A research project conducted by one of our partners (Dawson Walker Communications) reveals that 84% of organisations surveyed have a social media policy in place. Perhaps not surprising given the horror stories in the aftermath of some employees’ ill-conceived posts. More than a third of our respondents also knew of disciplinary action that their organisation had taken against individuals for their social media misdemeanours. So what have these miscreants been up to? Well we discovered some eye watering examples such as unsavoury extra pizza toppings that the “jokers” added via Youtube and the investment banker who became so hated by a nation he had to leave the country. These stories and the others we have found send even the most trusting of organisations into a policy making spin. 

Only 11% of organisations encourage social advocacy 

In the same survey Dawson Walker asked participants whether they had any rewards in place for individuals’ positive social media performance. You see we’re very interested in the power of people to channel messages about the organisation they work for. But only 11% had any evidence or knowledge of their organisation recognising positive behaviour - and yet these are the same organisations that probably pay commission to their sales-force or bonus managers for business performance. 

Boston Consulting partners - Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman (Havard Business Review) - say: 

“Simply put, companies are most productive when they harness — not hobble — the intelligence of their employees.  Six simple rules help managers get beyond the shackles of the “hard” and “soft” management approaches we’ve inherited from our forefathers:

  1. Understand what your people do:  Start with a true understanding of what your people do and why they do it.
  2. Reinforce integrators: Foster cooperation by giving people the power and interest to do so.
  3. Increase the total quantity of power: Create new power, don’t just shift existing power.
  4. Increase reciprocity: Ensure people use their autonomy.
  5. Extend the shadow of the future: Create direct feedback loops.
  6. Reward those who cooperate:  Make transparency, innovation, and aspiration the best choices for individuals and teams.”

Harnessing the power of your employees

We explored this further in a workshop “Harnessing the power of your employees” where one of the delegates recalled how a defamatory post about their works canteen was quickly over-run with positive supporters of the in house cuisine. Here patience (on behalf of the media monitors and chefs) clearly was a virtue, and the fact that other employees were active social media users an important factor. Increasingly people are using the power of their individual and combined voices to dramatic effect. Brendan Eich was forced to resign after only 11 days as CEO at Mozilla despite his unquestionable technical heritage (he invented Javascript). Here the power of social media encouraged 70,000 people to sign a petition calling for his resignation because of his view on gay marriage. 

In the “Dawson Walker Communications Influence Index”, we were astonished to discover that 44% of the senior internal communications professionals we surveyed said that under half of their colleagues understood their brand values. On the face of it this would seem to be an admission of failure on their behalf - given that brand values would surely be an important subject to communicate internally. Most people would know me as a “glass half full” type of person and so perhaps I should be celebrating the fact that 56% of respondents are confident that the majority of their colleagues understand their brand values. But even my rose tinted specs cannot enhance this failure - as my Headmaster, Slobbo, regularly also used to say to me - “I’m appalled”. 

Will we terrify employees into silence?

So back to the conundrum: should we incentivise brand advocacy by our employees? If we do, will that encourage synthetic communications that are unbelievable and although oozing with positivity will actually detract from the authentic brand? We found an over-enthusiastic example of this where some very complimentary “customer style” comments about a new model of car were exposed by readers who recognised that it was indeed the sales manager of the car company posting them himself. On the other hand if we continue to use more stick and less carrot will we terrify employees into silence? We regularly hear that organisations struggle to engage with employees and that internal communications channels are under-used. 

We’d like to explore ways of encouraging genuine advocacy via your first and arguably your most important channel to reach your customers and external stakeholders - thus harnessing the power of your employees.

Adam Winterton 03 December 2015