Brendan Hodgson » Employee Communications http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson At the intersection of yesterday & tomorrow Wed, 14 Oct 2009 12:08:41 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.9.2 en hourly 1 Seattle Post-Intelligencer – A case study in ‘radical transparency’ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2009/01/23/seattle-post-intelligencer-a-case-study-in-radical-transparency/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2009/01/23/seattle-post-intelligencer-a-case-study-in-radical-transparency/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2009 14:49:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson http://blogs2.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/11637.aspx Yeah, I know, it’s a blatant rip-off of my esteemed colleague’s blog title. But it pretty much says it all.

(source image from SeattleP-I / Hat tip to Lost Remote)

When the SeattleP-I announced earlier this month that it was going to shut its presses if it couldn’t find a buyer within 60 days – and potentially move to an all-online P-I, it did as it should and made it a breaking news story (you can see staff here writing the story even as the news is being broken). Moreover, they posted a video of the announcement by Hearst’s Steven Swartz to the newsroom staff (where the reaction of managing editor David McCumber pretty much said it all) and published the letter to employees. 

And they’ve done more: McCumber started a blog called Sixty Days to chronicle this critical moment in the life of the publication, while staff and others created a blog and a wiki to discuss the future of news reporting in the Seattle region and to seek out options to ensure its survival. If nothing else, it is a classic example of the degree to which social media has become permanently entwined into our landscape whether breaking news, commenting on it, or being a participant in it.

I am intrigued by this event for many other reasons, not only those outlined by Swartz as he clearly struggles to deliver his message (Note – it is a must listen re. the reasons behind the downfall). I am intrigued also by how this was communicated to staff and to the public at large. Granted, as a news organization, the SeattleP-I reporters clearly had a responsibility to report this news – and to do so to the best of their ability re. clarity, depth, lack of bias, accuracy etc. I am also intrigued by the words and actions of employees as they respond to this news via Twitter and other online channels – much as many other employees of other organizations have done and are doing during these difficult times.

However, it also raises questions: Is the level of transparency shown by the SeattleP-I staff (both management – willingly or no – and editorial) a model that could/should be emulated more aggressively by other non-media organizations as they handle difficult news that could impact staff as well as other external audiences? Is there value in not only communicating difficult decisions and actions in such a visible format, but also providing staff with the resources and tools to discuss such actions and add their voice to the discussion that would take place regardless if it was in-house or elsewhere on the web? Do the benefits outweigh the risks – real or perceived?

Should HR and internal communicators be looking at this and questioning traditional approaches to downsizing, re-structuring or the complete shuttering of businesses - approaches that often lean toward denial and obfuscation until the last minute, emails and letters bereft of emotion, and external strategies that often pit management against staff in increasingly visible he said – she said’s. In a world where such displays of disappointment and outrage - online and off – are increasing, being seen to acknowledge it, to encourage dialog around it, and to build from it are likely better for any organization’s reputation in the long run than trying to pretend that the world is anything but sunshine and milkshakes.  

As an aside – a sidebar in one of McCumber’s posts caught my eye:

– Just a few minutes ago, this email appeared in my inbox:

Dear Media Industry Professional,
I am writing to ask for your help with the second annual PRWeek/ PR Newswire Media Survey. This survey asks journalists and bloggers about the changing media environment and how it is impacting their specific outlets, job duties, interaction with PR professionals, and more. The survey results will be published in an article in the April 6 issue of PRWeek.

You know, I think I’m going to pass on that one.

I don’t blame him one bit.

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Are "Tweets" News? In times of crisis, the debate is meaningless http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2008/11/28/are-tweets-news-in-times-of-crisis-the-debate-is-meaningless/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2008/11/28/are-tweets-news-in-times-of-crisis-the-debate-is-meaningless/#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2008 13:30:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson http://blogs2.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/11456.aspx Much is being written about Twitter’s coming of age, particularly as it relates to information sharing during times of crisis; the horrific terrorist attacks in Mumbai being the most recent example (see trend chart here). It is, without question, a powerful and highly immediate vehicle for broadcasting and sharing news as it breaks. Although, as CNN so succinctly states: “as is the case with such widespread dissemination of information, a vast number of the posts on Twitter amounted to unsubstantiated rumors and wild inaccuracies.”

