Social media crucial to employment brand

Listening, engaging, influencing key aspects of successful social media strategy
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/12/2012

Social media and branding: In April, the Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) hosted a panel discussion on how employers should be using social media to boost their employment brand — and how to avoid potential legal issues that could arise. For more information, visit www.scnetwork.ca.

More is not really better – better is better (Organizational Effectiveness)

Social media hits tipping point (Leadership In Action)

Benefits outweigh hazards (Strategic Capability)

First impressions used to be captured within the first seven seconds of meeting someone. In today’s world, first impressions start online, according to Mark Thompson, president and chief engagement officer at talent management firm McKinley Solutions Exchange in Toronto.

“Your online profile as a company needs to be very robust and very strong because first impressions don’t happen when I shake somebody’s hand — if you’ve done your homework as a candidate going in for an interview or going to meet a prospective client, that happens online in today’s world,” he said.

Social media is integral to the employment brand and employers are “missing a great strategic advantage” if they do not develop a strong online brand, said Thompson, speaking at a Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) event in Toronto in April.

Before an employer starts using social media, it needs to clearly understand its employment brand. It should go through a branding checklist and make sure it can clearly identify the company’s vision, purpose, values, goals, strengths and weaknesses, said Thompson.

Then it needs to determine what it wants to accomplish with social media.

“All these questions are questions you need to ask before you go, ‘Yeah, I’m going on LinkedIn,’ ‘Yeah, I’m going on Facebook, somebody said it’s cool.’ You’ve got to get this stuff done first and this is the hard stuff — signing up for LinkedIn is easy,” he said.

Once an employer understands its brand, it should develop a three-pronged social media strategy: listen, engage and influence, said Andrew Jenkins, head of social media strategy at RBC in Toronto, also speaking at the SCNetwork event.

An employer should first listen in on various social media channels to see how it’s being perceived by customers and potential employees from a reputational perspective.

“It’s about really understanding the lay of the land — where you’re being talked about, by whom to whom and what’s being said,” said Jenkins.

An employer also needs to determine its target audience and find out what social media sites they’re using. A company shouldn’t be on all the sites, just those that will reach its target audience, said Thompson.

“If you’re trying to reach the right-out-of-school (crowd), then you could be targeting Twitter or Facebook. But if you’re looking for those six-figure salary jobs, unique specialization, people with a global reach and global understanding, that’s LinkedIn — you have to pick the right ones,” he said.

Once an employer has determined what sites will work best, it needs to engage its target audience.

“So, the idea is to find out where they are, what they’re doing while they’re there and having that inform the way you engage them in conversation and what sort of content you need to be sharing that’s going to engage them,” said Jenkins.

The most engaging content are pictures and videos. Employers should post videos online that convey the corporate culture through interviews with employees and leadership, he said.

Lastly, an employer should seek to influence its audience through its social media presence. This is where employers can change the perspective the public has of them.

“If people identify an unmet need, this is where the company can offer a helping hand and turn that conversation from something maybe a bit more negative to something positive,” said Jenkins. “Then, you end up having an advocate for your company.”

An employer needs to make sure its brand is reflected throughout all social media communications, said Thompson.

“If you’re the voice of your brand, then your values need to come through online — that’s critically important,” he said. “If not, then it gets too polished and then you lose a little bit of the user-generated feel… you do want to have a little bit of a humanistic side to this.”

Legal considerations

When deciding who will use social media to speak on behalf of the company, an employer needs to set clear guidelines around the communication — especially if individual employees are contributing as opposed to just the communications or marketing department, said Dan Michaluk, an employment and privacy lawyer at Hicks Morley in Toronto. This will help employers have more control over the messaging and avoid legal or reputational issues.

“Tell (employees), ‘This is the type of content we want you to have approval on, this is what you can post without our approval and this is the content we don’t even want you to ask about (because it is never allowed),’” said Michaluk, also speaking at the SCNetwork event. “There’s a flow and need for urgency that needs to be recognized and if you create a model that doesn’t require everything to be approved, you’re probably going to get a higher-quality communication.”

The social media policy should be part of a company’s code of conduct and outline the guidelines and principles in a simple, concise manner, he said. And HR will be one of the important players in developing this policy.

“HR plays a critical role in the evolution of the organization and developing the strategy is going to involve a number of stakeholders and representation from a variety of groups at the table,” said Jenkins. “It’s not just about marketing an external point of view, it’s about embedding social media in an organization’s DNA.”

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SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies.

More is not really better – better is better (Organizational Effectiveness)

By Lydia Roy

How do we leverage and maximize social media and, at the same time, stay out of trouble? We need to take a managed and collaborative approach. Ask not what social media can do for you but what you can do for social media.

Don’t be distracted by the shiny new tools coming out every month — focus on what is going to be sustainable at your organization.

Does your company have a credible web presence around career opportunities? Does the recruitment page describe ideal candidates and what is important and interesting about them? Does it show what it’s like to work at your company?

Your presence can be a huge referral engine. But presence alone isn’t enough. You have to ensure corporate Twitter and Facebook accounts are being managed properly. And if you have a blog, ask yourself: Would you actually read it?

If you don’t have the time or resources to manage the social media systems, they can easily bring down the organization’s reputation. More is not better — better is better.

I was struck by the initiatives at Indium, which develops soldering products. It has more than 70 blogs, written by engineering staff, that feature great content and, through them, the company is able to start relationships with new customers.

