Internal communications that builds social capital
By Sharon Aschaiek | July 25, 2018
How well do my school’s faculty and administrative staff get along? Which employees have the most clout? How can the most dedicated employees help drive my school’s success?
These are the key questions internal communicators need to consider as they try to inform and engage employees at their university or college. Mike Klein says this is how to shift away from traditional top-down hierarchical communications towards the emerging approach of being more horizontal and social.
An experienced internal communications consultant who has served organizations such as the U.S. government, EasyJet, Shell and Cargill, Klein says to be effective, today’s internal communications must focus on the relationships between colleagues, and how influence, messages and actions connect in the real world.
“There must be a recognition that the role of internal communications is to impact word of mouth, rather than to just provide knowledge to employees…To do that, you need to know about the informal conversations taking place among staff, and which employees are driving the conversation,” says Klein, principal of Changing the Terms and author of the free eBook, From Lincoln to LinkedIn: The 55-minute Guide to Social Communication.
Three employee types
Klein says three main types of employee have an impact on how internal communicators do their work:
Influencers: The people in organizations whom their peers turn to for knowledge or support. These are the approximately 3% of employees who become influential among their coworkers by generating respect, sharing information and putting things into context for peers at their request.
Ambassadors: These are employees who are formally chosen by internal communicators, managers, HR or other functions to push endorsed agendas and behaviours and strengthen the organization’s brand. The goal is to empower ambassadors to share their expertise with other employees, become a trusted source of information, and glean important insights from employee-to-employee interactions.
Advocates: Highly engaged employees who choose to take an active role in promoting the organization’s priorities and have varying degrees of actual social influence. Even without much of their own social influence, they can help move an organization forward behind the scenes, e.g. “by stuffing envelopes versus knocking on doors,” says Klein, using a political campaign analogy.
Accessing the influencers
The money shot for organizations is being able to influence the influencers – to tap into their power to foster employee loyalty and promote their agenda. But this is a tricky business. First, research shows organizations usually don’t know who their internal influencers are.
A useful approach for getting the lay of the land of your organization’s employee culture is to recruit an objective third party to conduct an organizational social network analysis. This process will help identify how communication, information and decisions flow through your organization, and who the key influencers are.
A second change is when organizations try to enlist influencers as ambassadors – this can lead to them being viewed as company agents, which would zap away their social capital. Another issue is when organizations position their ambassadors as influencers. This will strike employees as inauthentic and hamper an ambassador’s ability to advance the organization’s agenda.
Klein says when ambassadors are tasked with championing a specific and limited agenda, they can be very effective. However, ambassadors can also be guided to build relationships with influencers and get their perspective on organizational initiatives and the opinions of employees.
“It’s about getting the influencer’s input rather than trying to mobilize them as a secondary ambassador. It’s also about gauging employee receptivity and interest,” Klein says.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of your school’s internal communications department will depend on your team’s ability to navigate the complex landscape of interactions between faculty and staff members. The better understand the social dynamics of your school’s workplaces, the more effectively you can strategize how to leverage the talent and insights of influencers, ambassadors and advocates.