Organizational “social PR” is silkier when representatives are accorded trust and authority about a company’s vision and goals, plus how internal leaders and employees operate and engage; in other words, reflect the true “culture” of the business.
Digital “public relations” for an enterprise is much harder and less likely to achieve success if the culture is porcine or controlled (i.e., grunt out some canned corporate or marketing messages on social media platforms…after five revisions and three levels of approval).
“Silk purse” social business culture coming of age
From a personal PR perspective (regarding reputation, value and relationship building), it’s my belief healthy social business cultures are starting to come of age for savvy organizations with forward-thinking leadership. This Byte builds on themes of my earlier Profile Byte and last month’s Employee Byte.
Three reasons why…
1. Reputation “proof points” that investment of resources (i.e., employee-dedicated or allowed time) is worthwhile, both on and away from social media platforms, and increasingly in larger companies. I offer four examples later.
2. Organizations have witnessed the departure of employees responsible for the strategy or hands-on responsibility of social media accounts—often recruited away by other companies for this role. As savvy and sophisticated social business cultures know this might happen, they develop and codify:
- effective succession planning for critical roles
- social media policies (including what’s proprietary, post employment)
- sustainable and logical reporting and/or approval structures
- business communication plans; and
- content strategies
This means less focus on social media “stars” (and acolyte followers, who often aren’t even customers/stakeholders) and more emphasis on the social business culture and its own relationships. Ergo, the value and relationship building continues, unimpeded by employee turnover. When it comes to the management role of PR, a combination of successful continuity and evolution is important regarding the social business profile. If the employee exits on an amicable basis, he or she may voluntarily remain an “alumni” brand champion. (See the plethora of LinkedIn and Facebook Groups for former employees of companies.)
3. I’m following more businesses! That’s because I’m interested in knowing more about the organization, based on the communications and public relations expertise demonstrated. In other words, I’m intrigued by their social business cultures and how closely it reflects the internal ones.
Public relations sow’s ear in less-evolved (social) business culture
The culture of an organization is determined or at least “flavoured” by who is leading it. This has always been true.
You know this if you’ve worked at an organization that had a change in CEO. Sometimes, happily, the culture changes for the better (e.g., when the previous leader lacked vision, was indecisive, showed favouritism, didn’t trust employees or was egotistical). Most times there is a transition period of “change management,” when it’s decided whether the prevailing culture (especially in more-established companies) or dominant one (in the case of mergers and acquisitions) will prevail. Sometimes a new CEO come into an organization with a mandate (board or self-imposed) to literally or figuratively “clean house.” Occasionally the house cleaning is warranted.
A change in CEO is a particularly difficult time for the public relations lead, who sometimes is vulnerable to house-cleaning efforts. At a minimum, it’s challenging to lead an effective integrated communication effort, including social media, when the internal organization is in a state of flux or turmoil—particularly if employees are dispirited or fearful about their jobs. In the words of Olga Orda(Employee Byte), “Involving employees makes sense when you need to do a survey of internal organization issues. Poor internal communication equals poor external communication. I’ve found that you can only cover up internal strife for so long!”
A perfect storm
It’s unfortunate social business truly began to take off the same time as the global recession (i.e., 2008-2009), as many CEOs and organizations began to de-emphasize public relations and communication roles (including internal) and efforts. I’m referring to “investing” in and appreciating reputation, value and relationship building efforts. Conversely, during this perfect storm many companies put increased efforts into pure marketing and sales initiatives and messages. And lo and behold, social media was sold as the perfect place to pump out canned marketing messages and increase sales—the silver bullet mentality. (Note I recognize that there are many enlightened marketers and salespeople in social media.) Sometimes younger, digital natives were hired to replace more seasoned employees, because they were active on Facebook and could devise some cool promotions and contests. Likely they were willing to start at lower salaries, as this was one of their first full-time jobs out of school….
There’s not much room for non-marketing communication, engagement and personality with this kind of “sow’s ear” social media mentality. Not to mention being a hellish experience for the senior public relations lead, especially if not given access to the C-suite’s vision and business goals—mind reading is hard at the best of times, but quite horrible when responsible for an organization’s social business reputation. Yet if there’s an online marketing “miscue,” public relations will be (inexplicably blamed and) tasked with cleaning things up…pronto!
Of course that’s the worst-case scenario. The more reasonable CEOs, who value a healthy internal culture, can be persuaded to trust PR-knowledgeable, digitally savvy employees and their business initiatives, at least on a trial basis. Establishing and explaining goals and objectives, plus building in measurement, are effective strategies for influencing an ongoing social PR lead and focus.
