Social Media and Employees

The pizza topping jokers, eyebrow raising CEO and hated investment banker could have been your brand ambassadors.

In our recent research project that has become known as the "Dawson Walker Communication Influence Index" we discovered that 84% of our respondents 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 (this is likely to be an under-stated number given the confidential nature of such cases). 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, the body beautiful CEO who raised eyebrows 6 years ago and it’s only just come back to bite him 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.

So we’re probably all in accordance – the policy needs to be in place. How that is presented and communicated is another matter – a very important one but I’m not going to explore that here because I think there’s a bigger more intrinsic issue to be discussed. In the same survey we 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.

Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman said,

Simply put, companies are most productive when they harness — not hobble — the intelligence of their employees.

The two Boston Consulting professionals suggest there are 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.

When it comes to unacceptable social media behaviour most organisations and indeed the networks themselves often trust in self-policing rather than intervention. A compelling example of this is alluded to earlier in this piece – you can just search on Google for Anton Casey, and you will quickly find the story itself. But more prosaically in a recent workshop (12 March 2014) that we facilitated “Harnessing the power of your employees” 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.

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.

Or can we 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?

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