Companies that are slow to try social media fail to distinguish themselves from the competition.

I was glad to hear Dan Michaluk give some legal advice for social media that made sense. He said employers shouldn’t try to control everything but it’s important to know what is going on at your organization. Having simple policies around social media, not major detail departures, are helpful. For example, the best organizations choose people to blog on their behalf and track their hours.

Simple guidelines are the best way to look at legal implications. Be clear on the “red items” that should not be blogged, the “yellow items” that need to be approved and the “green items” that need no approval.

The landscape of social media is moving fast and constantly changing. Do not sign up for services that will overwhelm and cause subconscious stress. Escape from activities that don’t move your business forward and focus on those that feature the brand and reputation of your company.

One of the fastest ways of growing a business is using social media. However, be prepared and fully committed to ensuring it enhances your reputation, communicates effectively and enables clients and employees to align and understand who you are and what your company stands for.

Lydia Roy is a commentator for SCNetwork on organizational effectiveness and founder and president of Star Coaching in Toronto. She can be reached at lroy@on.aibn.com, (416) 233-4189 or visit www.lydiaroy.com for more information.

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Social media hits tipping point (Leadership In Action)

By Trish Maguire

As social media becomes an essential and advantageous business strategy, it’s no longer about leaders pushing out messages, it’s about optimizing a new level of connectivity with customers, employees and the competition.

Organizations are leveraging social media to improve customer experiences and engagement, accelerate innovation and new ideas, increase productivity, gain a competitive edge and deliver bottom-line results. It’s proving to be a game-changer by fostering flatter organizations, encouraging better-quality and speedier knowledge flow among teams and business units, and making workers feel more connected.

But the proliferation of social media also comes with questions:

• How resourcefully is your organization leveraging social tools to raise its profile and talk knowledgeably and authentically about its business?

• As a leader, are you ready for this level of transparency, participation and engagement from customers and workers?

• Do you understand how this fundamental shift might positively affect engagement and retention indicators?

• What might be the win-win if your organization creates a work space on an internal social collaboration network that allows employees and managers to blog about best practices, share files and information and begin to build a live database of knowledge?

How would it impact the bottom line if these tools enabled workers to work more effectively together, solve each other’s problems more resourcefully, develop innovative ideas, experience a new sense of value for their contributions and learn new and critical skills?

Social media is evolving at an accelerated rate. The key challenges leaders continue to mull over include defining the internal and external use of social media, integrating expectations and etiquette guidelines with a code of conduct and, last but not least, finding the balance between employees accessing social media versus productivity.

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on leadership in action and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions in Nobleton, Ont., focused on high-potential leadership development coaching. She has held senior leadership roles in HR and organizational development in education, manufacturing and entrepreneurial organizations and can be reached at synergyx@sympatico.ca.

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Benefits outweigh hazards (Strategic Capability)

By Karen Gorsline

Many organizations are entering the world of social media, encouraging their workforce to get involved in support of the brand. But employers need to understand employees and organizations operate within a vastly different set of paradigms when it comes to social media.

Social media users, especially young users, see it as a Wild West with no rules or consequences. For some, it supports a host of meaningful relationships. For others, it provides an illusion of communication and community.

Social networking can support an individual’s professional and personal life but it often blurs the boundary between them. Given the degree of participation and acceptance, it is clear users believe the rewards of participating in social media outweigh the risks.

Organizations, on the other hand, operate with an illusion of control. As the world becomes less precise, less black and white and more dynamic, organizations have moved to a mixture of rules and guidelines to exercise control. As organizations move into the world of social media, they need to acknowledge there are a limited number of areas where they really need specific control — and they will also need to redefine what control looks like.

Below are some thoughts on managing in a social media world:

Don’t sweat the small stuff: Just because someone says they are not crazy about you or your product does not mean the world has come to an end. People have opinions and social media surfaces opinions.

Rely on key policies and legal protection where necessary: Organizations already have codes of conduct and other pre-existing policies. Employees need to know these still apply when using social media. In extreme cases, the legal remedies also still apply. Libel is libel, regardless of the medium.

Trust employees: Employees, as a rule, have better things to do with their time than say negative things about their organization. If the employer has a talented workforce and creates a sense of pride and involvement, the positive environment will become apparent through social media. Employees who bad mouth the company would have done so previously — they just have a larger audience with social media. The broader reputation of the company should prevail. The employer has the normal remedies to deal with employee conduct if needed.

The truth will out: While there are some gullible social media users and urban myths abound on the Internet, the volume of dialogue usually outs the truth or shows there are multiple opinions. Read Trip-Advisor reviews or almost any review forum and you can see this in action. Experienced users know how to sort through the information.

It is not what has happened, but what you make of it: Many companies have protocols in place to deal with faulty product. These protocols deal with admitting the problem, communicating a plan to address the issue and making a commitment to the consumer. If an employee or consumer has a legitimate complaint, the organization can address the issue in much the same way and make sure it is viewed as open, responsible and responsive in terms of addressing problems. Each incident is an opportunity to turn a problem into an example to showcase the company as a good corporate citizen and responsible employer or producer.

Social media challenges organizations’ traditional control mindsets, leading to the expansion of a culture of trust and the exercise of specific control only where necessary to the business or to meet regulatory requirements. Fortunately, many existing management guidelines and frameworks are useful in a social media world if applied with a large dose of common sense.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. Toronto-based, she has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at gorslin@pathcom.com.

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