Corporate Communication Policies
Corporate communication policies are the official rules, principles, and rationales that organizations issue to guide all forms of communication within a system. Since more and more possibilities have been created for communication, organizations need to formulate rules and regulations to be able to create an overarching viewpoint of the organization. A policy is a statement of intent, and it is implemented as a procedure. In general, the board or senior bodies within an organization construct policies.
Policies can help not only in decision making but also in control, for instance, by determining who can serve as a spokesperson for what matters or who is allowed to talk to the press and financial analysts. This entry discusses the various elements of corporate communication policies and the importance of these policies with regard to corporate reputation. Furthermore, the need to monitor, discuss, and improve communication policies is discussed.
To be able to orchestrate, or to coordinate, policies, rules and regulations are needed to present the voice of the organization, in order to preserve or increase the reputation of the organization. Normally, these policies include information on who communicates the periodic reports, registration statements, and proxy statements related to the Securities and Exchange Commission, or other controlling bodies for companies with public shares. These policies can include news; earning reports; communications between the organization and investors, industry analysts, and other news media; senior management speeches; and presentations.
Under many corporate communication policies, employees may not participate in, host, or link to Internet chat rooms, or blog about or post on other social media about these aspects of the organization and about the organization’s products, services, or technology. Organizations issue policies to try to control and maintain a consistent image to the outside world, realizing the enormous number of channels and media available for individuals and, consequently, their employees.
Information can lead to threats to corporate reputation. The corporation’s communication policy should be in line with how the organization identifies itself. For instance, IKEA is positioning itself as young and informal; to uphold this image, it maintains consistency in everything from the way employees talk to customers to the names of the products. Having one clear identity serves in preserving the organization’s reputation and increases awareness among stakeholders about this corporate identity.
Many organizations now have a chief reputation officer (CRO). The CRO is responsible for reputation, brands, public relations/public affairs, and the management of all internal and external communications. Another name for the CRO might be the chief communication officer or the communication manager; this largely depends on the weight the organization places on communications. One of the responsibilities of a CRO is developing and implementing an integrated communication policy actively embedded in the organization’s business strategy. The policy can contain several elements, but it probably will contain a code of conduct and information about corporate governance.
The introduction of new communication media, such as the telephone and e-mail and, more recently, social media, leads to discussions about how and to what extent these can be used by employees in the workplace. In the past, employers discussed whether the office telephone could be used for private conversations, such as for making a doctor’s appointment, and whether e-mail could be used for personal reasons. In more recent years, similar discussions have taken place about social media. Since the distinction between work and private life became more permeable, most organizations have found that employees’ workplace use of the telephone, e-mail, and social media cannot be entirely controlled or restricted. But organizations like to be in control and certainly do not want to see employees sharing information that may negatively affect the reputation of the organization. A policy and a code of conduct can be of help in establishing expectations and allowing the communication department to control what information is shared with stakeholders and others. It can also help employees protect their life outside work hours, since communication media are easily available and are not restricted to office or work hours and a policy can limit the degree to which employees are expected to respond in their off hours.
In its simplest form, a policy can consist of a simple line like “Keep thinking about the information that you share.” But since that leaves all the decisions with the individual employee, most organizations would want to have a more precise policy or code of conduct. The policy might specify, for instance, that no one besides certain officials in the organization are allowed to share financial information or that only the formal bodies in the organization are allowed to share information about certain aspects of the organization.
A huge threat to corporate reputation can be messages sent from employees to their personal network. Saying bad things about one’s boss in the pub is now sometimes replaced by saying these bad things on social media. Because tweets, Facebook posts, and other writings on social media are saved and easily shared among other networks, the reputation risks for organizations are enormous.
These risks cannot be resolved by a policy or a code of conduct since they depend on the individual behavior of employees. It seems, however, wise to monitor all forms of social media in order to be able to quickly respond to an incident. In a policy, it should be made clear to what extent these will be monitored and when an employee will face consequences. These policies will, of course, be easier to enforce when there is only a limited amount of secrecy in an organization and when the organization is truly transparent. But complete transparency is a sine qua non, and there is always information that should not be shared because of privacy issues or because of competitors.
Ideally, a policy should contain straightforward instructions for employees on how to communicate with stakeholders. There should be clear categories on the kind of information that is not to be shared, which have to be exhaustive (all possible cases and types of information should be included) and exclusive (none of the categories can be misinterpreted). The evolving possibilities for personal communication, audio, and video mean that these policies should be under constant development. They need to be updated regularly to fit the current state of information and communication technologies.
These policies cannot ever form a final set of arrangements but should be part of an ongoing discussion in the organization and, consequently, an ongoing evolution of the policies in use. The organization has to involve employees in this to make sure that the policies are known and applied. Of course, organizations should not restrict employees from sharing personal information about work and the challenges of work, but they can help them determine how to share. The corporate communication department can offer messages suitable for employees to share, to help them with their work-related social media communication.
The content of the corporate communication policy depends on the organization and its culture. Ideally, the policy should be up-to-date, should be developed with the participation of employees, and should contain all relevant issues. A corporate communication policy should not be about restrictions alone but ideally about helping employees.
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