Corporations are embracing social media as a valuable tool for employee-facing communications and turning staffers into brand advocates. But that strategy is not without risk.
“The use of social media is exploding for internal communications, not just for the purposes of communicating, but to accelerate [employee] ambassadorship,” says Bob Feldman, founding partner of PulsePoint Group.
He adds that social media allows internal communications initiatives to be viewed externally. Because that information is shared by colleagues and friends, it is more credible and more likely to be read by others. Therefore, social media-savvy employees can act as credible brand advocates.
“I subscribe to the feeling that employees have always been brand ambassadors and [social media] gives them one more outlet to share stories,” explains Laura Kane, VP of corporate communications at Aflac. She notes that during her company's recent campaign starring its injured duck mascot, employees and agents engaged consumer well-wishers on social media.
“It gives us the ability to publicly praise employees for doing a good job,” adds Kane.
However, this opportunity also requires companies to establish guidelines for employees' social media use. Because social media networks from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn give them the opportunity to share photos, content, and personal information, companies are addressing employees' actions on social media. Some have even taken action against staffers who have posted inappropriate or negative work-related comments, sometimes with grounds for termination.
A recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that said workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, even on social media, has put the issue back in the spotlight.
With this in mind, corporations are encouraging self-policing or peer-to-peer policing.
“We do policing of inappropriate sites, but, by and large, we allow our employees access to a lot of social media and we just ask them to be responsible,” notes Nicholas Ashooh, global VP of corporate affairs at Alcoa.
Kane adds that while companies have included social media in their policies, experts have cautioned that staffers should err on the side of common sense.
“We try to go with the common sense approach, but to try to figure out every possible situation can be somewhat taxing,” says Kane. “We have a policy, but it ends in short with ‘use common sense.' [Social media] keeps evolving, and you have to keep evolving your policy as well, so we try to keep it at the basic level.”
Despite pitfalls, industry leaders told PRWeek that they also recognize the opportunity for innovation on social media, from using them to reach employees and include them in conversations to building their own platforms.
Alcoa uses Yammer to encourage internal interaction between employees and discussion for business purposes, but it is also a place for employees to exchange ideas, solve problems, and help colleagues around the world interact with each other, explained Ashooh.
There's some social chatter, as well, but “that's a healthy thing,” he notes.
Rebecca Lowell Edwards, director of employee communications at GE corporate communications, says her company has an internal digital network called Colab that lets employees build communities and share information from thought leadership to workplace photos.
“I think it's a tremendous demonstration of the capability to look in-house, to stay current, and meet commitments,” she says.
However, Patrick Chaupham, SVP of Weber Shandwick's technology innovation practice, cautions that brands need to start with engagement before building out internal platforms.
“Over the last three to four years, as we've worked with brands on internal communications and employee engagement, a lot of times the conversation starts with building the platform first, but ultimately brands don't realize the complexities of employee engagement,” explains Chaupham. “The conversation needs to be reshifted to foster the vision of the organization.”
He adds that social media can help a company shift its culture to one that fosters employee engagement.
“The mainstream corporate photos have transitioned to more personalized content for employees to get to know each other,” notes Chaupham.