Why internal communication is the key to brand authenticity

This morning I attended a breakfast event hosted by VMA Group on the topic of authenticity. The session was led by Matt Hampshire from MK and he was supported by Ed Austin from Wagamama and together they took us through five rules for authenticity.

During the hour they took us through examples from Wagamama as well as some from other organisations – some who get it right and some who get it wrong. As someone who has spent most of their internal communications career working with employees who are predominantly offline it was great to hear a clear message about customer service and organisational purpose – so here are the five rules and how internal communicators can play a role in brand authenticity:

  1. Know who you are
    Looking back to a 1971 Coca-Cola advert and comparing it to a 2017 Pepsi advert reminds us all to stay true to who we are and not jump on a bandwagon. The backlash to Pepsi was huge with an estimated loss of $40m and an advert pulled after huge criticism all over the world.  The identity of the organisation can come from iconic leaders – Steve Jobs and Anita Roddick were just two examples shared – but having a strong purpose and a clear understanding of what your organisation is about will allow you to demonstrate who you are through good communication.
  2. Embrace the truth (even when it is uncomfortable)
    Last year someone shared a photo of a poster in a Wagamama restaurant that clearly told employees they would be disciplined if they called in sick. The first thing Wagamama’s did was talk to their employees – using all their channels they quickly communicated to all employees that this was in fact not the case. It was important for them to keep the conversation going and explain the truth behind the headlines.
  3. What you do is more important than what you say
    Quite often the conversations we have inside organisations will be around values and how we can put a poster on a wall to share them so that people know what they are. Sadly, this rarely works simply because what you do is more important than what you say. If one of your values is respect but it is accepted that people are late for meetings or on their phone during meetings then this doesn’t match. For many, the focus is on the profit and company results and this can lead to behaviour that might go against how we want to be perceived – as Ed said, “If you focus too much on the numbers, you lose focus on the service. Sales will follow if the service is there.”
  4. Start with the right people
    If 72% of people are judged on their CV alone then how can we be sure we are hiring the right people? When we think about employee engagement and employee experience, we need to start at the beginning. The whole employee journey needs to be considered to make sure that the people we train and invest in are committed to the organisation. The example about Zappos giving people £2,000 to not take a job was an interesting example to show how some companies ensure they only hire people who really want to be there.
  5. It’s not about you, it’s about them
    I have spent many meetings discussing this with leadership teams – explaining that they aren’t the audience for some of these messages. The example from Wagamama about the introduction of their Vegan menu was founded on co-creation. Inviting employees who choose a vegan diet to meet with the Executive Chef and discuss the menu, taste it and get involved in what good service looks like for them was fundamental to the roll out of the new dishes. As he said “it’s not about jumping on a bandwagon, it’s about embracing it”

At the end of the session there were some questions about corporate reputation, downloading apps to phones and how to engage cynical employees – all these questions were from different industries and they highlighted the different challenges we can all face in the different cultures we work in. The solution? Come back to these five rules and think about how to apply them in your business, they are core  principles and as a guide, they should work for everyone.

Twitter, Brands and Employees: Are you an ambassador online?

url-1-300x212Tonight I tuned into #swchat on Twitter where the topic of employees, brands and social media was the discussion point. The debate opened with the question: Are employees on social media ambassadors for their brand even if their role is not a customer facing one? It was a timely debate given the article I read this morning called Why Twitter Disclaimers Like ‘Views Are My Own’ Won’t Save Your Job. It also nicely follows a theme already bubbling in my mind about doing a Digital Learning Week for our company following the case study from the FT heard at various conferences this year.

So what followed in the debate? The 9-5 working day has gone and people are online all the time. Our digital profiles are all over the web and there is always a way to find out who someone works for – suggesting the link to the company is always there. My question is should the employees be ambassadors and engage with customers and what happens when the brand or the company don’t want employees to take that role. Do you educate and train but discourage participation or encourage discussions with customers?

The social era is one that requires a change in lifestyle and working relationships. Training and educating your teams gives them the chance to have a voice but it shouldn’t be expected; many employees are happy to do their job and stay away from the hype. So is a social media policy the answer and does this extend to the line between personal and professional?

The conversation continued to flow and the question about whether companies should encourage or prevent their employees from being brand ambassadors was raised. I think the overall answer was yes but the issue of common sense on social media came to the front. What is common sense and has it gone from the Gen Z population? It also depends on the company you work for. If you’re trying to create a social business inside this needs to bleed outside and this really leads us back to the issue of trust. Surely when you employe someone you are trusting them to be an ambassador of your brand. Giving your employees the brand to promote will give you an army of people marketing your product or service and this will beat any competitor with a marketing department any day!

Handing over your brand is not an easy task and with the lack of control that social brings it is easy to understand why companies fear the channel. Control is the default setting for so many companies and moving away from this to motivate teams with autonomy and giving them some of that control is always going to be hard. This brings us back to the question of that social media policy as well.

So is it possible to separate work and personal social media presence or are you always an ambassador for your brand? Personally I tweet as me and talk about the industry and what I’m doing. I don’t talk about what the business is doing unless it is a new opening or something that our customers might be interested in. I’m aware that I can be linked to the company, but as an employee that loves my job and believes in the integrity of the brand this isn’t difficult. So if you’re not an ambassador of the brand when you’re down the pub then don’t associate yourself with it online.

The last question asked what top tips can be shared to help employees on social media become better ambassadors for their brand?

  • BE FORGIVING with employees when mistakes are made. Send the right message of empowerment and trust
  • Think before you leap
  • Listen and really pay attention, create a space for open communication and build the Community! Don’t just push stuff
  • difficult to sense tone online so you should NEVER assume a tone in case you are wrong
  • Live your company values and the rest will follow, how can you then not be an excellent brand ambassador
  • Become social” – Influence not control

The general consensus was that everyone should have a social media policy, educate employees in the tools and decide whether to encourage participation. It all comes down to you and what your common sense and the culture in your organisation. A great debate and one that will continue in my brain for a while and no doubt in the industry for many more years to come!