Feature: secrets of internal social media success

Secrets of internal social media success

October 3, 2013

Social media offers huge potential to make employees part of your organisation’s conversation – as long as you successfully negotiate the potential pitfalls.

We find out how it’s working to great advantage for Premier Inn and City & Guilds.

For leading hospitality company Premier Inn, the journey to social media enlightenment for its employees is just beginning. ?It has traditionally harnessed conventional internal communications to communicate to its 16,000+ employees.

In the past six months, the Premier Inn Facebook has grown from 60,000 to more than 70,000 followers on Facebook and 24,000 on Twitter.?

Premier Inn is growing its online presence among its customers – and staff, as Claire de Silva, Public Relations and Social Media Manager ?Whitbread Hotels & Restaurants, explains: “Our social media activity for Premier Inn at the moment is very much focused externally on consumers; it’s not currently an employee engagement tool – but we do encourage employees to follow us within the business.” ?

Claire de Silva
Claire de Silva

One reason is the obvious crossover between external and internal when it comes to promoting CSR and charitable activities such as the company’s Good Together campaign.

In fact, in the past six months the Twitter and Facebook posts with the highest ‘reach’ have all been in this area.

?Claire says: “We noticed that when we link to offline campaigns the level of engagement from employees and customers or people aware of us as a business goes up phenomenally. ?

“There is a real appetite for what’s going on in the business behind the scenes and we see real value in showing our guests – and employees – how we’re going one step beyond.” ?

Recent examples include videos and photographs of the teams across the country getting involved in charity week events, and a quirky tale about a mother and 12 ducklings being cared for on the roof of a Premier Inn in Doncaster – one of the most ‘liked’ stories on Premier Inn’s Facebook page.

There are now plans to promote more internal engagement materials externally – and, in time, do the same within the business.

?At present, internal communications channels are delivered via a combination of print and online.? Yammer, the restaurants’ social network, is also popular across 5,000 restaurants in the group.

Claire describes this as a “hotbed” for gauging how the business is performing and says it very often gives insights to the business which they can communicate externally too.

?There are internal social media channels still in their infancy, including an online communications channel which currently has around 10k visits per week and and WHRtube Facebook where there is a small community online.

“Longer term, the plan is to grow this social media presence and the level of interaction with employees across the group,” explains Claire.

“We’re working on an exciting new social media website as we speak that will connect people across all the Whitbread brands and give people an easy way to connect and share as well as find out things that are important to them such as learning, development and job opportunities.”
* City & Guilds has encouraged its employees to get involved in internal social media as a first step towards joining the external conversation that is currently the domain of the marketing and communications teams.

And as Pippa Van Praagh, Internal Communications & Engagement Specialist, explains, no subject is off limits.

Work began back in 2011, when C&G, which employs 1,200 people both in the UK and globally, launched CityNet, its intranet built on SharePoint 2010.

Pippa Van Praagh.
Pippa Van Praagh.

To aid development the organisation set up a champions’ network of 25 people across the business who could update areas within SharePoint and pass on their knowledge to others. The champions were encouraged to start blogging customer stories and successes.

The interest in blogging proved to be an instant hit and within a short space of time, says Pippa, posts to the comment facility within the blogging platform evolved from polite ‘well dones’ into “proper dialogue” developing between teams.

Bloggers started to shed their inhibitions, not afraid to share opinions or ask searching questions.

From the outset, C&G decided not to moderate content – but rather give contributors the freedom to express their views.

Pippa adds: “We don’t monitor our blogs – we wanted to give our people 100 per cent trust, just as they would have when using social media tools externally. All we have asked is for people to use common sense when posting and this has really proven a good move as we’ve not had any inappropriate posting in two years. It has done an enormous amount in terms of empowering the employee voice in our organisation.”

Nowadays, blogs cover a whole range of subjects – from good news stories about helping customers, to people debating the next move with products, to making suggestions about better ways of doing things.

Even senior directors are getting in on the act and more impressively, it’s all under their own steam.

“We don’t write blogs for them,” says Pippa.

“They use it to give updates on the business, which are invaluable to field-based staff not always able to join team meetings but who can log onto CityNet remotely and get the latest information this way.”

The next step in the journey is to introduce forums to share customer problems and develop potential solutions; encourage an open and transparent culture, and take the conversation that bit further.

Ultimately, explains Pippa, “Our ambition is to empower more staff to have an external voice in social media for our organisation.

“We want staff to be true advocates for the great work that we do at City & Guilds in helping people get the skills needed to get into a job, progress on the job and move into their next job.”