A common misconception is to consider organizations and their components as living, breathing, independently acting beings. The Supreme Court of the US may have granted corporations the same rights as an individual, but they are not able to prescribe how that is supposed to work without human interaction. Without people they would not exist at all. If it is essential for individuals to network to carve out a brand image, how important is it for organizations to network? This is not a trick question because all companies have a brand even if they don’t work to make one. Networking, intentional or otherwise, is done on behalf of the company by its employees. One disgruntled customer reacting to the actions of a low level employee can create a brand image where none existed. It is people that make the policies causing branding to happen. Some may just call that marketing, but everyone in the organization brings a personal network to work every day. To ignore this vast network can be fatally shortsighted.
Traditional marketing is focused on selling products and services. The thing we call public relations is all about keeping a favorable image with the public. While “customers” and the “public” are composed of people, the generic concept and planning is not usually about dealing with individuals. Every personal contact has a network that is brought into each encounter with the company and greatly magnifies the number of impressions. A relationship with one customer is really a relationship with their network.
- Employees – The impact of the messages taken outside of the walls of the company cannot be underestimated. Spouses, children, relatives, friends and neighbors are all part of the bigger employee network that hears and absorbs some form of message about the company every day. Creating a culture of inclusiveness in the company will transmit a more favorable message heard by an employee’s network.
- Alumni – Hopefully, former employees were not kicked in the butt when they walked out the door, but it happens. Except in the rare circumstances where a security issue is anticipated, nobody should ever be handed a cardboard box and told to follow the security person out of the building. Old school layoffs cause incalculable damage and these are trained professionals that may be candidates for rehire. At a bare minimum, they can be a source of referrals for new talent from their networks.
- Customers – Does customer service have the tools they need to deal with problems and complaints? Or do prospects and customers play telephone bingo with a phone system that gives them a robo-message and instructions to hold. For every gripe that gets posted on social media outlets, consider it magnified by their entire network of contacts. Human communication prevents that scenario. People handle people networks, not machines.
- Candidates – Prospective employees are getting a privileged glimpse inside of the company. Even though the general impression is how to deal with this one individual at this particular moment, the unseen network that arrives with them will get your message loud and clear. A bad candidate experience has been proven to have an adverse impact on the recruiting brand as well as the company image.
- Vendors – Some pressure from aggressive or unexpected sales calls can be a source of frustration. Even if they deserve a brush off, the method of handling vendors is important. For the select few that are brought into the confidences of the company as partners, the relationship has to build from a positive initial relationship. Third party recruiters can be the eyes and ears of a staffing brand and it is important to recognize their network and share with them the company line to distribute.
- Schools – Part of being a good corporate citizen is to participate in local activities. Contributing to libraries, computer labs and field trips brings an immense network into view. Working with colleges in career services to provide mock interviews for students or providing part-time work and internships touches all of their networks. Each ad hoc instructor supplied from the company staff touches hundreds of individual lives with even bigger networks.
This is a never ending list because a network is never finished. Some of these areas may seem intuitive, but the purpose of looking at them from this perspective is to always remember the hidden audience for every personal contact. The company can be no better than the sum of its individual networks.
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