IC HUB

Making the internal external

How UPS is making external comms internal

June 30, 2016

UPS is one of a growing number of companies taking their internal communications public.

We met with the communications team to talk about their hugely successful twitter feed, @UPSers.

Companies have long reaped the marketing benefits of channels like Twitter.

Now it’s time for the IC world to catch up.

While the likes of Slack and Yammer have been used in IC for years, public-facing giants like Twitter have been bypassed due to a fear of public judgement.

But internal communication doesn’t stay internal; messages can easily be shared on digital devices, and printed newsletters can be handed out to anyone.

The boundaries between internal and external communications are already blurred, so it’s time to stop fearing public channels – because the benefits are substantial.

With more than 305 million monthly active users, it’s almost certain that some of your employees are on Twitter. While an intranet can be an effective tool, employees are unlikely to log in when they get home. They are, however, likely to sit and scroll through Twitter.

By putting yourself into their newsfeed, you can provide them with relevant, real-time information, and have meaningful conversations with your employees without having to download an app or use another IC channel.

Global distribution company UPS aims to engage employees wherever they are, on any device. They originally clocked the benefits of using Twitter from coffee giant Starbucks, and now their internal account @UPSers has more than 10,000 followers.

Jeff Keener, UPS’s Vice President of Employee Communications
Jeff Keener, UPS’s Vice President of Employee Communications

“We set up @UPSers about two years ago as Twitter was an obvious opportunity to reach our employees,” explained Jeff Keener, UPS’s Vice President of Employee Communications and Creative Services.

“Our aim is not to get all of our 400,000 employees to follow us, but to reach the ones that are active on Twitter.”

Regular tweets, likes and retweets from their followers signal its success, and reviews have shown that 30 per cent of all employees have an interest in or are aware of the account. On the back of its success, more than 20 sister accounts local to specific districts have been created.

One focus

The key to @UPSers’ success, Jeff insists, is to pick one thing and do it well.

Twitter is not the place for lengthy debates or complex strategic movements. Employees should always be at the heart of internal communications, and it’s no different for social media.

Jeff said: “We focus on employee recognition. They don’t want us to shove corporate enterprise strategy at them when they’re off the job.

“Our employees want to see people who look like them, think like them, and love the company like them. We tweet about things like safety milestones and what they’re doing in the community.

“It’s easy recognition and conveys our enterprise strategy in an accessible way.”

Handling negativity

Creating a public-facing account for employee engagement undoubtedly brings concerns about potentially negative comments on display for the world to see.

By keeping to UPS’s first rule of focusing on people, you’re less likely to invite hostility in the first place.

“We’ve had as few as three negative tweets since we launched the account, which I think is because we look at the really cool things our people are doing, rather than wave the flag for UPS. When the whole purpose of the account is to celebrate your fellow employees, there’s not a whole lot to complain about,” Jeff explained.

If you inevitably find yourself receiving a negative tweet, it’s vital to address it immediately. Ignoring tweets will make your employees feel they don’t have a voice and they’ll end up resenting the account and, consequently, the company.
UPS strongly believes that their duty is to look after their employees and any issues they have.

Jeff said: “If somebody has a complaint or a concern, it’s our responsibility to connect them with the right person to handle their situation.”

Keep it fresh
Twitter is a fast-moving world. Forgetting to post for weeks and then tweeting about an event that happened months ago is counterproductive.

It’s essential to have somebody devoted to regularly updating the account with fun, fresh content and having conversations with followers.

Creating campaigns using hashtags encourages followers to engage and can provide you with valuable assets – UPS still benefits today from past campaigns.

Jeff said: “We started #WeAreUPS in 2014 for our Founders’ Day theme. We asked employees to send in pictures of themselves and their teammates and it was extraordinarily successful. We still use those pictures today in internal presentations, where you’ll see the smiling, happy people that work at UPS.”

Having a team of more than 30 global field communicators helps provide content that would be hard to source from company headquarters.

This, combined with enthusiastic employees who actively tweet them with local updates, ensures @UPSers doesn’t run out of things to say.

Now that they’ve mastered Twitter, UPS is branching out even further. Following demand from their employees, the company has created an Instagram account, helping them source important photography assets and also share professional images.

Keeping up with popular social media platforms is essential to finding fresh ways to engage employees.

Jeff added: “We know we have to think differently every single day to be where our people are.”

UPS aren’t alone in taking advantage of public (and often free) platforms to engage their employees. Check out what other companies are doing to make their internal communications public.

***

Starbucks
Starbucks has a strong existing social media presence – perfectly filtered latte shots grace Instagram in their thousands and their external Twitter account boasts more than 12 million followers.

In 2012, they extended their social media power and launched a Twitter account for Starbucks ‘partners’ across the world. With research showing the average age for a Starbucks barista to be 25, Twitter is the perfect way to engage their social media-savvy employees.

This account, @Starbucksprtnrs, was the inspiration behind UPS’s decision to move their internal communications to Twitter, and the Starbucks team provided UPS with top tips on how to get started.

Almost 40,000 followers see several tweets a day about baristas having fun on shift in stores worldwide, with links to interesting intranet employee stories and environmental achievements.

The bonus of a public-facing account is that Starbucks can show critics that their employees really do enjoy working for the company, through a feed filled with retweets of employees’ praises for the company.

***

Premier Inn
Premier Inn’s internal Twitter account – @aplacemadebyyou – puts the company’s success down to their employees. The account has gained more than 1,000 followers by tweeting top-class customer reviews about those who make customers’ trips special.

The account also features employees having fun at work, from recreations of the famous Lenny Henry bed flop to charity dress up days. Regularly interacting with hotel-specific accounts means they have plenty of content to tweet about.

Their #BornToBePurple Twitter hashtag has proved so popular that employees have even started to use it on their personal Instagram accounts.

***

Heineken
“Employees do the best reporting.”

While Heineken has left the likes of Instagram and Twitter for their marketing purposes, an online ‘Green Room’ has been created to engage employees. The website is aimed at its people, yet it provides valuable insight to employees and customers alike about the ins and outs of the company.

Heineken brings its wider business to life with videos of breweries in action across the world and the lowdown on famous adverts from the perspective of its ‘beer stylist’ (a job coveted by many we’re sure!).

Innovative developments and charity updates also regularly feature on the site.

The content is written by a range of employees in various roles and countries, who have taken on the roles of reporters. Their team of 15 source and write interesting stories with a helping hand from Heineken’s internal communications team.