It is often said that engaged employees are an organisation’s greatest advocates. But their enthusiasm to promote their companies on social media can, on occasion, create issues for their employers, particularly when it comes to customer-facing staff keen to give their branches a personal voice.
As the UK’s largest building society, it is a challenge that Nationwide recognises as many of its 700 branches across the UK have set up their own Twitter feeds with permission from local senior managers but with no direct management from the social media team at its Swindon head office.
These accounts are both a blessing and a curse for Nationwide’s head of social media and digital communications, Paul Beadle, as he juggles the enthusiasm of employees with the need to make sure any tweets ostensibly coming from the company are consistent and regulated.
‘These branch accounts show that our people really want to use social media to engage with each other and share their news, particularly around things like our Citizenship activity,’ says Beadle. ‘However, it could be confusing for our customers who want to communicate using the corporate accounts, and they also become harder to oversee because of the volume.’
Beadle’s plan is to streamline Nationwide’s social media accounts, by formalising some branch accounts and creating accounts with individual needs, for different geographic areas or for specific business functions for example.
‘This will help us channel the right communications through a fewer number of accounts, not only ensuring that employees get the information they need, but helping us keep a handle on what’s being tweeted,’ says Beadle. ‘This will probably mean that most of the other branch accounts, particularly those with lower follower numbers, will eventually close down.
‘People in the branch network have been happy to work with us to develop a situation where there are fewer official accounts. They love using social media but understand that, for many reasons, having a more formalised approach to those accounts is a good thing.’
Having a team of around 17,000 enthusiastic employees can be great for an organisation like Nationwide, and far from wanting to deter them using social media, Beadle instead wants to educate them on best practice so that they feel confident online.
In doing so, he also hopes to protect the building society brand from any online issues that could be detrimental to its reputation or its work.
‘We have some really good education that we are delivering to employees, both in terms of one-to-one and via our intranet and social media itself,’ explains Beadle. ‘People are proud of Nationwide and want to be advocates; they also want to share the good things they do, such as charity days, content that we also use on our corporate channels. So the education is really about making people aware of what our social media policy is, how that impacts on things like Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulation, and importantly, how employees can stay safe when they’re online.
‘Because Nationwide is regulated, we have to be careful not to endorse products or offer advice – beyond that, as an individual, if somebody is proud to work for Nationwide and share that on their social channels, then we are happy for them to be advocates.’
Beadle is also keen to make sure that everything is as straightforward as possible for all employees. ‘We use the hashtag #ItsCommonSense in our education, and that’s the bottom line. Our people are professional and highly trained, so they know there is no difference in terms of their conduct online and offline. The only added extra bit of advice for anyone using social media is to ensure you keep your private data private.’
The main message that Beadle wants employees to take away is equally as simple. ‘If you’re going to be talking about Nationwide or not, be aware of the social media policy and don’t say or do anything that would conflict with the values of the organisation you work for. And keep your sensitive data safe!’