Social media has completely transformed the level of influence that one person, or one employee, can have on the reputation of a business. Last Christmas Sainsbury’s multi-million pound festive advert was hacked by a tweet from a disgruntled employee who pointed out the double standard of celebrating family at Christmas time while requiring employees to work.
At the other end of the spectrum, the flurry of “life at” hashtags on social media (#LifeatLoreal, #LifeatSky, #LifatIHG) reveals that a lot of companies are starting to encourage their employees to promote their corporate brand by sharing their photos and experiences online.
For better or worse, the rules of the game have changed. It is clear that the way businesses and organisations engage their employees must also change. The convergence of internal and external channels is a reality, and consistent, integrated messaging is essential.
Portland’s Research and Insights team looked at the concept and relevance of employee advocacy in more detail. We surveyed over 2,000 employees across all sectors in the UK and the US and included a range of organisations which had over 50 employees.
Our research identified strikingly different stages of the relationship between employee and employer. Some employees lack detailed knowledge of their organisations, others don’t feel enabled, and others still do not have access to the tools to share news or speak about their company externally.
Over 80% of people are proud of the company they work for and, crucially, they are prepared to speak positively about it. However, interestingly, only 5% of employees share news on social media – and most could not record when they last posted any content on social media which related to their organisation.
So, how can employers encourage advocacy? Portland hosted a breakfast panel, chaired by Alastair Campbell with Maxine Kohn (Global Head of Culture at Google), Hugh Elliott (Director of Communications at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and Sasha Watson (Employee Communications & CSR Senior Director at ARM). The discussion revolved around how to empower employees through workplace culture, moving away from top-down communications. Employers must let go of central control and accept the risks inherent in encouraging employee advocacy. Organisations also need to be aware of the effect of external news on internal sentiment.
There is enormous potential in harnessing employees’ voices to support the objectives of your organisation. However organisations must also be aware that disengaged employees have more ability than ever to cause reputational harm. This is the new reality for Chief Executives and Heads of HR and Communications.
Portland’s specialist Engagement team advises clients on their engagement and internal communications strategies and we constantly strive to ensure internal and external worlds are seamlessly connected.
It is no longer possible to distinguish between external and internal communications. The role of employees as spokespeople and public representatives of their organisation is set to grow. Organisations need to design and deliver integrated communication strategies that respond to employee expectations and lead them on the path to advocacy. One thing is clear. In today’s world of 24 hour news, social media and constant connectivity – where everyone has a global voice– effective employee engagement is no longer a nice-to-have luxury. It’s a must-have necessity.