Companies Should Embrace Internal Social Engagement

Using social media inside a company can help turbo-charge a brand

By Andreas Panayi

I am witnessing more and more senior leaders within large companies finally come to terms with how much more direct influence employees can play in helping to preserve and advance the sentiment of a company’s brand and enterprise-wide value.

I am sure critics of the statement above will say this has always been the case. Yes, although companies have always known their employees play a role in shaping the sentiment around a brand, some companies are now embracing the fact. A few of them are actually going out of their way to support and nurture these internal ambassadors because their voices just got louder and their access to the “outside world” just got even more direct through Social Media channels.

Because of this, it’s increasingly important that organizations have more than a set of
off-the-shelf guidelines to help employees (senior management included) deliver a consistent “social” brand experience that aligns with consumer expectations. Smart companies are recognizing there’s no better way to do this than to tap into the same digital technology we all use to share our thoughts and ideas with friends and neighbors. We will witness more leading companies leveraging social networking, Twitter, texting and other open communication channels inside the company to help shape external brand perceptions and sentiments

Why this change? The Social Web, or “Collaborative Web” as we like to call it, is transforming how senior leadership within organizations listen and learn through social technologies. Company intranets are no longer the only content destinations that organizations and their employees “share” within the confines of the internal structures. We now have blogs, Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, YouTube, and many others that have yet to arrive. But participating and listening online is not about cool technology, it’s about engaging with employees and hearing what people that make up the company and drive the brand have to say.

When senior leadership previously stated in staff meetings, vision statements, annual reports and earnings press releases that employees are their ‘number one asset and consideration’, we are finally beginning to see real activity around this statement. Of course the flip-side of ‘number one asset’ is unthinkable – ‘number one liability’; senior management is also seeing the possibilities of assets turning into liabilities with access to tools and public forums that can create distractions, and even end up causing large-scale problems with negative effects on the brand and consumer perceptions.

While I think about where we are today and how we arrived here, I remember back to when I shifted my carrier from general advertising to what was referenced as the ‘information super highway’. Usually, when you go back in history, you can predict the future, so I searched deep and found this great line that was thrown at me at the end of one of my very first ‘new media’ presentations.

It was the very early 1990’s and the public side of the “information highway” was just starting to push its way into high-level discussions at companies, such as the one I was pitching  development of a “web page” to. The audience was seven men and three women executives, averaging in age around 50 years young.

I finished what I believed was a fabulous presentation and the audience was mesmerized; I had them all speechless. I was 26 and on fire, blazing down the ‘information super highway’ doing 120. That is until the guy sitting at the head of the table looked up, zeroed into my eyes and said – in a very authoritative voice with a hinge of sarcasm – “We’re going to slow this project down because this highway is going to hit a dead-end before I retire.” Needles to say, my presentation was a bit ahead of its time for this gentleman, as I am sure he is retired today and the super highway is still going strong.

As a matter of fact, the highway now has multiple lanes – all four-way streets with new exit and entry ramps that can drive you crazy. The highway is now more collaborative and complex than ever.

So, the moral of this history lesson is that senior leaders who thought they will retire before they actually need to embrace the fact that the Collaborative Web is transforming internal communications into business-critical brand assets – or liabilities – may want to re-consider their retirement plans. Emerging communications tactics, alongside the Collaborative Web, have entered the halls of companies and have finally placed much deserved urgency and emphasis on strategic internal employee communications.

What kind of leader are you? Are you a driver or passenger in today’s  internal communications landscape?

Check out this article from PR Week: “Dell goes mobile to bolster its employee engagement.”

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