Direct Feedback from L’Occitane en Provence, Bouygues Construction, BBGR, and Axa Group.
Last week, Sociabble hosted a round table at EBG, the #1 digital innovation club in France. With 660 member companies, EBG organizes more than 220 events every year to bring together business decision makers around themes such as Big Data, Digital Marketing trends, the Digital Workplace, Artificial Intelligence workshops, and more.
For this round table dedicated to the challenges of internal communication vis-a-vis the development of social networks, Renaud Marcadet, our Managing Director in France, was accompanied by:
Audrey Brahim, Digital Corporate & Brand Content Strategist, Axa Group
Antoine Pechadre, Director of Human Resources, BBGR
Pierre Auberger, Group Communications Director, Bouygues Group
Denis Geffroy, Communication and Reputation Director, L’Occitane en Provence
Key elements to the debate:
Pierre Auberger: “In my opinion, the employer brand does not exist, there is only one identity, that of the brand, that must be cultivated and disseminated.”
Antoine Pechadre: “Employees are not paid to learn, we must connect with them on the media they know and use, like mobile. ”
Audrey Brahim: “The motto: do less, but better. It is a return to large formats that re-boost the teams.”
Denis Geffroy : “There are 6 major subjects during the year, about which we will seek to inform employees on key topics.”
Your employees are focused on their tasks, and in a sense they are not paid for information. And when they have 5 free minutes available, they jump on their phones. In this context, how do you manage to reach them?
DG : By communicating with them on their phone, quite simply. Our goal for the past year has been to modernize all of our communication tools, because our employees expect the same type of experience in business that they have in their private lives, regardless of their position.
AB : Infobesity is at the heart of the thinking at Axa, and our communication projects seek to fit into those available periods of free time. We have adapted our content, it’s mobile and depends a lot on “snack” content. More and more, we’re using public screens in places of transit, especially to relay this “snack” content and communications from social networks.
AP : Our employees do not necessarily jump on their phones during work hours. And they generally do not get much information, either, outside of work hours. For the most part, our employees receive information as part of their work-day.
PA : We have Intranets by business, and sometimes by interest, via the CSR Yammer, and newsletters. We have Sociabble for the most engaged employees.
Newsletter, Intranet, CSR, news platform, convention, management, internal newsletter—the internal communication channels are numerous. What is your mix for internal communication? On which media do you accelerate vs. slow down?
PA: Digital tools have replaced almost all magazines. But we kept the most prestigious magazines that employees receive. After putting significant effort into Yammer, we are now accelerating our Employee Advocacy because it is a strategic issue.
AP: We’ve slowed down as much as possible on paper communications, even though we have many operators with an average age of 45 years. But we accompany them in this evolution towards digital communication. We try to bring all the traffic to our one communication hub, the Sociabble platform. We communicate internally on short and responsive content. We tend to favor all that is social network-related to attract attention, the goal being that those who are interested can recognize the subject as being relevant almost instantly.
DG : Before, L’Occitane was relatively poor when it came to internal communication—we did not have a global tool for internal communication. We had a newsletter, but it was abandoned five years ago. One year ago, we worked on evolving the intranet, but we were not very satisfied with the results. So we decided to put all our marbles into a corporate social networking solution—when one has limited resources, one cannot simply multiply the communication channels. This platform is essentially our sole channel of communication, along with some regular meetings and networks of public screens.
AB: The screens have proven to be a very powerful medium because they do not require a pro-active approach. Since content comes from social networks, they are short and impactful, and the information is transmitted easily. We do 4 or 5 well-researched pieces of content per year. Within the framework of this content, the engagement with each becomes the vector of communication.
It is difficult to get all employees on the same page, the internal newsletter is too expensive to produce, to be communicated to all employees, etc. And only 40% of employees are generally informed of the objectives of the company. What internal communication tools do you have in place to ensure that important messages arrive, without distortion, to those excluded from the Intranet?
AB: Everyone has access to the Intranet, but not everybody uses it. The usage varies considerably by office and country. We have an annual convention with the top 800. The role of the comms group is to organize this meeting and equip the managers to deploy these messages in local meetings. Throughout the year, we conduct global surveys to ensure that the strategic plan is well-understood, and at the end, employees can ask questions.
PA: We have 130,000 employees, many do not have access to an Intranet, but we do give access to digital communication to all of them.
DG: In any case, the Intranet excluded everyone because it was not effectively communicating. A few months after the arrival of the new General Director, we had to find a solution to inform all employees of the new strategy. And we had 2 months for that. It was important to be able to broadcast videos, share news, etc. Thanks to the platform, we now reach 60% of our employees. And other media are used to repeat the messages that are shared on Sociabble.