From my perspective, and as one who works closely with clients in adapting their crisis plans to this new world order of twitter, blogs and citizen journalism, the ensuing argument around what is ’news’ or not, is moot. It is simply the new reality in which organizations must be prepared to communicate.

It is indeed fascinating to watch as these thousands of new voices sweep across the media landscape, amplifying, contradicting, and enhancing traditional media reports with their own eyewitness accounts and points of view. At the same time, it is also frustrating to witness the ease by which rumours and speculation spread during the acute stage of any emergency or crisis.

It has simply made our job, and that of any communicator in a time of crisis, that much harder. It means we must start now to adapt our processes to reflect this new reality, and focus even more aggressively on the principles that guide effective crisis and emergency communications. Quite simply, it speaks to what I and others in the crisis space are already espousing:

  • the need to accelerate the processes by which an organization creates, approves and distributes content, yet avoiding adding to the speculation and rumour-mongering, to ensure that it remains a credible source of information
  • the importance of an organization’s own web property to communicate information and messages beyond traditional (1.0) mechanisms – but to consider integrating their own Twitter feeds, RSS, video and audio, real-time information updates, and efficient cross-platform sharing of content.
  • the importance of direct stakeholder communication (via all channels – not just web) to ensure your message is received and understood, not simply delivered.
  • the importance of robust internal communications supported by meaningful guidelines around what employees can or should communicate via their own networks – digital or otherwise.
  • the importance of clear rules of engagement when it comes to engaging with external voices and influencers – understanding when it is right and appropriate, and under what circumstances, and when it may result in only further damaging an organization’s reputation and ability to communicate through an emergency.

More so now than ever, no organization can attempt to “control’ the information environment around any significant crisis. They can and must, however, ensure that their communication acknowledges this new environment, without compromising privacy, confidentiality, ethical principles or simply attempting to fill an information void with soundbites and messages that lack substance, credibility, context and concern for those affected.

Are “tweets” news? Who cares? It’s a meaningless debate. What it means and what impact it may have(if any) are the questions we should all be asking as we watch it, and all forms of social media, transform crisis communications forever.

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The Virtual Conference Mash-up: An Idea whose Time has Come http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2008/10/03/the-virtual-conference-mash-up-an-idea-whose-time-has-come/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2008/10/03/the-virtual-conference-mash-up-an-idea-whose-time-has-come/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2008 13:54:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson http://blogs2.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/11237.aspx Kate seemed pretty excited when she landed on this. I share her excitement.

The virtual / conference mash-up idea is indeed brilliant (and kudos to the team who thought up the idea). Through applications such as slideshare and Youtube, an increasing plethora of content is being made available from a slew of experts across a variety of fields – including presentations such as this (which I hadn’t seen in years).

I can see a number of different applications for smart enterprises, including those looking to:

  • Educate internal audiences without the associated travel and lost productivity costs. I can see how this idea might allow organizations to package and deliver content in ways that provide a significantly more complete context to the subject matter – be it marketing, social media, crisis communications, sales, engineering, whatever… from a stage-setter, to break-outs on more focused areas, and eye-candy in between.
  • Inform external stakeholders on critical issues by aggregating and presenting multiple points of view from experts around the web combined with content created by your own organization and/or your supporters. Again, if appropriately packaged, the presentation will also provide a much broader picture and context that might ever have been possible previously. In doing so, I would also see a much more engaged discussion as experts and others see their content being mashed-up with ideas they may not support or which might contradict their own.
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Effective digital PR reaches beyond the Comms Department http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2008/06/17/effective-digital-pr-reaches-beyond-the-comms-department/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2008/06/17/effective-digital-pr-reaches-beyond-the-comms-department/#comments Tue, 17 Jun 2008 09:43:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson http://blogs2.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/10829.aspx Before jumping on a plane to London last night, I was invited to speak to the senior legal officer of a major Canadian corporation. The point of the meeting was to discuss the impact that digital communications, and social media in particular, was having on organizations as a result of the heightened transparency being imposed upon them - both from within and without.

With thousands of employees potentially speaking on behalf of the corporation through blogs, social networks or other online channels - willingly or not, and appropriately or not - the level of exposure faced by many organizations is daunting.

