Magazine article Communication World

Power Up Your Internal Brand: With Social Media, Employees Hold Your Company's Image in Their Hands

Magazine article Communication World

Power Up Your Internal Brand: With Social Media, Employees Hold Your Company's Image in Their Hands

Article excerpt

In Poland last year, a young waiter at a popular chain restaurant offered a free sample of soup to a customer. Unfortunately for him, a manager at the restaurant's parent company was sitting at an adjacent table, and he fired the waiter immediately on charges of theft. Frustrated, the waiter described the incident on the Internet, and his letter quickly became a hit on wykop.pl, a social news website similar to digg.com. The story made it to the main page of one of the biggest news portals in Poland, gazeta.pl, and received almost 600 comments, mostly unfavorable to the restaurant and its owners.

This is just one example of how, more than ever before in history, employees can broadcast their opinions about their workplaces to the outside world. Recognizing the potential impact on their reputation, many companies are initiating PR efforts aimed at building a positive image of themselves as an employer. Yet, because neither internal PR departments nor representatives of the traditional media have control over opinions expressed in social media, these initiatives often yield poor results.

But companies need not surrender. In fact, they can transfer the responsibility of reputation management to employees by building their organizational culture and developing employee engagement based on understanding and dialogue. When they do, such growing transparency is less a threat to an organization's reputation and more an opportunity to create a coherent and authentic image.

Sharing control over messages

New media are developing quickly, and new forms of communication are continually emerging. The development of tools like Facebook points to the growing importance of the Internet, the democratization of information production, and the power of information exchange between network users.

In the July-August 2011 issue of I0 Management, Klemens Skibicki, professor of economics, marketing and market research at Cologne Business School in Germany, noted, "In the past few years mass media...have become ignored by Internet users. Never before could you generate media content without any control of selected bodies, distribute it everywhere and search for it. YouTube is an individually controlled TV broadcaster, where everyone decides what he would like to show to others or what he would like to see. The role of editors as gatekeepers, who can decide for [the] masses what they can watch, is currently out of date."

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Corporate communication is still trying to find its place in this new world. The transition from traditional PR, focused on creating press releases and building relationships with journalists, to communication management in a more dispersed social media environment, is mainly based on the integration of new communication solutions into a company's marketing mix. It is also common to create systems in order to monitor what is happening on the Internet and, in case of any possible problems, to enable quick reaction to them.

Regardless of the actions taken, building a good corporate image is much harder now. Those working in corporate communication have an (accurate) impression of losing control over the company's external image.

Growing transparency

Let's say it straight: A lot of corporate communication efforts aim to maintain the curtain between the external world and the reality experienced internally by the company's employees. Such positive image building is a titanic work. First, an image, often detached from reality, is created. Then any imperfections are glossed over. The rules for media relations are set and executed. Employee communication takes on the characteristics of propaganda, because communication professionals must keep in mind that any communications may eventually leak out.

Communication policy today should recognize that hiding any inconsistency between outside and inside life is impossible. …

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