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Shekha Samjee
Building powerful employer brands: lessons from social media

Tapping into the same human needs by creating intelligent, interactive systems in which employees can become engaged is a natural next step and a valuable lesson that social media can teach global corporations.

There has been a shift in society's expectations of how we interact with our world. This has been driven by social media - making us a lot more communications savvy. It is little surprise then that companies are being challenged to translate this experience into how business interacts with its employees. 

If companies are to translate the changes that social media has brought to the way we interact, to drive employee engagement and, ultimately, business performance; we must re-think the scope of systems and processes out of the work environment. Employees have come to expect intuitive and engaging experiences - so it is natural that to maximise employee engagement, the work environment including intranets, internal systems, portals and websites must be adapted to meet some basic criteria epitomised by social media platforms: such as responsiveness, interactivity, customisation, etc.

And if companies don't keep pace with the social context in which employees live their daily lives, organisations become remote from people, creating a disengaged, unresponsive workforce who do not feel validated and therefore cannot add value. Social media taps into a series of human needs, which probably accounts for its success: for example - the need to feel loved, involved and inspired. Tapping into the same human needs by creating intelligent, interactive systems in which employees can become engaged is a natural next step and a valuable lesson that social media can teach global corporations.

The need to feel loved:

Social media meets this need through two defining phenomena, customisation and personalisation. We can customise our Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media profiles to manifest our individuality. For example, the ability to customise background image and design colours on Twitter to suit your own taste. Yet when we arrive at work, the power of choice and the option to express our individualism disappears. We log on to a standard intranet site and are overwhelmed with static information, most of which is not really relevant to us and we have no power to change how that information is presented to us.

The solution: Create opportunities for people to interact with general information on their terms. It's a leap but allow employees to choose what they want to see and how they want to see it. For example: businesses are increasingly implementing collaboration tools such as Microsoft SharePoint, which offers features such as audience targeting, multilingual interface support, and user tagging to provide a highly customised experience.

The need to be involved:

When you tweet about something or "like" someone's comment, the result is instantaneous. The touch screen technology we experience on our iPads and other devices allows us to interact directly with content. Then, we get to work and often have to go through a series of checks and balances before logging into our core systems.

An example of a company that is changing this is McDonald's. They have a global employee blog called Station M that allows all staff (whether or not they use computers at work) to participate in the conversation in real-time, as the blog is available outside their firewall and is mobile-friendly. It enables employees to be involved in ways in which they have become accustomed to interacting on, for example, Facebook.

The solution: This is about more than an enabling technological platform, it is a cultural shift. Companies need to be responsive, quick, intuitive and interactive - both in terms of content and user interfaces. Explore gaming and dynamic portals as a fun way to communicate with employees. Top-down communications is obsolete but so is grassroots-up. The only intelligent way is for companies to facilitate (and encourage) multi-party communication and collaboration using a variety of platforms from tweets to gaming to really build a powerful employer brand.

The need to be inspired:

Reading text-heavy newsletters just doesn't cut it anymore. Today, many companies are doing it differently by using TED videos as a popular source of learning and inspiration. Many websites combine videos and dynamic images to create interactive websites. A good example is creative agency Wolff Olins' website whilst Boone Oakley is just one example of a company embracing video. Their company website is actually a YouTube video.

The solution: Focus on interactive communications that have visual impact and where the message is made more powerful because it is a by-product of the experience that the receiver gets.

It remains a fundamental truth that human beings want to be engaged and inspired, both at work and in our social lives. The positive impact of staff engagement on business performance and brand-building is undisputed.

(As published on Biz Community 5 December 2011)


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