Whilst many organisations haven't yet moved away from traditional broadcasting channels entirely, over the past few years we've seen more and more big brands adopting the likes of Yammer and catching onto the idea that nurturing conversations, developed by employees themselves, is the way forward.
But the rise of social media also means that internal communications don't always remain 'internal'. Almost every employee has a personal network of thousands at their fingertips and they're sharing news, stories and opinions about their workplace. Sadly, some organisations have opted to recruit a Facebook police to enforce a strict 'No Facebook ever' rule, but others are approaching this in a completely different way, as the lines between internal and external communications blur.
I'm talking about the handful of companies embracing their employees as external 'ambassadors' of their brand, to communicate from the company in an authentic way. Just as we would with the journalists we want to tell our story, these companies are equipping employees with unique and exciting content for them to share externally.
This was a recurring theme in the CIPR's recent 'The Content Creators' podcast, featuring interviews with Nicola Green, Director of Communications and Reputation at O2, Natasha Gowans, Senior Internal Communications Manager for EMEA at LinkedIn and Holly Bostock, Global Channels Manager for Internal Communications at Heineken International - brands which are "making their communications, everybody's"?.
In the podcast, Natasha Gowans talks about LinkedIn's recent internal comms campaign, 'Bring your Dad to Work Day', where employees brought their parents to work in a bid to help parents understand what their children do. A major factor in this internal campaign was about creating content from the day, designed for employees to share with an external
Nicola Green at O2 explained: "Our employees don't want to share work stuff on their personal Facebook accounts, which we totally get. But they are absolutely comfortable with sharing on LinkedIn and Twitter."?
By understanding their employees and how they communicate, O2 launched its O2 Amp community programme in 2014, its goal being to "leverage the power of our passionate O2 employees to grow our business while also growing your own social influence."?
Taking this idea one step further, much like Nokia's BlogHub and the ASDA Green Room
, Heineken created public-facing space, The Heineken Green Room
, with 'internal' content made by employees for employees, for the entire world to see.
For Heineken, Holly Bostock explains, it's all about advocacy and harnessing the right people across the business to become curators of its internal content. The Heineken Green Room features content that's real, fun and, most importantly, shareable. From video, blogs and real stories, the Green Room is designed to communicate Heineken's world 'from the inside, out'.
However, as with anything, giving employees the power to report and share internal comms externally comes with its own issues and challenges.
Firstly, it's not going to work for all communications. Although complete transparency makes way for greater innovation, in reality some communications will always need to remain 'internal' when it comes to companies sharing confidential information with employees.
And what about small businesses? Equipping employees with the tools to share a brand's message is proving to work for larger organisations with thousands of employees across the world (30 per cent of O2's workforce is currently sharing content from O2 Amp externally), but will smaller businesses be able to justify the investment? Whilst smaller businesses might not benefit from the same volume and social reach, they will still benefit from the authentic voice of its employees, even at a local level, and motivate its workforce at the same time.
I also believe there's still a place for other channels to remain in the mix - face-to-face communications with the senior management is still extremely valuable for many companies, keeping a personal proximity between the board and employees. Saying that, there's nothing stopping an employee tweeting about what their CEO is saying or videoing a conference, which is what this joined up 'ambassador' approach addresses - thinking how these different channels work together.
In this sense there's also an element of trust when it comes to 'inside, out' communications; organisations have to be prepared to be completely transparent and trust that their employees are the right ambassadors. It's about getting things right internally, before you let the outside in.
Brands with a strong organisational culture will find this easier to adopt, as Domino's
found out the hard way in 2009 when two employees in America filmed their unsanitary behaviours in the kitchen.
As with any external communications, having a rock-solid crisis strategy in place is important, in case the worst happens. When an unhappy employee tweeted
about his employer, describing online ticketing agency, StubHub, as a 'stubsucking hell', the brand simply deleted the tweet and the damage was done.
Just as we would with journalists we want to tell our story, O2 seems to have addressed some of these challenges by working extremely hard to educate its employees around social media to be able to communicate on its behalf.
Despite the challenges, this merge in communications has to be considered in all internal comms strategies. So if you haven't thought about it already, ask yourself, how could your employees be telling your story socially?
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