ICYMI, Your Culture Needs Your Lols!

So, what are your employees saying about your company on social media? What are they saying on their own channels about you? Are they brand advocates, liking, sharing and hearting your company posts, or are there only crickets on your social pages? How are your customer-facing teams interacting on your brand social channels with existing of potential customers?

Have you even noticed?

It’s easy to relegate ‘social’ as some fluffy stuff a few of your marketing team look after – photos and videos, that kind of thing. But what your employees say on social matters. Company culture is actually a cornerstone to transparent and authentic social strategy. The glorious truth of your workplace practices, as well as the cobwebby corners and hidden skeletons, are now in clear view of your customers, your investors, your shareholders and your future employees.

What was once an opaque shop front is now transparent, as employees tweet, snap and TikTok their views directly and indirectly. Your leadership is now centre stage, too. Your practices are under constant internal scrutiny and your behaviours are spot-lit. Handling social badly for customers or staff can come back to bite you, hard.

Remember that story about the 5 banana drink order that moved a Starbucks employee to tweet “On today’s episode of why I wanna quit my job”. The tweet went viral but the employee was fired for breaching social policy. Starbucks lost the opportunity to leverage a viral tweet with humour, and then felt the sting of public backlash for firing one of their staff in such an undeserving way. Remember too, Uber started its life as the ‘IT’ brand until employee tales of a culture of sexual harassment and under-payment emerged.

There a many of these examples, and they show that culture and social are tightly woven together. Whether we want to ramp up employee advocacy, or avoid being cancelled by our customer base, we need to align our social media with our culture. 

Let’s Get Serious About Social

Social, as we know, is so much more than Facebook, LinkedIn or TikTok. It is bigger than your company communications, bigger than marketing messages and wider than your advertising. It is a reflection of who you are as a business. From behaviours to products and services and the voices of employees, there is nowhere to hide when it comes to social. And, we certainly can’t use social media to plaster over the cracks of a crumbling workplace culture. 

It is time to talk about why company culture needs your Lols. If we want to drive meaningful business impact, then we need to acknowledge the power of Lols, RT’s, DM’s and BFF’s, because….well, you know, yolo. It’s time to embrace the concept of social and start thinking about your brand stacks up.

How Does Culture Impact Social?

Culture can be quite tricky to define. Academics may start by listing rituals and artefacts, but really, culture is the way our people behave every day to get their work done within the company structures that encourage and allow those behaviours to exist. Structure may be taken to mean all the policies, processes, leadership styles etc, that make up a company. These things allow us to see and feel a culture through the way decisions get made to how a company treats its customers, how they communicate with each other, and how they reward and recognise an employee’s hard work.

With this in mind, it becomes obvious why there should be a congruence and authenticity between the messages that we are sending out into the market, via our social media interactions, and how things really are on the inside. And, this wall is paper thin. It only takes a few bad employee comments or negative responses from customers for people to see through any facade.

Getting Your Culture Right, First.

Many brands and marketers talk about company purpose, and social is often the vehicle to message this positioning. Sometimes it’s demonstrating ethics, a new positive direction, or serving the greater good. But how does this fit into a company’s culture? How can we avoid it being just another marketing or PR campaign? 

Your purpose, along with your vision and authentic values, are the foundation stones of your culture. Your purpose should be unique to your company and your employees should be fully engaged in bringing that purpose to life. The purpose is the reason we exist. 

If your leadership team are thinking, “Well, we’re here to make money, but on the side we’d better do some CSR or Giving Back programmes,” then your employee engagement will be pretty low, and that internal/external alignment may not be there. Employees will eventually sense inauthenticity,  and you may not be able to bring that purpose to life. It is hard for the average commercial enterprise to switch to thinking in this way, but it is worth pausing for thought. The best thing to do to avoid these and other pitfalls, is to get a deep understanding of your culture as it presently stands -start by auditing your culture.

Run a diagnostic analysis in order to understand what’s working well and what needs to change. Once you have that understanding, you can set about designing the desired culture to meet your future strategy and brand promise. Only then, embark on a change programme to get there.

Leaders Need To Embrace Social Too.

