Showcasing and engaging your employees on digital channels

Jason Sumner explains timely changes to the methodology driving the Bowen Craggs Index of Online Excellence.

We have added an employee-focused metric to our Index methodology; and now place extra weight on ESG reporting and climate change communications. What do these changes mean for your corporate digital communications?

Bowen Craggs’ methodology for evaluating corporate digital communications was created in 2007, but constantly evolves to take in new trends; insights from our extensive audience research and consultancy work; and our own expertise from spending hours reading and listening to the words that companies publish, and making judgments on their effectiveness.

Are you reflecting the views, experience and activities of real employees?

It’s become clear to us that communicating with and about your staff on external digital channels is becoming increasingly relevant for most large companies; to the extent that some have broken down the internal-external barrier completely, such as a US retail giant’s ‘Walmart World’ social media channels.

Your company does not have to go as far as Walmart does, but showcasing and engaging employees on websites and social media makes sense – in order to attract jobseekers, lift morale internally and improve the company reputation more generally. This is part of the ‘inside-out communications’ trend we identified in the 2020 Index of Online Excellence, with Index leaders such as BP, Verizon and Bosch all sharing more about their employees’ life and work with a journalistic, human-interest story approach.

Employees are a significant visitor group on corporate digital channels. Our visitor research shows that on average, 7% of visitors to corporate websites are employees. Employees are often also prolific users of their company’s social media channels, and are among the most engaged audiences – sharing and promoting news stories, for example.

A growing number of members of our Bowen Craggs Club, an exclusive network for corporate digital communicators, have internal communications in their remit. Half of club members who took our member survey in January 2021 have some responsibility for internal communications, up from just a quarter of those surveyed in our 2018 corporate digital governance research.

Anecdotally, we know that employees often turn to a company’s external communications to get beyond what they perceive as the company’s ‘official line’, even if the intranet is well used. And finally, there is significant overlap between internal and external communications. Companies are doing more to ensure that communication with internal audiences is at least consistent with external communication, if not fully integrated.

For all of these reasons, we have redesigned our serving jobseekers metric to include an employee-focused submetric that asks how effective companies are at featuring employees on their external channels, and if there are signs that internal and external communications is aligned.

Are you making it easy for investors to find ESG data?

As the world wakes up to the importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance, so are mainstream investors and analysts. Financial professionals and individual investors are taking a greater interest in using social and environmental reporting (sometimes known as ‘non-financial’ reporting) to evaluate companies, alongside financial performance data.

We’ve been evaluating ESG for years with our ‘Serving society’ Index metric, but we know from our visitor research that a small but significant percentage of investors are interested in social and environmental information, and visit ‘sustainability’ sections. The percentage of investors interested in sustainability is much higher than average for some sectors, such as extractives, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), technology and apparel.

Several companies, such as Verizon, Unilever and Novartis now signpost ESG data prominently from investor sections. There may be cases where signposting this data is not relevant for a company’s investor base, but we think these examples are increasingly rare; so we now mark companies up or down in the Index accordingly. We also check ESG data for consistency against a recognised external standard because investors and analysts crave consistency.

Is your climate change communication clear, detailed and backed up by evidence?

Finally, climate change. All corporate audiences, not just investors and sustainability professionals, expect companies to discuss climate change impacts, risks and prevention measures. We have written before about how companies such as AXA, Total and ING are specifically addressing climate change on their corporate digital channels, within a wider discussion about their environmental and social record.

The changes to our methodology here are more subtle; we do not think you must necessarily have a climate change subsection, for example. In some sectors, however, audiences will expect companies to talk about climate change (whether it is separated into its own section or not), and those communications should be clear, detailed and evidence based. The scoring in our reputation metric puts more emphasis on this now.

We will be incorporating these changes in our reviews from now on, and they will feature in the 2021 Index publication, scheduled for October.

Jason Sumner is director of operations and editorial at Bowen Craggs

Find out more about the Bowen Craggs Club, an exclusive network for corporate digital communicators, by emailing Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

First published 10 February, 2021
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