Which makes our job that much more exciting – if not extraordinarily difficult – as the reputational implications of the social web bleed into other functional areas of the corporation — be it HR, Legal, IT, and the c-suite. It reinforces the need for communicators to become increasingly knowledgeable about all aspects of an organization, not simply communications or marketing.  And it is an area of opportunity that – if approached correctly – will allow PR to extend its reach beyond the traditional grey areas currently being fought over by ad firms, digital shops, and PR consultancies.

As the Arthur Page Society’sAuthentic Enterprise” whitepaper sets out, communicators must now become stewards of reputation rather than owners of it. Which means that tomorrow’s communicators must be trained not only to learn about the craft of communications, both traditional and digital, they must also learn about how organizations function beyond the narrow silo in which we currently operate, and be able to strategically apply their knowledge to supporting the challenges these functions now face. They must be able to guide and shape the behaviours of the organization, recognizing that virtually every employee is now a potential avenue – frightening as it may be to some – to communicate the organization’s messages, and perhaps do so better than the c-suite or PR department ever could.

I often ask organizations if they’re ready to embrace the changes being forced upon them as a result of the social web – but perhaps we need to be asking ourselves that same question.

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Employees, Social media and Reputation… A Month of Discussions http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2008/06/13/employees-social-media-and-reputation-a-month-of-discussions/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2008/06/13/employees-social-media-and-reputation-a-month-of-discussions/#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2008 12:40:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson http://blogs2.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/10821.aspx June was never going to be an easy month, yet we’re nearly half-way through and I’m starting to breathe a little easier. Two conference presentations down, and two more to go – although the latter two will be more internally and client-focused which tends to make life a bit easier (he says, knocking wood).

Over this past week, Amanda Brewer, H&K Canada’s director of internal and change communications, and I have spoken at two events: the first being the 2008 CPRS National Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the second being to the Council of Human Resource Executives in beautiful Quebec City (currently celebrating its 400th anniversary – I suggest you go. I hadn’t been to QC in years, and it’s as stunning as ever).

Although slightly different in their focus, the general theme of the presentations were the same: that social media and Web 2.0 is transforming the role of the employee as “brand guardian”. And while this transformation is creating opportunities to drive greater transparency and bring employees closer to those upon whom the company relies – customers, communities, partners, potential employees etc., it is also highlighting a number of potential risks and challenges with respect to employee behaviour online and the consequences that could follow, intentional or no. In the presentations we highlighted examples of companies who have done it right, and we explored examples of what happens when employees take it upon themselves to communicate on behalf of the organization through social media, to both positive and negative effect.

At CPRS, we dived deeper into how organized labour has adopted social media in their efforts to communicate their stories and messages beyond traditional media filters and mobilize their membership and supporters, and considered how corporations are (or should be) responding. In Quebec City, we explored how organizations could (and should) help to guide employees in their use of social media – realizing that the workforce of tomorrow will have grown-up using these tools as part of their daily lives. Both are areas of increasing innovation in public and private sector workspaces, and judging by the level of discussion that ensued, it’s an area of increasing concern to those who practice in these areas.

Interestingly, I also see these discussions as an opportunity for organizations to further bridge the silos separating HR and internal and external communications departments given the increasing visibility of employees as brand advocates. And, as always, when we talk about “tomorrow’s employees”, I started off by showing this video – in my view, a creative and powerful perspective of the changes taking place in our society and mindset. (kudos to Dr. Michael Wesch at Kansas State University)

Next week, I will be in the U.K participating in an internal conference on crisis and digital, and working with our network of senior crisis practitioners to ensure our counsel and strategies reflect the digital dynamic and the potential for digital tools to support organizational communications when the stakes are highest – much as we’ve seen during the California Wildfires, and recent campus shooting. Interestingly, the area of crisis is another where the potential for employees to both support or, unfortunately, harm an organization’s communications efforts is becoming increasingly important.

The week following, my colleague Boyd Neil and I will be in Vancouver (I get to spend a whole 16 hours in Ottawa in between, yay!!) where I hope we’ll be able to take some of the learnings from the UK and apply them to a joint presentation to a global corporation (and client) on reputation, issues management and the impact of digital and social media.

Then Canada Day… and then a long rest.

If you’re in London and are able to get together on the night of the 20th or 21st, do get in touch.

