Employee as brand-ambassador ? This calls for the right information approach

By March 06, 2012
PepsiCo website

PepsiCo allows its employees to disseminate internal company information on public social networks. This type of initiative, which aims to turn employees into brand ambassadors, should be placed in a wider public relations context … and more precise objectives need to be set.

Is a company’s Community Manager the only one entitled to talk about the company? Not necessarily. At least this is the conclusion we would draw from a PepsiCo initiative intended to make brand ambassadors of its employees. With this in mind, PepsiCo has allowed its employees to share material from the company’s internal newsletter on their own social network pages. However, the idea is not to let them publish absolutely anything. PepsiCo marks 85% of the content items with an icon indicating that the item can be shared with the general public. Though this might seem an interesting and original idea, Catherine Ertzscheid, a consultant in social media communication and community management, stresses that no-one should feel forced to disseminate information in this way. "This type of initiative only works if it invites discussion in an atmosphere of confidence," she underlines. In fact, employees can only become ambassadors if their company is not looking to portray a false view of reality by using them as ‘human billboards’ and this calls for “a genuine, thought-through, long term initiative," Ms Ertzscheid told L'Atelier.

A security question

This is an important factor since employees might also use the material at their disposal to criticise the company. This is why PepsiCo has developed, in parallel, an internal training programme to explain to employees just what they can share outside the company and how they should reply to potential questions. The programme underpins what looks to be a real change in company culture since it brings the realms of professional and private life face to face with each other. This can be a sensitive issue however, as it poses the question of how much control the company has over its employees. By its very nature, Catherine Ertzscheid points out, the company has a certain “power of constraint” over the member of employees under the work contract. But the degree and type of control tends to be less clear when it comes to this new kind of initiative. For that reason, stresses Ms Ertzscheid, “training is the best way to ensure that the initiative does not prove counterproductive”.

Local content first 

Another way of encouraging employees to disseminate information is to ensure that the information makes sense to them and to the contacts whom they share it with. In fact, most of the material disseminated by PespiCo employees is primarily of a local nature, i.e. it’s closely bound up with the employees’ own lives. For its part, the company needs to ensure that such information “closely concerns the reader, as employees will only pass on an item if they feel it’s of importance at a personal level,” warns Catherine Ertzscheid, adding that this type of initiative must be designed in the same way as any other Communication project: “The first thing to do is to set out the objectives you wish to attain.”

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