The end of corporate messaging?

Social media continues to change the ways organisations communicate and engage with customers and employees, and those who began work since 2000 – the ‘Millennials’ – use social media as naturally as breathing and expect to use it as much in the workplace as they do in their private lives.

While there can be risks in using these relatively unregulated new media, they represent opportunities to improve employer branding and employee engagement – and can be harnessed to both defend and boost an organisation’s reputation.

A recent survey by Weber Shandwick, Employees rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, found that 56% of respondents “actively defended” their employer, in a world of multiple social platforms where people can also share their likes or dislikes about their work and employer.

“While many employers are fearful their employees will destroy their reputations with one easy click of a social media ‘share’ button, the fact is that we now live in an always-connected-online world that is not going to reverse course,” comment the report’s authors. “For employers, the opportunity and challenge is to embrace this new reality.”

The Weber Shandwick survey found this pays off too. The ‘social encouragement’ of the one-in-three employers who encouraged social media use to share news and information about their organisation were significantly (72%) more likely to boost sales than employers not socially encouraging (48%).

Social media is hardly a fad; back in 2013 it became the most popular activity on the net, and for many younger employees – and all future employees – the dividing lines between work and personal lives are becoming increasingly blurred.

The personal views and opinions of these people have enormous power; they have the ring of truth that an official statement or spokesperson can never hope to achieve. Corporate spin rarely succeeds in social media or blogs. By using the voice of ‘ordinary’ employees, an organisation has a golden opportunity to engage an audience in an authentic and trustworthy way.

Empowering employees – essentially giving them a voice – leads to a more collaborative approach to working (internally and externally with customers or professional networks), better employee engagement and benefits in recruitment.When giving employees a voice it is vital that senior management accepts the benefits of social media and are confident their employees will use it constructively. It’s essential they understand how those benefits relate to their organisation and some hands-on experience of using the various platforms is invaluable in increasing senior management’s understanding of social media capabilities. One approach is to encourage several key staff members to have an active professional online presence. To make authentic connections with the target audience, internally or externally, they must be empowered to express their own personalities and opinions. Another solution is to appoint a social media manager to represent the organisation.

Kate Rose of social media agency Rose McGrory talks of the challenge in helping whoever is representing an organisation online to be confident in finding his or her own voice. “Most importantly, content authored ‘by committee’ just won’t resonate with individual users. Social media are primarily about individual, one-to-one interactions, but with a public dimension.”

Who owns the social media message?

Many organisations encourage their employees to use their individual social media presence to add weight to company messages. The traditional view that the company should own social messages has made way for the view that each staff member is given guidance but it’s the employee and not the organisation who controls the message. If you want employees to take responsibility for their actions and behaviour, you must do the same when it comes to social media.

One solution is to democratise the process. At Randstad, for example, centrally created messages and themes are shared with staff, who are then free to share this, in their own words, with their social networks. Postings are thus more authentic and more likely to be shared.

Employees are expected to update their LinkedIn profiles when they join Randstad and they are also advised to keep professional and personal social media accounts separate.