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When employees take it upon themselves to "communicate"… right way or wrong way? http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2008/01/11/when-employees-take-it-upon-themselves-to-communicate-right-way-or-wrong-way/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2008/01/11/when-employees-take-it-upon-themselves-to-communicate-right-way-or-wrong-way/#comments Fri, 11 Jan 2008 13:41:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson http://blogs2.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/10051.aspx Is Facebook ever dull? Not so long as issues such as this rise from the echo-chamber. Today, the National Post printed a small piece on a Facebook Group (3500+ members strong) created on behalf of Tim Hortons’ employees (although whether the creator is an employee is yet to be determined) to “educate” consumers on how to order.

Case in point: 

  • Stop telling us to “stir it well” there is no button on the cash register for that.
  • when you drive up to the speaker box have your order ready, we don’t carry “Give me a seconds” or “Hold ons”
  • Don’t ask “What kind of donuts do you have?” come in and look for yourself…

Albeit direct and to-the-point (bordering on… nay, definitely snarky) in terms of its “do’s and don’ts”, it highlights the growing issue of employees becoming unintended guardians of the brand (assuming that the creator is an employee given her intimate knowledge of all things behind the counter) – in this case from a potentially damaging standpoint. Or is it?

Well-intended it may be – though born out of frustration, no question. It certainly does not reflect the tone that the corporation would want to see communicated to customers. However, in this age of transparency and authenticity, I can’t help but wonder if customers wouldn’t appreciate such information – packaged perhaps a bit differently. I for one, still can’t order anything other than a “regular” coffee, and refuse to say any equivalent of large, one cream, one sugar. And while I support the notion that the customer is king (or queen), I also feel that my time is precious, so any information to move the line forward is appreciated.

Ultimately, I wonder if this form of communication highlights not only the issues and complaints of customers (which typically has been the focus of social media) but also those of employees – who are (in a roundabout way) communicating to their employers that a different form of customer communication could create a better experience all-round.

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Social Media and the City – Spending a day with City of Calgary Communicators http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2007/11/15/social-media-and-the-city-spending-a-day-with-city-of-calgary-communicators/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2007/11/15/social-media-and-the-city-spending-a-day-with-city-of-calgary-communicators/#comments Thu, 15 Nov 2007 13:04:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson http://blogs2.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/9843.aspx A month or so ago, the good people at the City of Calgary invited me to participate in a day-long session on the impact of social media and local government.

Over the course of the event, which happened last week and was co-organized by the City’s Corprate Marketing and Communications (CMC) division and its Customer Service and Communications Communication Partners Services (CPS) Division, I presented twice: first, to a group of 70+ city managers on the implications of social media as it related to such areas as trust, transparency, and the role of emerging technologies in transforming the relationships between the City, its citizens, and its employees. In the afternoon, I presented a second time to a similarly-sized group of communicators and marketers on social media and reputation management… with a focus on crisis.

From the perspective of this participant, it was an impressive exercise in mass education and immersion into the new communications dynamic, and one that I have rarely seen undertaken within a public sector organization at any level previously (although that’s not to say these events are not happening elsewhere. I just haven’t heard about them).

And it makes sense, particularly as it relates to municipal government. In the same way we tend to ignore local politics despite the fact that it often impacts our daily lives more so than any other level of government, the current emphasis on social media and PR tends to skew toward the more sexy interactions between consumers and brands at the expense of government-citizen engagement, which is perhaps where the potential for social media is even greater. When you look at tragic events such as this (recognizing that this was captured within the confines of Vancouver Airport, although it involved federal law enforcement, but hopefully you get my point), or this, or this, the implications of citizen journalism and social media to impose transparency on the behaviours of government – at any level – are only further reinforced. 

The next day, I joined a smaller group of 20 or so communicators, web team members and others to brainstorm ideas on where the City might focus some of its efforts in the areas of social media – from both internal and external perspectives, including a discussion on the role of social media in times of crisis (which is a discussion that I seem to be having increasingly often). And while obstacles clearly existed, the will to find ways to overcome these obstacles – political or otherwise – was also evident, and refreshing to see.

