None of us need to be reminded that social media has an impact on corporate reputation. But while we tend to think about this in terms of customer attitudes, new research published in the Journal of Marketing Management explores the ways in which social media is also increasing the importance of employees in corporate reputation management.
According to Joonas Rokka, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Neoma Business School in France, companies need to focus more on managing employees as active reputation builders and brand ambassadors in social media instead of viewing them only as possible reputation risks.
"We observe an increasing and consistent need to address the heightened role of employees in social media, regardless of whether the company has an official presence there," Rokka said.
"This need emerges from the fact that employees have a crucial role as active meaning makers and reputation builders in various social-media networks that include customers, colleagues, and friends, and in which the boundaries between work and non-work roles begin to lose their sharp contours. Hence, the ways in which companies balance between managing work and the private lives of their employees, as well as openness and control, becomes an issue that needs careful attention,"
Rokka and co-authors Katariina Karlsson and Janne Tienari, from Aalto University School of Business in Finland, argue that this means companies that invest in employee wellbeing are likely to see a return in the form of better reputation in social media.
"When companies trust and treat employees fairly, and adopt good day-to-day management practices, employees will do good for the company in return. For instance, by sharing their experiences of the company and its products in social media," Rokka continued.
In other words, since employees are a fundamental element of reputation management, their well-being influences social-media presence which in turn impacts reputation.
The study was based on data gathered from managers in three different business sectors: fast-moving consumer goods (food products), financial services (banking) and professional services (new media consulting).
Despite varying "official" social media presence (with financial services by far the least connected), companies in all three sectors acknowledged that their employees have an important role to play as reputation-builders among both customers, colleagues and friends, and all agreed that the boundaries between work and non-work roles have started to blur.
Another finding is that achieving transparency is more important for reputation building than seeking to avoid negative impressions or risks. "Tolerance for critical messages may be seen as a sign of openness and trustworthiness towards stakeholders," the authors argue.
Moreover, while policies and guidelines for what is or isn't acceptable n social media are obviously important, they also suggest that open communication and fair treatment of employees in day-to-day management becomes another pre-emptive control mechanism.
"Companies need to trust their employees and allow for personal style, as long as the company and brand values have been internalised through 'good' day-to-day management," the study concludes.