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Social networkers defending, destroying brands

EMPLOYEES are increasingly turning to social networks to vent their frustrations emanating from the workplace.

The Human Capital Telescope with Brett Chulu

Voiceless employees seem to have suddenly plugged into the immense power of social networks, tainting corporate brands with careless comments, at times, deliberately so, to get back at their ex-employers.

This unfolding trend poses a new challenge for public relations and other traditional brand management professionals – they simply have no power to control what current and ex-employees say about their corporate brands.

At the same time, human resources professionals are too steeped in administrative matters to even see the gravity of the reputational risk posed by disgruntled but cyber-empowered employees.

To mitigate the reputational risk emanating from social networks, businesses can leverage on three emerging practices.

A new phenomenon called HR marketing is emerging. HR marketing is built on the idea that satisfied employees can be proactively encouraged to take to social networks, spreading positive messages about their corporate brands.

Harnessing and directing the power of cyber-empowered employees needs both marketing and strategic human resources savvy.

An end-to-end view of the brand-building process is now a must—the artificial disconnect between HR and marketing needs revisiting.

What marketers refer to as the brand is what strategic HR calls culture.

A brand is simply what an organisation is good at and well-known for, not just by its customers, but also by regulators, financial markets and social communities.

This is precisely what culture is. If your business has a poor culture, it doesn’t matter how brilliant your advertising agency’s copywriting and image-creation capabilities are, these will not efface the truth that your brand is weak.

Spin-doctoring just doesn’t cut it in anymore in our information age—if your business has a culture of poor customer service, the loftiest and most sublime words will not conjure up good customer service.

Simple logic dictates that the business should instead, as a point of departure, pull at all stops to change the mindset of its employees. Effective brand- messaging is always built on the substance of a well-entrenched internal employee culture.

What your employees deliver consistently on a daily basis and summed over time is your culture or brand. Does it not then make sense for corporates to seriously invest in strengthening their business’s cultural engineering capabilities?

When your business has a poor culture it frustrates employees. Unfortunately, many organisations have not yet established systems that allow employees to let off pent up feelings.

Social networks are the new outlet through which employees are piping out their emotional steam.

Strategic HR needs to establish innovative systems and practices to tap into both the joys and complaints of employees before they find their way on to Twitter and Facebook.

Brand management professionals know that when you find yourself in a reactive mode you just know you are losing the game.

With regards to corporate brand management, your business can establish its own internal social network for three purposes.
First, you could use your internal social network to regularly measure the pulse of your organisation.

Though it is highly likely that in low-trust environments, employees may be less open and candid in their communications fearing that some ‘Big Brother’ is watching, savvy internal communication experts can dig beneath the surface of light conversations to unearth trends and challenges.

On-line surveys can be regularly conducted to track key performance measures such as employee satisfaction and employee engagement.

Information on employee satisfaction and engagement can be used to predict industrial conflicts.

Allowing employees to voice out their concerns inside the organisation can help minimise the urge to wash a corporate’s dirty linen in public.

Second, your internal social network could be used to clarify positions and clear misunderstandings emanating from half-truths and misinformation.

By so doing, employees themselves can take to public social networking sphere in defence of the organisation. Well-informed employees can be turned into a mighty army of brand defenders and proactive brand ambassadors.

Third, your internal social network can be used to update employees on key developments in the organisation.

However, for those companies listed on the stock exchange great caution needs to be exercised to avoid stepping into insider information territory.

With the help of a legal advisor, information to be released could be screened for legal risks.

A phenomenon that is gaining popularity that a number of business leaders may not be aware of are websites where current and ex-employees supply information about you as an employer. One such website is www.glassdoor.com.

I have seen at least one review of a Zimbabwean company which has received evaluation from ex-employees on the glassdoor website. As Zimbabwe recovers economically and talent wars intensify, employee testimonial websites such as these will become a key reference point for prospective employees.

Their initial impressions about your brand as company may be built on the information supplied by those who have worked for you before.

This kind of turns the tables on employers—it’s employers who love making reference checks—now prospective employees do a reference check on you on reputable employee testimonial websites.

There is no reason why prospective shareholders and other providers of financial capital will not find it attractive to visit these websites to get a peek into your working environment and employer relations. They may form strong impressions about how strong your employer brand is, using this to gauge your ability to attract and retain critical talent.

Reflect on it
Employees now have the power to build or taint brands using the power of social networks. That power can be harnessed to a business’s advantage.

Chulu is a strategic HR consultant who is pioneering innovative strategic HR practices in listed and unlisted companies in Zimbabwe — brettchulu@consultant.com

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