Controlling the Corporate Message? The PR Tight-Rope Walk

So, how do we encourage informal collaboration and communications amongst employees – but still retain some control over the corporate image that will get diffuse without the professional touch of Public Relations and Corporate Communications. The Economist reports –

On October 31st Virgin fired 13 of its cabin crew who had posted derogatory comments about its safety standards and some of its passengers on a Facebook forum. Among other things, crew members joked that some Virgin planes were infested with cockroaches and described customers as “chavs”, a disparaging British term for people with flashy bad taste. On November 3rd BA began investigating the behaviour of several employees who had described some passengers as “smelly” and “annoying” in Facebook postings.

Cracking down on employees in this case may have merit, but this highlights a growing uneasiness in the corporate communications and public relations circles. Where does social networking fit in the corporate world?

If such cases are considered aberrations or problems that need to be ‘solved’, then a huge opportunity would be squandered – with little or no chance of the problem going away. With the rise of social networking and associated acceleration in communications, it is very easy to share ideas and influence opinions by aggregating preferences. Everyone has already been ‘networking’ in the real world. It is just that the network is now moving online to a virtual world as well. We can legislate and create procedural and legal barriers asking our staff to ‘switch off’ their network for work related items – and invest in a thought police to enforce the rules and punish the guilty. It might work in the short run, but it is a losing battle. Thoughts, ideas, communication and collaboration that could be leveraged for everyone’s benefit will now just be driven deeper underground…. These things cannot be switched off in sentient beings.

The other approach is to consider why we need to control the informal communications. Maybe the ‘official’ corporate image does not match with reality; or maybe the corporate vision and goals have not been communicated to the employees – reflected in daily actions, not just an official scroll; or maybe the leadership is not leading from the front in creating a common vision and in getting constant feedback to keep the vision fresh, current and relevant…or a combination of all that..or..or…

The wall between ‘internal’ communications and ‘corporate’ (external) communications is being chipped down. Why spend resources on shoring up the wall and in crafting the pristine external message and in defending against ‘rogue’ messages? Some of those resources are better spent in creating one consistent message for everyone. Employees are the best brand ambassadors besides being customers too!