based on sales rather than per post, it avoids wasting money on social media stars who later reveal fake followers, require extensive contracts or fail to actually drive sales.

“The big rub on outside influencer marketing is they don’t get the brand. It’s like renting an audience when you can own one,” said Tongal president James DeJulio. “[With Macy’s], you’re taking your own people, and it’s good for them to build their own footprint. But you are also taking people who have Macy’s authority and Macy’s voice. You’re starting to own the asset that you can grow and get behind.”

DeJulio said the goal was to find a way to translate Macy’s most effective in-store sales approaches to a digital format. Because Macy’s in-store stylists often move the most product, thanks in part to being motivated by a commission model, it made sense to replicate this model on social media, he said.

Though neither Macy’s nor Tongal provided specific numbers on sales and commission cuts, DeJulio pointed to one ambassador who sold $15,000 worth of handbags in one week as proof of the format’s success. In addition to sharing the content on the personal channels of the employees, Tongal also helps Macy’s promote the posts in specific regions where the associates work.

“It empowers Macy’s salespeople and stylists with the ability to sell to their own networks,” he said. “It’s taking the idea of commission and turning it into Instagram.”

Image courtesy of Macy’s