Proof points to persuade
Steam Whistle Beer
One of the first non-PR-related business Twitter accounts I followed back was Steam Whistle Beer. An occasional beer drinker, I’m particularly supportive of this type of independent microbrewery. Having been to a social event at its headquarters, I found Steam Whistle staff to be customer-service oriented, friendly and fun—as appeared to be the person behind the Twitter account (whom I later learned was “Marina”).
Flash forward to hearing a Steam Whistle representative speak at Social Media Week Toronto’s Social Media ROI: Myth or Reality? panel session. He explained the history of the company, including its culture and attitude, and aspirational perception for the hearts and minds of its stakeholders (particularly community outreach/events sponsorships). The company’s vision is to be the “most-respected premium beer in Canada.” The culture of fun is profiled on every single bottle. If you ever have the opportunity to drink a Steam Whistle Beer, look for the 3FG mark. It stands for “3 Fired Guys. Likely the deliberate corporate culture of the “3FG” is in direct contrast to their former employer…another microbrewery, which was bought out by a conglomerate. Besides the profile, reputation and relationship building implicit in the company’s PR efforts, here’s a ROI proof point: over its 11 years of existence, Steam Whistle Beer has experienced a 20 to 30 per cent growth in sales, mainly attributed to its social media efforts. Also see Social Media Done Really, Really Well.
Deloitte South Africa
In Decorum Byte I introduced readers to Deloitte South Africa’s David Graham. Recently I shared an Altimeter white paper (received from Kred), The Rise of Digital Influence: A “how-to” guide for businesses to spark desirable effects and outcomes through social media influence, written by Brian Solis. I received the following message in response:
Thank you so much, Judy! This will keep me busy for a while. It comes at a good time because we have been approached by an organisation that wants to arrange a social media awards event. They have asked Deloitte South Africa to audit the process they have adopted to measure the top social media influencers in South Africa.
I was thrilled for David and the “cultural” appropriateness of his company being approached, both for its effective social business profile, as well as the apropos “audit” component of the request. I hope this involvement comes about, so that Deloitte South Africa garners even more well-deserved public relations profile in social media.
This third proof example is a combination of “silk purse” points 2 and 3, about two companies with a B2B relationship.
Hoover’s is another account I followed back, “A D&B company that provides insight and actionable information about companies, industries and key decision makers.” I noticed the account because of its active participation in various business-related Twitter chats. I knew the person behind the account was smart and added value to the chats, and was personable and fun. Later I learned it’s staffed by senior manager Shelly Lucas. Asking Shelly about the tweets from the Hoover’s account, she indicated an agency assists with some content, but Twitter chat participation is 100 per cent by her.
At a recent Brainrider-sponsored #torontob2b Marketers Meetup I appreciated Eloqua consultant Jeffrey Yee’s presentation on Setting Your Clients Up for Success with Marketing Automation – Best Practices. Jeff used Dunn & Bradstreet as his case study, because he was Eloqua’s in-house D&B point person when an automated email client retention program was being implemented. The partnering was so successful that Eloqua hired him….
One of his slides showed all of the D&B companies—and I recognized the Hoover’s logo as being that of my valued Twitter mate. This speaks to the importance of visual branding, as I didn’t immediately remember it was a D&B company. Chatting to Jeff afterwards, I told him what a great job Hoover’s was doing on Twitter. Jeff wasn’t surprised, indicating D&B had a great corporate culture and was good about exploring new areas of communication and growth. Ergo, Jeff is not only able to use his D&B work as a public case study, but he remains a brand champion, even though he now works for a different company.
IBM Alumni Brand Champion
I enticed whip smart, social-media savvy Gen Y Sacha Chua (see how much she impressed Neal Schaffer) into attending that same #torontob2b Marketers Meetup. When Andrew Jenkins (head of social media strategy, RBC) gave the first, also very good, case study on Building a Social Enterprise, he indicated Sacha Chua’s former employer, IBM as a “best practices” company regarding its employee social media policies.
I asked Sacha whether she’d helped design IBM’s social media policy—indeed, she had. Perhaps even more impressive is IBM’s inclusive social business culture that its leadership agreed to let Sacha blog without restrictions about her exit interview. Even though Sacha has chosen to embark on a new career as an entrepreneur, she remains a high-profile alumni brand champion for IBM and its corporate culture.
Check out the this How IBM Uses Social Media to Spur Employee Innovaction (February 2010) on Social Media Examiner, which Steve Birkett shared in the comments section of Employee Byte for yet another proof point.
Do you have any direct experience with or knowledge of a “silk purse” organizational example of social PR?
What are the innovative ways that the internal, healthy corporate culture is expressed externally?
Alternatively, any success stories about how challenges of a public relations “sow’s ear” of a corporate culture were overcome, at least partially through social media?
If yes, it would be great if you share in the comments section.