Public Relations Tactics

Connect13 recap: Engaging the social workforce

May 1, 2013

PRSA and MSLgroup presented the Connect13 Conference on March 26-27 at New York University’s Kimmel Center in Manhattan. This year’s event focused on evolving leadership styles, tools and programs to engage 21st-century employees. MSLgroup also had artists on hand to create live “visual keynotes” during each session. Here are several highlights:

Aligning and inspiring employees

Intel’s vision is to align and inspire employees and extend computer technology to connect and enrich the life of every person on Earth, said Melissa McVicker, director of corporate initiatives, Intel.  “An emotional connection is our most powerful tool. Inspire with great stories, connect with great dialogue, provide value with great experiences.”

McVicker said that you should recruit ambassadors and employees to tell your story and share your ideas. “Find employees to deliver your message and give them the tools they need to succeed,” she said.  “It’s more powerful coming from an employee than from a CEO. It becomes engrained in the culture.”

She added that it’s important to make the traditional less conventional. Try to get people involved and make your intranet the place to go for conversation.  Also, promote conversation with your senior leaders. Make sure that this is a conversation and not a message that is coming from the top down.

“Focus on the wisdom of the crowd,” McVicker said. Extend your intranet to smartphones and grow in the mobile realm. Reach employees on their time, allow them to access benefits via mobile apps, then simplify the information on one platform.

“It starts with leaders being willing to be there,” she said. “Value a great place to work. Demonstrate that you care — from small to big.”

Also, remember to treat new hires like rockstars, welcome them and have fun, she said. “At the end of the day, to align and inspire employees, it all starts with a good story. Remember to inspire me, connect me and value me.”  — Amy Jacques

People-powered brands: Empowering a tribe of internal advocates

“Figure out what your culture stands for,” said Geno Church, word-of-mouth inspiration officer, Brains on Fire. “Know your brand and let people have a voice.”

He said trust leads to ownership, so if you “fly the flag,” then you can see the power of people and empower your leaders. He said to think of your employees and company as a tribe and to have rituals and celebrate when something good happens.

“Reconnect and re-tribalize to find out what you stand for,” Church said.  “Learn from yourself and others. Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s about people, so know the existing conversation. Humanize the brand and find your hand-raisers.”

Empowering internal advocates begins with getting people at the front lines to notice the brand. Find small things at the outset to ignite excitement.
“Communities connect the unconnected,” he said.  “Tribes have powerful identities — and a powerful identity is a must.  You can’t always pick who your advocates are.  So embrace them all and let your tribe fly its freak flag.”

Being part of a great story is what compels us to share, Church noted.  So if you can find your “rebel tribe leaders,” then they will be your best brand advocates.

“Birds flock. Fish school. People tribe,” Church said, so try to start the engagement process internally and then move externally. 

“You’ve got to love people, warts and all — marketing is becoming more and more about building relationships,” Church said. “We are not perfect — sometimes we need to hit pause, look backward and know why it is what we’re doing.”  — A. J.

Becoming an employer of choice from the inside out

“People are the ultimate drivers of business success,” said Cameron Batten, vice president of communications, American Express. “It’s a digital race with the new mobile payment competitors.”

American Express is now hiring a new type of workforce and transforming digitally, having launched on Foursquare, Twitter, Serve and GoSocial. Batten noted that trust is important and because “social means transparency and connectedness, we need a consistent story and identity.”

Determine what differentiates your brand and engage employees, he said. Find out what your employees think makes the company unique, then be a brand with a purpose.

“Top performers seek to work for organizations on a mission that inspires them,” he said.  “Our vision is to redefine commerce and be a brand with a powerful purpose.”

When recruiting,  American Express looked to competitors and future competitors regarding talent, surveys and business units. Its vision is to “be a respected service brand, do challenging work with purpose and have employee integrity.” So the company posted “For A Living” career videos to “create a natural narrative, a story that comes easily with our brand culture” and show why it’s a great place to work.

Assess the need for a talent, listen to employees via engagement surveys, and test and socialize your brand. The people inside the organization shape this and drive value. Remember to train your employees via dialogue, measure results with analytics and ROI, and constantly innovate, he said.  Think of the risk versus the reward.

“Form your internal communications plan around hiring employees,” he said.  “Convert advocates, educate them, form a community and go social.”  — A. J.

Inside GM: Engaging employees before, during and after crisis

“Make sure your leadership is visible and accessible and all of your communications are honest,” said Katie McBride, executive director of communications, General Motors.

During its bankruptcy period, GM received more than 125 questions per day and had to provide a lot of feedback. “But with adversity comes opportunity — this enabled GM to start fresh,” she said of the 2009 Chapter 11 filing. “We had to rebuild our reputation and relationships. We had to gain trust, be transparent and leave room for an open dialogue.”

GM taught its employees about what bankruptcy means and provided more information via blogs, FAQs and a town hall meeting.  The company also launched an employee underground marketing program, created employee “Ride and Drives,” and used employee journalists to provide posts on the company blog.

“Empower and encourage employees to be brand ambassadors, teach them how to help consumers and be active on social media,” McBride said.

She discussed GM’s company stream, Overdrive, which allows employees to engage with each other and form a community.  “GM is powerful internally because it strengthens pride and morale and puts authority and responsibility with the employees,” she said.

“Externally, GM builds relationships with customers, and lets them experience and learn — it’s all about people and products,” McBride said.  “You must accept the risks that come with unleashing employees, make engagement a habit, persevere and be committed to what you are doing.”  — A. J.

Internal and external rebranding: Connecting the dots and the people

“We’re about to become a century-old startup — now what?” said Anthony D’Angelo,  APR, Fellow PRSA, senior manager of communications, ITT Corporation, as he discussed the challenges that the engineering company faced during its “de-merger.”

ITT needed to restructure its approach to meet the demands of an evolving marketplace, while honoring its heritage. The key to this, D’Angelo said, is to discover what’s cool about your brand and focus on your strengths.

D’Angelo mentioned Goulds Pumps, part of its industrial division. Feedback revealed that employees took pride in the quality and longevity of what they created. His team tapped into this to create “Pump  Appreciation Day” and offered a quiz that established the company as an industry thought leader, generated a measurable increase in website traffic and gave engineers a chance to show off their knowledge.

To initiate positive change, know who you’re taking to and what you’re talking about. Content is about connecting with audiences, so pay attention to their interests and passions. For successful rebranding, all communications must be honest and authentic.

“We’re all too sophisticated not to recognize a sales job,” D’Angelo said.  “People are already so skeptical about everything that communicators say.”

He shared five questions that communicators must ask themselves and their organizations before embarking on an internal and external branding process:

  • Does leadership have a plan or strategy?
  • Do employees comprehend the business reality and competitive situation?
  • Does the organization know the employees’ worldviews?
  • Is the change a campaign or an operating model?
  • Is communications focused on symptoms or causes? 

Kyra Auffermann

Visit our Rebel Mouse page for more Connect13 coverage from Tactics.


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