Three years ago, the electronics retailer Best-Buy launched an internal program they called Blue Shirt Nation that asked for employee’s ideas across a social media platform.  Steve Bendt and Gary Koelling, the creators of Blue Shirt Nation, describe to Jason Falls in his blogpost “SME-TV: Discovering The Best Buy Blue Shirt Nation” why they thought employees were so important to their goals.  They thought that the best place to go for information about the customers would be the people that interact with them on a daily basis.

They found that, not only did their employees have a lot to say, but that they also really wanted a social media forum to communicate.  The first platform they used had video, audio and blogging capabilities, but there were major issues with adoption of the media from all levels of management.  The managers didn’t have time to spend sitting on a computer to receive the information. Bendt and Koelling turned to a new platform, a mix that allowed managers to view Blue Shirt Nation from other channels, such as smart phones.  They also cut the format down, making it shorter.

In Falls’ video, Koelling says that it was important for them to put their assumptions aside about what the platform should be and to actually listen to what the employees needed.  He also says that it was important for them to create someplace where employees felt comfortable to share their ideas in a space free of corporate speak.  Employees now feel they can bring their social selves to the site to connect with one another.  Therefore, the messages come from the people rather than a company.


According to Paul Miller in his article, “Get Ready for Intranet 3.0!,” intranets are driving services forward during this time of economic recession.  Companies have to get serious about what is important to their success by becoming leaner and more efficient in their communications strategies.  Miller explains that “Intranet 3.0” is a term used to describe the employee-facing technologies that have been making their way into organizations.  These applications, services and communities are changing the way work is done, how it is done, and how easy it is to complete.  Some companies like Sun Microsystems and IBM are changing the way their intranets work in order to maximize employee and company success.

Sun Microsystems is turning over its intranet to its employees.  Called “Project 90/10,” 90 percent of the ownership will belong to employees while 10 percent remains in the corporate communicators hands.  This project is to be completed by the end of this year.  The plan is to create the intranet of the future.  On this new site, employees will be able to see the external along with the internal.  Facebook will show up alongside corporate news.  Their goal is to mix the corporation with the sharing and playing that makes social media so exciting.

IBM has always been known for their global intranet, called W3, that was created back in the 1990s.  Since its creation, the intranet has become an essential part of the work force.  What makes this so interesting is the fact that social and community elements have been built into the more mundane tasks of the site.  The opportunity to learn from and connect with other employees is built into the experience.  Collaboration is never separate from the work, but rather an integral part.

In Michael Sebastian’s online article, “10 ways to attract employees to your intranet” he suggests getting employees involved in online multimedia file sharing and connecting them through social networking.  Similar to Sun, IBM suggests that the creativity and community of social media can be harnessed to connect and engage employees.

According to “Coca-Cola Enterprises Vision for Engagement,” Neil Jenkins, the European communications manager of Coca-Cola enterprises, believes that social media buy-in comes from focusing on business benefits rather than tools.  His communications strategy includes making sure that employees are being told a consistent and compelling story.  This means engaging business managers in the long-term goals of the company, and getting their 11,000 European employees behind the brand.  Currently, Jenkins is working to convey the company’s commitments to energy and water use through an interactive website with activities, blogs and videos.

Jenkins believes that social media can become an important tool for internal communications, but buy-in from executives can be hard.  He suggests that communicators stop using confusing social media terminology and that they speak to business leaders in the language they are used to.  By mentioning knowledge sharing, collaborating and productivity, the focus is more on the business benefits and not just the tools.

According to Gemma Went in her blogpost, “The social media strategy series: Getting Buy-in” it is important to show executives that social media is a long-term plan that needs long-term goals.  She suggests that you look at the company’s business plan and assess your objectives before starting a social media plan.  It is also important to find out which platforms are best for your employees.  By identifying your goals and objectives, you are more likely to set up a plan that is right for the company and convincing to your CEO.


Since social media has inundated our society, it has become inevitable that employees of a company use social media applications.  While many companies worry that their employees will post unprofessional or damaging content, social media can be useful in creating authentic brand messages.  General Motors and IBM are two companies that have adopted social media policies to regulate their use and to create brand ambassadors within their worker base.

Since filing for Chapter 11 in summer 2009, GM has had to cope with a very damaged image.  In looking to restore their image, the company is turning to its employees.   Mary Henige, GM’s social media director, thought that if more employees knew how to engage consumers and access information about the company, they could become stronger advocates.

 GM therefore launched an initiative to compel their workers to use social media in any way they could.  They instigated this by creating an online training course to give social media guidelines, as well as training sessions for the more savvy social media employees.  The self-guided online training consists of slides, bullet points, links and videos that branch from the basics like “What is Twitter?” to more in-depth topics like RSS feeds.  Users can find these tutorials under the “Communities” page on the company’s intranet.

Employees must stick to the social media policy outlined on the “Communities” page, but are free to blog or tweet about whatever they like.  They must state that they are an employee of GM somewhere in their tweets, status updates or bios, but are free to talk about politics, religion, or anything else they like.

