Saturday, 20 March 2010

More social media stories (from M&S, Shell, Unilever)


   The second event this week was JustMeans’ Social Media & Stakeholder Engagement conference.  This featured a number of speakers / case studies (including Marks & Spencer – which I referred to in my Personnel Today report – presented by Robert Nuttall, formerly Head of Internal Communication there).

In one of these sessions, Bjorn Edlund, formerly Executive VP of Communication for Shell presented on a number of issues, including the need for all employees to be able to represent the company externally (which relates to the points made by AXA and Santander at the other conference earlier this week):

“What’s the difference between a company spokesperson and someone who just happens to work at Shell?  We have to let people communicate, let go of control.  We can’t participate in the conversation if the legal department need to check everything, for legalese and marketing spin.  People understand the different between being in the conversation and using information that’s not in the public domain as yet.  We need to adapt our disclosure rules.  People can make mistakes, things happen – but things have always happened.”


Also see:


I then moderated a session on Employee Engagement which included a presentation from Tim Johns, VP Corporate Communication at Unilever.  Johns’ presentation reinforced many of the points made by Edlund:

  • There are very low levels of involvement in traditional employee communication channels
  • People don’t trust these – they trust PLUs (People Like Us)
  • The future is about web space rather than web sites – Unilever’s collaboration zones
  • Employees can blog, vote and see the results
  • The company has moved from portals to a sharepoint platform people can use to find other people they’re interested in.


As a result of this shift, Unilever’s employee engagement scores have shot up.  The approach works because it’s what’s normal in external society, and because it’s right:

“Flattening hierachy & empoyering employees is where next battle lines in companies will be drawn.”


I was asked questions over Twitter on:

Engagement within Unilever’s multi-brand environment

Johns explained that companies think they can control messages and control the organisation – but Unilever is a massive organisation, and you can’t control it:

“It’s about a change in society, and there’s no difference between the internal and the external – so you can’t run internal and external differently.  You can’t engage employees in one place and not elsewhere – it doesn’t work like that.  You’re stronger when you cede control that when you try to keep it.”


Workplace agility

Is key – you could spend every day on planning.


Senior leadership nervousness about social media

Johns suggested that you shouldn’t ask permission or it will never happen.


Encouraging take-up outside just IT

Johns stressed the need to avoid the dead hand of HR and IT


Also see:



Please note, I hope the reporting of Johns’ presentation is reasonably accurate, but I was listening to Johns, keeping an eye on the audience and reading the tweets at the same time as scribbling down my notes, so please forgive any inaccuracies.



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