I figure that my role in this exercise was perhaps the easiest – to put it bluntly, instill fear and motivate people to action. And I think that was accomplished. The hard part, in my view – and the role of City communicators – will be to drive this forward, and to help Managers better understand these tools, develop meaningful strategies that integrate old and new while remaining relevant to and focused on their respective business lines, and (most importantly, in my view) to manage expectations as it relates to how these tools will impact what the City does now. Likewise, they will also need to educate elected officials on the benefits of these tools and the need to embrace a more open and transparent approach to communications and engagement, and work with legal teams to determine how best to accelerate approvals and turnaround times and provide clear direction on what should and should not be done as it relates to social media, particularly in times of crisis.

No small undertaking. But based on the collective enthusiasm I witnessed last week, I wouldn’t bet against this team being able to pull it off.

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"Labatt Life" blog and stakeholder expectations http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2007/10/16/labatt-life-blog-and-stakeholder-expectations/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2007/10/16/labatt-life-blog-and-stakeholder-expectations/#comments Tue, 16 Oct 2007 13:19:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson http://blogs2.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/9594.aspx In an earlier post, I mentioned briefly that we were working with Labatt to help build and launch their “Labatt Life” group corporate blog. I also mentioned that I wanted to focus on this project a bit more – for a few reasons.

Today’s corporations face issues that require highly targeted forms of communications – be it to investors , governments, communities, prospective and current employees, and around issues such as corporate social responsibility, corporate reputation, and so forth. Increasingly, this targeted outreach requires an organization to become significantly more strategic in the messages they wish to communicate to a particular audience, and the channels through which those messages are delivered to that audience. All pretty straightforward stuff.

Add to this, however, the evolving notion of ‘expectation’ and this scenario becomes even more challenging. Quite simply, stakeholders are increasingly setting the parameters for how they elect to receive information. And that has implications not only for what I chose to communicate but also how I chose communicate it. Previously, expectations were constrained largely by the channels themselves – specifically, the lack thereof and the high cost of utilizing those channels (that did exist) in order to reach niche audiences. 

Today, however, audiences increasingly expect:

  1. communications that are more frequent (yet more targeted and relevant)
  2. communications that are more direct (and unfiltered by third-parties)
  3. communications that are more “substantive” and “authentic” (vs soundbites)
  4. communications that are delivered via the media of their choosing (traditional or new)
  5. communications that allow for both reaction and interaction

For Labatt, talent acquisition and retention is a key priority, and their management trainee program is a critical part of their recruitment strategy. At the same time, they also realized that traditional forms of communications were no longer sufficient to meet the changing expectations of this increasingly “wired” target group. Which is why the Labatt Life blog was created: to provide additional opportunities for Labatt to communicate to potential recruits in a way that allows for direct, frequent and “authentic” interaction (given that this blog is authored in part by current trainees, and provides a real, behind-the-scenes perspective), via a channel that these audiences increasingly look to for information.

That Labatt understood this changing environment made the experience of working with them even better. How they support and sustain this platform over the long term will be the real test. However, keep your eye on the site as they look to integrate cool content from across Labatt, and as they tour campuses across Canada.

Congrats to the Labatt team for making this happen.  

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What message does THIS send to employees? http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2006/07/05/what-message-does-this-send-to-employees/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/2006/07/05/what-message-does-this-send-to-employees/#comments Wed, 05 Jul 2006 17:56:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson http://blogs2.hillandknowlton.com/brendanhodgson/3633.aspx A clear example of the perils of seeking publicity around what would be seen (at first glance) as a morale-raising  initiative and then having it backfire when the terms and conditions of that initiative aren’t made entirely clear – either to employees or to the media.

While National Semiconductor spokeswoman LuAnn Jenkins is quoted as saying “they were not a gift,” and that “we were very careful on the language we used talking about it,” the real question, in my view, is whether they were careful enough with respect to the language they used in communicating this initiative to their own employees.

It would seem not.

When you read the release, what would you think? Is it a business tool, reward, or both?

“Our employees were vital contributors to our most successful year in National’s 47-year history, and we wanted to equip them with the tools to help us create more value for our customers,” said Halla.  “The Apple iPod exemplifies the next stage of the consumer electronics revolution as content such as downloadable music, movies and digital photos –as well as a compelling user experience– takes center stage.  And, it’s analog that makes the difference.  This is where National, and our employees, deliver value to our customers.”

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