AP: Beyond the cost, the paper newsletter is simply not read. There is too much text, it no longer serves a purpose. We are only 750, so we can have mini-conventions. We do this by bringing together employees with similar profiles, which allows us to better address everyone’s questions. We make sure that each employee has an email address and access to Sociabble. And on sites where the CSR penetration rate is lower, we also use paper displays. And of course, the managerial support is important, we provide managers with specific information on our CSR.
Internal communication is often very widely distributed: management, internal comm, HR, group vs. subsidiary, etc. How do you ensure message consistency? How do you associate the employer brand approach with your internal communication?
AP: We are fortunate to have a company of 750 people, so the coordination is much simpler. We can therefore bring together the strategic parties in a monthly editorial committee. The main themes selected by the editorial committee are validated by the management committee. Key topics must remain close to the everyday lives of employees, and of course, the principles and values of the group are supported by BBGR’s communication.
PA: I manage the group level, which aims to unite all employees around the group’s values. Our goal is to give a feeling of belonging, whether you work on a bridge in Asia or are a journalist at TF1. There really isn’t a risk of incoherence, from the moment we are all aligned behind the group’s values. Employer branding is a concept invented by HR agencies that makes no sense. For me, there is only one communication, one brand, whose communicators are the guarantors. An employer brand not aligned with the brand weakens the brand.
AB: Recently, we have added a global Intranet accessible to all employees. But keeping things coherent remains the daily challenge of the comms group. We are still looking for the optimal organization. The corporate comms, the CSR comms, and the employer brand are becoming closer, more aligned. We distinguish less and less between the three. We emphasize the collaboration between the teams.
DG: Obviously, coherence is necessary, in particular because of the overlap between external and internal communication. The teams are also under pressure due to the speed of external communication. We have several communication teams: the internal and the communication teams of the different brands, so we have to synchronize. But you have to accept a certain “letting go” that allows for an expansion of messaging. We must get past the idea of perfect uniformity of the comms—the communication should be comprised of many voices. Modern communication is produced by many people, and alignment must be about values and culture, more than about each message.
13% of employees are actually engaged in their work according to Gallup. The latest studies highlight that a key element when it comes to employee engagement is to “understand their role in the organization.” What is the role of internal communication as it pertains to this issue?
DG: Internal communication is not necessarily about helping everyone to understand the specific role they have in the organization. But the inner circle needs to understand in which direction the company is going. And internal communication must ensure that managers understand this, too, and can contextualize it for each employee on their team.
PA: It is important to make sense, explain our vision for business, our vision of management. We do give it meaning, but the task of internal communication is completely delegated to the various comms directors.
AP: The role of internal communication is obviously to make sense, and to communicate, at different levels. It is therefore necessary that each type of employee receives messages adapted to their profile, to recontextualize things. It is also necessary to let employees speak about their daily lives and their pride in working at BBGR. Trust is a key element in engagement.
AB: You need to be reassured about the strategic orientation, the mobilization of each employee to achieve the objectives. This is also communicated by the public speaking of employees. This of course requires trust. It is important to give the floor to the staff, during major events or on subjects of which they are specialists. It is interesting to give them the floor externally as well. Employee advocacy is also an internal communication tool. That is an important element of our program as well.
Many studies show the importance of the impact of external communication internally. Do you have a joint approach between internal communication and external communication? Do you relay external communication internally? Even when this communication is not positive?
AB: Yes, the exchange between the internal and the external is in both directions. We are organized for this. All internal and external media work together, and when it makes sense, we communicate together. When it comes to news that is not in our favor, we try to communicate it to the employees as soon as possible.
PA: The digital world has made the border between internal and external communication very porous. Any internal communication (non-confidential) must be designed, at the very least, to not pose any external problems. This new situation requires a great deal of reactivity in order to be sure that employees, especially in the event of a crisis, are not being informed externally. And again, employee advocacy has a role to play in relaying official information.
DG: Yes, of course. We relay the external information internally, it is a primary function of the Sociabble platform. Employees are very interested in store openings, and factory employees are proud to see their products sold. Employees must also be involved in this communication, allowing them to speak as freely as possible.
AP: Yes, we have to relay what is happening externally internally. If we do not do it, the employees will do it for us. With few exceptions, we do not moderate the contents, including that which might not be positive. People are generally pretty kind. In 6 months, out of almost 2,000 pieces of content posted by employees on Sociabble, we moderated only 3.
Social networks have had a very strong impact on external communication: the importance of immediate response, the transition to image and video communication, short content, integration of external content, etc. What about internal communication?
AP: It’s the same. The Info-News, which was the digital newsletter, was no longer read. Today, comms needs to be catchy, punchy. We must accept that internal communication isn’t a place for legalese. We ended up having incomprehensible content, and we were always one step behind, trying to make it as smooth as possible. The priority is speed. And moreover, quite frequently, the internal events are published by the employees before the internal comms team can share them.
