Employees who actively create content on social networks have a strong impact on a company’s e-reputation.
Brand image has become more difficult to manage with the emergence of online communication channels. Where once a single structured image could be conveyed through a variety of media, the fact that people are able to share their views and experiences over the Internet has radically altered the approach to corporate communication. A recently-published study carried out by three researchers at business schools in Finland and France set out to assess the impact on a company’s reputation of comments and opinions posted online by its employees. One consistent observation is that first-hand information, whether about an actual product or the general work quality at the company, carries high communication value in terms of the company’s reputation. Hence the conclusion that a company’s reputation may depend less on the existence of a centralised ‘digital team’ dedicated to the social networks than on how the firm manages its employees and their well-being.
Employee relationship with company reputation re-assessed
The research team, who study or teach at Aalto University School of Business in Finland and NEOMA Business School at Rouen in France, conducted interviews with senior and middle management in three Finnish companies – respectively in the food, banking and business consulting sectors. All interviewees shared the view that their company’s reputation is an important factor in overall business performance. The results of these investigations appear to show that there is no longer any dividing line between private and public communication when it comes to company employees and their activities on the social networks. Employees are seen to play an active role both in reputation-building and in creating ‘meaning’ for what the firm is doing. The report suggests therefore that strictly regulating what employees say online might well prove counterproductive and that a company could enhance its e-reputation by improving overall transparency of information. “The ways in which companies balance between managing work and private lives of their employees online becomes an issue that needs more attention,” the authors underline.
Focusing on employee well-being
The study findings thus indicate that transparency and managing employee satisfaction and well-being are becoming important tools for upstream reputation-management. The authors suggest moreover that an over-rigid approach, trying to maintain a single official line of communication across the entire company, is likely to adversely affect the credibility of the messages. It will probably be much more effective to allow employees to post on the social networks in their own individual style. With such an approach, a key factor in a company’s e-reputation management will be the way the company treats its employees. Joonas Rokka, Assistant Professor of Marketing at NEOMA Business School and one of the study’s three co-authors, sums up the situation thus: “When companies trust their employees, treat them fairly and follow the right management practice on a day-to-day basis, staff in turn usually work for the good of the firm and are willing to share their experiences of the company and support its products on the social networks.”