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Terri Brown

Terri Brown

Terri Brown is the Founding Director of Actuate specialists in internal marketing / communications and employee engagement.

Website URL: http://www.actuate.co.za

Why the CEO needs to get social

Tuesday, 17 July 2012 00:00 Published in PR & Communications
Why the CEO needs to get social

There was a time a few years ago, when talk was all about the ‘democratisation’ of information –wider access that new technology was sure to deliver. Well, that time is here. Social media has democratised information.

What does this mean? It means that in the past some people (usually figures of authority) had information and others didn’t. Those who had information – or access to information – had more power than those who didn’t.

In the corporate world, this meant that the CEO (and the executive team) used to have access to a bigger volume of credible information, more quickly that anyone else. They also had absolute control over what was disseminated and when it was done.

But social media has made the information pyramid much flatter – we can easily access information about companies, competitors or the broader industry from a variety of sources. We hear everything from rumours to analysis on social media. Twitter-savvy staff can communicate with journalists or even the CEO’s of rival companies to solicit opinion. All of this means that employees are far more independent thinkers and are less likely to be accepting of what the executive team says. It also means that the CEO has to be more responsive, act more quickly and be more authentic in communicating a message – or risk completely losing influence over key stakeholders including employees.

The biggest issue is, of course, that there is now no place to hide. The CEO has to build trust and be brave enough to be transparent because he is up against a medium that has a natural credibility that CEO’s don’t always enjoy.

So, most employees understand that the CEO has an agenda. He is incentivised to persuade you of his beliefs and goals whilst social media can be agenda-less or can aggregate views, beliefs and agendas of lots of people - creating a more balanced view.

Likewise, employees often feel that they can’t identify with the CEO. The conversation in their heads goes: “He is (usually) not like me – in education, generation, social position, etc. I can’t identify with him. I can identify with and trust sources/people who are like me. They get me. And these are the people who I speak to on social media.”

And whilst the CEO has a sense of authority that has worked in the past – these days it’s the opposite. Employees feel that executive management ‘speaks down’ to them whereas mediums like Facebook are on the same level, speak a common language and give employees a chance to express their views.

Therefore, while the CEO may with every good intention, make a formal announcement to staff – the chances of him being believed as a credible source and the chances of him being able to change behaviour is much slimmer than in the past.

This means that the CEO, if he wants to be effective, has to broaden his communication style – embracing new ideas that boost credibility and authenticity. This might mean using mediums such as ‘Twitter’ which is timely and appears more ‘genuine’ – less structured. It also gives the CEO the opportunity to respond to the comments of employees, etc and to invite their participation.

But these principles are not limited to social media. More informal, personal conversations with employees – whether in the corridors or in chatrooms – inspires confidence and trust. The rule of thumb is less mediated, structured, published communication and more spontaneous, short, sharp interactions.

In summary, today’s CEO should strive to engage employees in conversation rather than speak at them. And the only way to build trust and engage employees – is to opt for more unmediated communication than in the past. The alternative is to battle against all the other sources of communication out there for the employee ‘vote.’

Internal Marketing Campaigns: Can You Put A Number To It?

Can we create a measure for internal marketing campaigns? That’s the eternal question and it still remains pretty tricky. However, the evolution of the discipline and access to technology by employees has made measurement more possible, if not easier.

Where measurement becomes tricksy is in separating out the variables that impact on the campaign or programme, not unlike above-the-line or direct marketing, but maybe a little more difficult because of the sheer number of internal issues affecting employees attitudes, perceptions and behaviours.

If what you want is to identify and separate the factors that influence the outcome of a campaign and to determine whether the results you got were because of something you did or because of something someone else did – then there is only one way to do it. You would have to go through the laborious and costly process of controlled studies – which is impossible to do for every internal marketing campaign. So, you would need to decide about what is realistically measurable.

These would include:

a) Efficiency of channel: Did your message get to the right people at the right time?

For example: what were the results of using new media rather than traditional media. How far into the target market did the medium reach? This mix would depend on the individual organisation including factors such as access to technology, internal distribution and event attendance. You may be surprised to find that new media works in the most unlikely organisations. For example: many people have access to cell phones and sms’s can be sent cheaply in a range of languages, offering the critical advantage of over-coming language barriers. The trick is to try a range of mediums and track which combination works best in your company.

b) Effectiveness of communications. Was your message read, understood and remembered?  

This is where technology can really come into play. Of course, you could do a ‘tick-the-box’ option on a questionnaire at reception. But you could also use random webcam interviews, on-line competitions and messaging integrated into team-building activities to test recall and memorability. As always, the key to effectiveness is: creativity in the initial campaign, consistency in communication and importantly, taking the time to consider what would reach the most people in an impressionable way. It’s not about the message. It’s about a focus on the people receiving the message and that requires the most intangible but most magical of elements – creativity!

c) Impact on employee behaviour. Did people change how they behaved? Generally, internal marketing campaigns are executed for three reasons: to motivate employees, to change culture or to orient employees to new systems/products. Each of these objectives can also be measured differently. This may include, for example, a perceptions audit, if the aim was to motivate employees. Or focus groups and customer feedback to ascertain culture change.

d) Business impact. Did the changes people made as a result of the campaign affect productivity, profitability or the customer experience? Here’s where the people responsible for internal marketing campaigns should work closely with the other parts of the business to take a base-line measurement of the results that would be meaningful to the business. It would be advisable to decide on specific targets in advance. For example: a 7% improvement in customer experience. It would also be prudent to ensure that the other criteria for effective change can be met such as: providing employees with the necessary tools to do the job.

Depending on the duration, you should measure at various points in the campaign. You will be able to refine measurements to suit your organisation as campaigns are executed and you’ll also have the option of refining the campaign to iron out any bugs and take advantage of what is working well. However, good communication is underpinned by imaginative and creative campaigns – so don’t let an attempt to provide ‘proof’ undermine the heart of the campaign.

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