While the training of employees to use these new technologies is crucial to creating brand ambassadors, trusting them to use the brand name is also important.  In Lindsey Miller’s article, “Can GM employees woo the country back through social media?” Henige talks about how there is a greater risk in not communicating than in communicating.  She recognizes that there is a danger involved in giving employees a voice, but she also sees that the benefits outweigh the risks.  It is interesting to note that these employees are not specifically writing about the company, nor are they writing for the company.  They are encouraged to write about what is important to them and to not speak on behalf of GM.  By creating online voices that are positive, friendly and motivating, GM is able to help mold a positive consumer perception of the company. 

Like General Motors, IBM has adopted social media guidelines for their employees and encourages them to use these tools.  According to Casey Hibbard in his article, “How IBM Uses Social Media to Spur Employee Innovation,” IBM does not have a corporate blog or Twitter because they want employees to communicate on behalf of the company.  IBM wishes to represent the employees online the same way they do within their company: by putting employee ideas first.  The company’s employee-written guidelines give them the freedom to write what they want without the worry of being policed by anyone within the company.

Posted by: Caroline Barna | October 10, 2010

Voice of McDonald’s Creates Brand Ambassadors

McDonald’s, the international fast-food corporation, has found an interesting way to engage some of its 1.7 million employees.  “Voice of McDonald’s” is a global singing competition much like “American Idol” that seeks to discover, recognize and reward McDonald’s employees with the talent to sing.  Over 10,400 employees from all over the world entered the contest to win $25,000 and the title of the “Voice of McDonald’s.”  This past April in the contest’s third installment, Chenee Capuyan of the Philippines was crowned the winner. The contest generated 685,985 votes and 1.1 million video views, all from employees.

The most interesting part of this promotion was how McDonald’s was able to pull off such a huge campaign using social media.  Joe Curry, manager of Global Web Communications for McDonald’s, shares how the company was able to use social media practices to engage employees in a BlogWell case study.  Curry explained that their social media presence had three parts: a home base, outposts and a frontier.  The home base was at the center of this equation, being the McDonald’s “Voice of McDonald’s” site.  This was the place they drove all traffic to, and where updates about the project were posted.  Next were the outposts, or social media presences, that the company did not necessarily own but could use to advertise and engage audiences.  It included their corporate internal networks, social networks, Twitter and YouTube.  Finally, the frontier was the place in which the company had a small presence but did not thoroughly engage, which was Flickr.  The outposts and frontier provided content that the viewer could not necessarily get from the main site, including advertising, but then drove the viewer back to home base for the voting.  It is important to note the tools they chose to use.  Because McDonald’s is a global company, the platforms needed to be simple and easy to communicate through, especially in many different languages.

The most important aspect to take away from this case study is that employees make great brand ambassadors.  According to Anders Grondsedt in his article “Living the Brand,” frontline employees make the best brand ambassadors because of their ability to tell stories and emotionally connect with customers.  Instead of finding a talented and established singer to advertise for the company, McDonald’s was able to tap into their employee base to find their biggest advocates. McDonald’s found they could use employees to engage consumers about the brand.  Once the semifinalists were selected, there were 3 months until the final competition.  The contestants were the primary sources of content and information at this point.  It was their job to comment and interact with their fans to promote the competition and in doing so, the company.  Through this program, McDonald’s was able to engage employees and customers around the world while highlighting interesting employees who care about the company.

Posted by: Caroline Barna | October 9, 2010

Lockheed Martin uses storytelling to connect with employees.

Storytelling within a company has recently been growing in popularity.  Storytelling refers to the practice of using narratives and anecdotes to connect employees to company strategy and policy.  According to Helen Love in the article “Unraveling the Technique of Storytelling,” this practice is important because it creates an emotional connection to the company’s work, and also illustrates company strategy for better understanding. 

But where do all of these stories come from?  Often the best place to find stories about a company are from the people who work inside it.  Social media applications are helping engage employees to share their stories with the corporate communicators who need them.  Communicators can put the word out both internally and externally for employees to comment on blogs, articles on the company website, the company’s Twitter account and Facebook.  In Steve Crescenzo’s article “Is the Next Alfred Hitchcock in the Cube Down the Hall,” he states that you are either going to get crap or gold from this process, but it’s the communicator’s job to know the difference.

Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor, used videos in a creative way to engage employees.  As defense contractors, Lockheed Martin builds warships, satellites and rockets, all of which need to be tested.  They call these tests “builders trials” and in 2008 their Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) was ready to be tested.  However, only two employees out of an entire staff of workers that contributed to the ship could be present for the test.  That’s a lot of dedicated employees that are left out of the most exciting and nerve-racking part of the process.

To solve this problem, communicator Kathy Baier went out and bought two inexpensive video camcorders and had the two employees record the process for everyone on shore to watch.  While they were asked to submit two videos a day, the employees with the cameras loved it so much they ended up submitting 20 videos the first day alone.  Baier then took it a step farther and created a section of the company’s intranet where employees could comment on the videos and ask questions, called LCSpace.

Lockheed Martin was able to build a community for their employees to share stories about what is happening within the company.  They gave employees an area in which they could get involved and talk about what they are passionate about.  Even the CEO got involved and commented on the videos.  It is important for communicators to be experimenting these new technologies.  Baier had no idea that this would turn into such a success, but she was willing to spend the time and resources to see where it would lead.  Through the process, she discovered a forum in which employees could engage with each other and with upper management.