Is internal comms about to get interesting?

Apps to deliver internal communications material, in-house brand journalists that report internal news, crowdsourcing of CSR funds and co–creation of content are just some of the innovations that internal communicators are using to keep employees engaged, to inculcate brand values and to ultimately form a strong and transparent connect with customers.

Content Co–creation

Microsoft launched the Microsoft Journalist (MJs) initiative in 2014, which already has over 25 MJs in India. Gayatri Rath Director Corporate Communications and Citizenship, Microsoft says that, "this is a local Microsoft India initiative, it invites employees with a flair for telling engaging stories to enrol as a Microsoft Journalist (MJ). They identify potential stories relevant to all employees of Microsoft India, develop and file them – through both written articles and pictures, for publishing in the employee portal”. 

Aniisu K Verghese, Corporate Communications Lead of Tesco HSC, feels that the future of internal communications is about personalisation, co-creation of content and engagement that encourages a continuous two-way dialogue. Aniisu points out that engaged colleagues want to do more for the brand, and readily go above and beyond if given the opportunity, but feels that: “They are often misguided on how and when. It is the ownership of the internal communications team to facilitate seamless connections and increase opportunities for employees to take brand engagement to the next level.”

Tesco recently asked in-house staff to be ‘photo-journalists’ and ‘video-storytellers’ for their family day – they would capture the essence of the event. Aniisu says that the corporate communications team readily used the material produced on both internal and external channels. “By ‘crowdsourcing’ these images, we gave our colleagues an opportunity to play an active role in communications, and several of them felt tremendous pride while carrying out their role. They shared this sentiment with their wider networks, and this resulted in a positive sentiment overall. We are now crafting a campaign to involve our colleagues and followers to contribute to Tesco HSC’s 10th Anniversary timeline and be part of our journey by sharing nuggets from the past”.

Tesco HSC, has also created an in-house social media council that invites participation from colleagues who are passionate about new media. Aniisu says that these colleagues are consulted often: “We take their views on how to refine our messages, elevate our reach and make an overall impact. The most recent instances were campaigns that we ran in late December 2013 through mid-January 2014. The corporate communications team facilitates this council’s engagement. The group meets every month to brainstorm on campaign ideas, and we actively debate what can be done to improve our delivery and engagement through existing channels. The council’s views feed back into how our communication programmes pan out, while widening our horizons at the same time. In the era of transparency and sharing, boundaries are blurred and internal and external interactions often overlap. In this context, is it is more important than ever to ensure our colleagues are completely aligned and in sync about the crafting of these messages.”

Connecting through innovation

One of the key challenges in the millennial corporate place is to help employees find their inner innovator and socially responsible avatar, especially in large groups such as Mahindra. The Mahindra group has 180,000 employees spread across 100 countries, operating in 18 industries ranging from aerospace to auto to farm equipment.

For the Mahindra group, the philosophy of ‘Rise’ is a core peg to keep everyone connected. Darius Lam, General Manager, Group Communications, Mahindra Group says: “Employee engagement is key to any brand’s success. Internalising your brand values is the first step to changing or improving a company’s image. If your employees live your principles, your customers will automatically get influenced. The ideas of social responsibility and innovation, for example, are greatly inundated into Mahindra’s philosophy of ‘Rise’. For example, through our Employee Social Options Program (Esops), we connect Mahindra employees with people in need all across the globe.  Each year we organise on-going initiatives to reach out to disadvantaged communities”.

Mahindra says that in 2012-2013, almost 19,000 Esops volunteers contributed 1,09,250 man-hours toward a variety of social causes.

Spark the Rise is another way that Mahindra externalises their ‘Rise’ philosophy. Spark the Rise is a platform for innovators and entrepreneurs with path-breaking ideas. Darius says that: “Our employees have always had a desire to give back to their communities, not just monetarily but also through their time and dedication to social causes. Spark the Rise did more to take this burning desire to the masses at large by bringing people together to work for change."

Shravani Dang, Vice President and Global Group Head of Corporate Communications at the Avantha Group and Advisory Board member of Women in Leadership Forum says one of the biggest challenges is to stay involved and engaged in a large, multi-cultural group of people. Avantha, the power to paper group is in over 90 countries and has over 25,000 employees.

The group is planning a new technology to ensure that such a large and diverse group of people is connected. Shravani says: “We are planning to build an app for internal communications. This internal communications app will be downloadable onto any device and will enable us to leverage the growth of mobile devices and tablets. It will also let us push internal communications beyond the more restrictive intranet. Easily downloaded onto iOS, Android, Windows and desktop devices the Avantha internal communications app will keep all parts of our organisation connected.”

Shravani adds:  “The app, as we plan it, will let users know about what's happening or when the latest news has been put on the app – real time and virtually while the employee is on move or hundreds of miles away from our headquarters. Our team is already in advanced stages of discussion with technology providers and we expect to be beta testing the app in a couple of months.”

Crowdsourcing of funds

On April 1st, CSR contributions became mandatory for about 16,000 companies under the new Companies Act 2013. This represents a 20,000 crore opportunity to drive social change if companies comply with contributions.

India is now the only country in the world that makes CSR mandatory and puts a number to the contributions. Companies have already undertaken CSR efforts, using crowd funding to raise money.

Gayatri says that at Microsoft, “giving is a global initiative that lets our employees donate time, resources and money for a social cause of their choice. Recently, our India development team came together to use that platform to raise money for the visually impaired. They helped create a visual sensory park and helpline with LV Prasad Eye Institute.

Tesco HSC recently ran the recent social media campaign (#spreadcheer) to create awareness around Tesco HSC’s community initiatives. The idea was given key inputs by Tesco HSC’s in–house social media.

Aniisu says: “The initiative received the kind of response it did, due to supplementing communication about our CSR efforts with content that engaged our colleagues and online followers in a meaningful conversation. Prior to opening up the initiative, we approached our social media council for insights on how this might resonate online and sought ideas on the right approach. We fine-tuned our plan based on these inputs and the results are there to see. In less than two weeks, we got a lot more people involved in supporting the causes we’re invested in, while simultaneously raising funds that were eventually directed to our partner NGO.”

Written by Paarul Chand

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