AB: Internal communication is at the heart of this issue. After lagging for a few years, we asked ourselves the question of the user experience. It is necessary to rethink internal communication, and to challenge it just much as external communication to attract traffic. We must find the same uses internally as externally, and with the general public. You have to attract your internal audience.
DG: Similar intentions and experiences have forced internal comms to change profoundly, just as external communication was forced to change some time ago. It’s an imperative for change, and it’s a great opportunity to rethink the role of internal communication, which for a long time has been external’s poorer cousin. One example is the implementation of early moderation, which is not compatible with the expectation of instantaneous communication. At the beginning of the project, we had moderation as a priority, which we have since disabled. But sometimes moderation is necessary to avoid peddling unfounded rumors.
PA: Any external communication that we push is also addressed to our employees. The role of external communications should not be to neglect employees. Many of our followers actually are employees.
In “The Goldfish Civilization,” Bruno Patino refers to numerous statistics: 30 smartphone activations a day, hundreds of solicitations a day, attention spans of just a few seconds, the difficulty to read more than 10 lines of text, etc. Do you adapt your internal communication to this situation?
PA: We are aware of all that. We try to adapt, especially in terms of video. We are developing a partnership with a platform that allows for short video formats. We are also thinking about podcasts. We adopt the style of social networks, but we still have work to do.
AB: We learned to do less, but it’s always complicated. We are still confronted with this game of internal recognition, which sometimes forces us to communicate subjects that only matter for the sender. This content consumes a lot of time for little impact. We still have work. Because what works is a newsletter with 5 or 6 pieces of content, of just 3 lines.
AP: Everything must be in the header of the content. Only the headline counts. You have to market the comm. We make at least one video per month, we’ve already begun, but it’s a process because in 2 minutes of video, you have more than 40 lines of text. And the video is consulted content.
DG: Today, for the internal comms, we produce a lot of videos, in a very short format, casual speech, and we use humor…
One of the changes caused by social networks is a much more bottom-up style of communication—live content created by people who are not communicators. Some of this content is not well-made, but some is of excellent quality. Does your internal communication rely on UGC?
DG: Yes, that’s the goal of our project. The advantage of our internal communication tool is that it increases the communication capacity. Some employees have very good communication skills. We encouraged them to create their own content channel and to manage the community interested in these topics. These internal influencers bring a mesh that finally allows us to cover all subjects. This is another very profound change, as the internal worker becomes an organizer of internal influencers.
AB: We do not yet have an ecosystem in place to do this, but of course, in the highlights, we try to cover as much as possible the communications made by our employees, especially on external social networks.
PA: The bottom-up aspect is partially adopted in our internal communication, especially via Yammer, but external communication is easier, thanks to Sociabble. Moreover, internally, communication remains an important management tool. But as we said before, the external communication is streaming internally.
AP: We did not notice any problems of quality in the content proposed by the employees. People are self-regulating. The posts of the employees are published at the local level, and some are taken again at the national level. The contribution of UGC is that it deals concretely with elements of strategy, while the content communicated by the comms team is more abstract.
With social networks, the word of the citizen has gained credibility with regards to speaking out in the media. In companies, the difficulty of finding certain information fuels the suspicions of a lack of transparency. How do you approach these issues of transparency and authenticity in your communication with employees?
AP: I do not think we have transparency issues because we are on sites on a human scale. We have human contacts between headquarters and employees. We have a significant amount of trust, perhaps also because we know how to talk about our failures, especially with our social partners. The “mea culpa” rehumanizes the relationship of trust.
AB: We did not communicate about our failures internally before. But we do it now. It’s a big step forward. And, we do not hide the indicators that do not give good news.
DG: The demand for transparency is growing and we are responding to it. Nevertheless, employees understand that all information is not public, in particular confidential information, financial performance, etc. Political speech must also be monitored. But what must be remembered is that the platform has allowed us to take a big step forward by creating a real expansion that also brings more authenticity and transparency.
PA: We did not wait for social networks to be more transparent. Internal communication at Bouygues has always been very important since the company was founded in 1952. We have always spent a lot of time communicating positive or less positive things and explaining them, particularly because employees have 23% of voting rights on the board of directors. This also explains why the participation rate in professional elections is 82%.
Do you think that the establishment of independent internal media can happen in a company?
PA: It already exists, social networks already play this role. There is nothing more to do, there is already Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
AP: Yes, it could happen. The social partners already have this role. And besides, they use Sociabble to communicate. And anyone can publish anything on other platforms.
AB: It’s already happened. Speech control is not really possible anymore. Even if everyone self-censors a lot.
DG: I agree with all these points. This independent media has always existed, it even has a name: “the rumor mill.” And institutionalizing a media independent of management will not necessarily bring much to what already exists. And since we are already in a system of coherence and trust, there is no mistrust vis-à-vis the internal communication.
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