Your workforce is your sales force, your PR department, your Reputation Management Group, your Brand Managers, your Advocacy Group. It may be obvious, but many companies still spend fortunes on External Communications programmes that simply don’t click with the internal ‘employee engagement’. And what about employees and social media?
A recent report by the consulting firm Weber Shandwick shows that, in a sample of 2300 employees, a third of them posted messages about the company. 16% of those were negative. It may sound like a small proportion, but any negative can spread virally very quickly. It will take far less than a 16% to spread.
The study defines an employee activist as ‘an individual who draws visibility to their workplace, defends their employers from criticism and acts as advocate, both online and off’. This is a common use of the word ‘activist’ in the organization, which I personally dislike because (1) its mainly focused on the outside world (advocacy of the company) and (2) it’s mainly defensive. Our use of the term ‘activist’ in our Viral Change programmes has nothing to do with this. Activists for us are employees who take a voluntary role of shaping a culture through peer-to-peer conversations and actions, focused on a specific, small set of behaviors.
Externally, employees can be advocates, for sure. The question is how the company is actively supporting or not, this external (social) interaction. According to the study, about half of the employers in the survey provided tools and/or content for employees to use in the social media activity; and about one third allowed use of social media tools at work.
A 2008 book by David Brain and Martin Thomas, entitled ‘Crowd Surfing’, described the 180 degrees difference between Microsoft (blogging promoted, encouraged and ‘un-managed) and Apple (blogging forbidden). Companies today, six years later, are more in the Microsoft side than in the Soviet style.
Today, branding, reputation, employee engagement, digital (social) strategies, external communications, internal communication, PR, and corporate affairs (just a small list) is one single thing. It’s all blurred. Unfortunately, each of the above has its own department and tribe, which focus their attention towards solving the dilemma ‘my role, your role’.
Branding today is behavioural, or it isn’t. Its about the collective behavioural DNA. This is what people see and live. Branding is not a set of colour and shape guidelines. PR is not broadcasting. All these ‘functions’ need to go back to the drawing board and define ‘their department’ as the one composed by everybody in the payroll and beyond (supliers, advisors, alliances). The ones in those functions who understand this, will have a great time re-inventing. The ones who don’t, will become redundant.