Leaders need to be out there on social too, presenting themselves in an authentic and transparent manner. They need to be consistent personalities on internal and external comms. If a mistake gets made, they need to own it. Leaders of today need empathy and vulnerability. Charisma is nice, but integrity will get them further in the long run. 

The worst thing a brand can do is delete or stifle negative feedback that comes through social. Customers will respect businesses much more if they acknowledge negative sentiment. Companies need to be seen to act upon any complaints, but it is wise to move the conversation offline and solve it in a more private space. Never enter into a slanging match on social media. When procedures fail, the impact can be directly seen on social – lost jobs, lost clients and an immediate dissociation from other brands. We live in a very active cancel culture, and part of this is about how thin the walls are between employees and the outside world, now that we have social media. 

Your Team As Social Ambassadors

Employees have many social platforms on which they can air their likes and dislikes, including any grievances that they may have with their bosses. It is understandable that employers are fearful that their employees will destroy their reputations with one click of a “share” button, In fact, Fifty percent of employees are already posting videos, photos and messages about what life is like at their company without any direct involvement from company leadership.

Most companies will want to keep some control over the messaging that’s going out. The best way to do this is through the 4 E’s methodology: Educate, Engage, Empower and Enable. Give people the tools, training, and trust and they will be able to interact on social in an authentic way that also benefits the brand. You will always get a rogue person/ disgruntled employee/ someone who has been let go or is annoyed with their manager, or their insufficient pay rise, but if these are in the minority and the rest of your employee presence on social is strong, then these one-off incidents  will be seen for what they are. Brands need to see the potential of employees as brand ambassadors. A happy, connected and culturally aligned team can save brands a fortune in advocacy marketing and recruitment fees. Let them help you build your consumer brand and your employment brand.

Encourage your teams to be advocates for the company. Sometimes, you need to check that people are empowered to speak up on social. Have they been given training, do they have guidelines and examples of what good looks like? There may be sensitivities around client data or internal confidential information and people do not want to make a mistake. All of that is positive, but can lead to a ‘rather be safe than sorry’ approach. If you train and support your people, they will become valuable brand advocates on social. Set up an in-house content committee or similar, so that the ownership and regulation comes from other staff, not the hierarchy. 

The Effect Of Social On Culture

Social media itself, can impact company culture. It can enhance employee experience and EVP, unite employees behind a purpose and culture, and provide an avenue to show pride in their company. It can be a great tool for attracting talent.

Social can even help unify cross cultural exchange in companies spread around the globe. An HQ in America, or a division in Japan will have very different national cultures. How do you give them one culture, do you even try? From a social point of view it’s about creating a singular brand strategy that gets articulated and nuanced by region. Be clear on the core components: who are we, what do we stand for, how does our brand sound, what language does it use, what does the brand look like? Once there is a singular vision of what a brand ‘is,’ it can be brought to life through the different regional offices in a way that is meaningful for them and appeals to their customers. Critical to this, is bringing all the teams in on the brand definition process, as much can be lost if one market acts in isolation.

Consider the Pepsi campaign of the 1960’s  ‘Come Alive With Pepsi’ created by a US central head office, which when translated to the Chinese market meant ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.’ A simple translation slip from a company not thinking about it’s different consumers. Imagine the expense and PR to try to reverse it. It’s far better to engage a cross section of representatives from throughout your company at the outset.

The Pandemic And Social Media

In many respects, the pandemic has created a kind of cross cultural challenge. Remote working has put some company cultures under strain. Most have had to go back to drawing board and asked how do to make their culture great in a remote or hybrid environment. The lack of physical interaction means that communication with your employees is even more important.

Employee experience is still a huge topic even if you can’t see them. People are feeling isolated, and are looking to their company for support. The recent KPMG chairman’s ‘stop moaning’ comment is just one example of a leader lacking in empathy. He clearly did not understand the pains and frustrations that his people were going through. With social, that kind of mistake spreads like wildfire. In the past, similar mistakes may have been swept under the carpet or just shared around the team, but today that one comment makes front page news. 

CMO’s need to take an active lead, here. They are often the guardians of how your company culture articulates both inside and outside, so being an active part of the cultural assessment is key. They need to define and articulate the brand and company culture, and share that knowledge through your organisation.

So trying embracing the lols. FWIW you might make a few BFF’s of your staff and customers, IRL.

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