Creating brand ambassadors through the power of digital internal communication

If you ask any executive or middle manager if they’d rather have a team of unmotivated, disengaged employees or a team of highly committed brand ambassadors, which do you think they’d choose?

Both common sense and research tells you that engaged employees are better, more productive workers.

Engaged employees benefit the bottom line

According to the 2015 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, there are a variety of benefits directly related to positive employee engagement.

The study found that engaged employees are actively involved in their respective jobs and demonstrate high levels of commitment and enthusiasm toward their work in general. The research further shows a clear correlation between these brand ambassadors and important financial business outcomes, including improved productivity, higher profitability and more positive customer interactions.

However, having an organization packed with highly motivated employees doesn’t happen by accident.

Companies that want engaged brand ambassadors need to use effective internal communications to reach those employees first, because if the message doesn’t reach internal stakeholders, efforts to engage those employees will fail.

Old-school employee engagement

In the late 1990s, I handled internal and external corporate communications for a 100-year old, midsized telephone company that was targeted for acquisition by a flashy high-tech startup. The announced deal created uncertainty for many of our customers as well as for 2,000 front-line employees, specifically our field technicians and call center representatives.

A key communications challenge we faced with these customer-facing brand ambassadors was that neither group had access to corporate email due to the nature of their jobs: Techs were on the road all day servicing customers and reps were constantly on the phone.

To reach these employees, we designed and printed hard copy newsletters that summarized weekly acquisition activities. Employees could take these and read them at their convenience. We also kicked off a months-long roadshow in which 20 of our top executives visited garages and call centers and answered employee questions.

While successful, both of those pre-digital tactics were expensive and time-consuming to execute.

Harnessing the power of digital internal communications

Obviously, it is much easier now for any corporate communications leader to leverage any number of digital solutions to drive employee engagement and create internal brand ambassadors.

For instance, a virtual private network (VPN) gives an employee access to a company’s proprietary email, intranet and document archives in a secure, password-protected ecosystem using any public or private Wi-Fi hot spot in the world. That VPN infrastructure also helps collapse distance and time for employees via instant messaging apps such as HipChat, Slack and Yammer. It also enables real-time video conferencing collaboration among workers using a service such as an enterprise Skype account.

Using a VPN further enhances employee engagement since individuals can seamlessly access these digital solutions on their laptops, tablets and smartphones. I wish I’d had even one of these digital engagement tools when I was trying to inform the telephone company employees about the acquisition — or at least an effective intranet page. Since leaving the phone company, I’ve worked at other companies that use their intranet landing page as the default home screen for employees when they log in to the system each day. This effectively creates a captive audience and provides an excellent means of conveying the one or two company-specific updates employees need to know each day.

At the company I work for currently, the intranet is where we post employee videos highlighting their exceptional accomplishments — on or off the job — to inspire each other and build esprit d’corps. It’s also where we provide a customized news feed, powered by Reuters, that keeps employees informed about general news along with industry-specific stories that are readily shareable across work groups.

The beauty of this type of digitized content for corporate communicators is that we can easily repurpose and push it across a variety of digital channels. For example, a short video of our CEO outlining the three business priorities for the year plays on physical TV monitors within our offices, on our intranet and is fed directly to employee smartphones via a texted link.

Encouraging employees to speak up

But it’s not just about pushing a message to employees — true employee engagement requires your employees to take action.

At the end of every quarterly webinar or virtual town hall, our organization runs a real-time survey of attendees about the specific presentation they just observed to gauge clarity and audience understanding. The results populate on the screen in seconds, allowing us to reframe and tweak our message almost instantly if need be. This tool also allows for anonymous question submission during these presentations, which helps drive more meaningful interactions.

A critical goal of employee engagement is extending those meaningful interactions beyond the company’s physical walls and even beyond its firewall. A clear, comprehensive social media policy allows for that. Establishing actionable guidelines for social media engagement can help empower employees to share what they love about your company with their friends, family and followers. These personal stories can help boost your company’s profile and humanize an otherwise impersonal entity. A well executed social media program can also help attract the “right” recruits to your organization — those candidates who will be a strong cultural fit for your company, including those with highly desirable skills.

Brand building is everyone’s responsibility

The effective use of digital communications strategies, tactics and tools can help you reach and engage employees across your organization in ways we could only have imagined back in the 1990s. Ultimately, building a great brand should be a company-wide endeavor in which engaged employees play a critical role by helping to shape the corporate culture and actively advocating for the brand through their own digital channels.

As an added benefit, you’ll never need to print another weekly newsletter again.

Tor Constantino is a former journalist, speaker, best-selling author and current public relations executive with an M.B.A. degree and more than 25 years experience as a communications professional. He’s worked for several large-cap, publicly traded companies including: Frontier Communications, Global Crossing, Bausch & Lomb, MedImmune and AstraZeneca with increasing roles and responsibilities. His core competencies include crisis management, corporate reputation curation and strategic communications counsel.

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