Who owns your brand? Companies that spend a fortune on branding their image and nurturing their name are finding that their image is being shaped by social media and technology enabled communication.
This is not a new phenomenon, but it does have widespread implications. For example, I was teaching a class in business leadership in the fall of 1990 when Coke settled their discrimination lawsuit for $192 million dollars. Steve Bucherati, formerly the director of global human resources was subsequently picked to head the Coke “reconstruction” team, and rebuild Coke’s image. He said that most internal Coke senior leaders were surprised at their image as people who discriminated. They truly thought of themselves as an inclusive company that would, “…like to teach the world to sing…” They were surprised when they discovered the perception of the company was one in which blacks and women didn’t always find it easy to bubble to the top.
Students in my leadership class at the time were nonplused about the information. “So what else is new?” and “Of course we knew that!” were the most common comments from the Atlanta based, men and women MBA students, mostly black, in the class.
That “word of mouth” network pre-2000 has expanded to include employees, customers, applicants, supply chain providers and the general public all of whom are connected to social media sites that offer plenty of opportunity to tell their version of the company’s brand. We are now faced with company brand images shaped by powerful social media forces that include ready access to electronic platforms, anonymous discussion boards on bad bosses, rating sites, and LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It is an ocean of information that no amount of internet firewalls can stop.
But, does stopping employees from using social networking sites ultimately help us in our search for developing a strong and attractive brand? Or, is reading the comments of participants on social networking sites just another way of looking in the mirror to see if we really are the company we think we are?
Employees, clients, customers and supply chain members will use social networking so why not monitor your brand on these channels and use it as a means to be plugged into the pulse of your employees? Monitoring brand image like this takes very little time and money. Including social media analysis of your company brand can be an effective way to keep track of how your firm is perceived in the market. Leveraging that social media network by hosting sites that represent your interests by product, functional department and enterprise puts company leaders in contact with the market.
Salespeople know it is tough to sit in front of a customer, get nailed and chewed out because a product or service didn’t live up to its brand image but other professionals in an organization particularly those in finance, HR, and IT don’t always hear this news first hand. The department manager who bungles a performance appraisal for an employee, the applicant who didn’t get selected, the supplier who didn’t get paid on time provide feedback in the social networking world that represents an important bottom line metric like, turnover, attraction rate, payables. These comments, added to statistical trends add insight into the perception of the company brand.
A company’s brand image is critical in today’s environment as the economy begins to improve turnover of good employees will increase. Given a shortage of highly regarded skilled workers partially caused by the baby boomers retirement, staffing and bench strength development is a key concern for company leaders. Top employees are always being sought after and now, in this environment, they are even more attractive.
Smart companies are beginning to realize that their employee brand is not only the prevue of the marketing department but is owned by all those connected to the organization. They are using social media in a positive way to provide employees with internal blogs, inviting related individuals to post and blog in virtual workplace “jellies”, and encouraging employee “thought leaders” to reach out and work in social media to promote their brand. They embrace the public performance appraisal and seek to correct the root causes of any disconnect proactively and before issues become a public problem. It is about the company culture and living the values.
How does your firm use social networking to promote your brand image and to attract and retain top talent?