Are you capturing employee stories and turning them into content?

Posted on September 23, 2011 4:42 am by | Social Media

I was interviewing the CEO of a Silicon Valley company as part of an internal communications audit. “How does knowledge move most effectively through your organization?” I asked.

He pondered the question for a minute, then said, “If you really want to know, step outside and hang out with the smokers.”

I haven’t had a cigarette in 20 years, but I remember well the outdoor smoking circle. Four or five times a day, I’d congregate with eight or 10 people, most of whom didn’t know each other, around the ashtray—and it was a different eight or 10 people every time. With only work in common, we wound up talking about work. Each of us learned what was going on in other departments.

As that CEO said, “Among frontline employees, they know more about the company’s overall operations than anybody else.”

What strikes me, in retrospect, about those smoking clatches is that they weren’t giving each other reports about the their projects and departmental activities. They told stories. Today, if I were looking for content for the intranet or the Web, I’d be asking myself every time one of those smokers told a story, “Is this a video? Is this a blog post? Is there an infographic in there?”

We all hear stories at work every day, but most communicators haven’t yet shifted their mindsets to wonder if anything they hear can be transformed into content that people will want to talk about and share.

But it’s not just communicators. We can’t uncover every story employees may tell by hanging out at the ashtray. It’s also a matter of tweaking the culture so employees who hear these stories think of sharing them.

At The Mayo Clinic, staff can share their stories through the blog Sharing Mayo Clinic. At another hospital I’ve worked with, the communications department has distributed Flip cameras to every department to make it easy for staff to record their stories for sharing via YouTube.

More and more organizations are recognizing the need to produce the content that will spark people’s interest because, ultimately, if people aren’t talking about the company, it may as well not exist in the mindfds of prospective customers, investors and employees.

Is your company’s culture encouraging staff to share their stories so you can turn them into sharable content? How?



  • 1.Outstanding angle here Shel.

    The reality is that marketing and communications - tasked with storytelling - don't usually know what's really going on in the organization. The people in sales, ops, and customer service know the day-to-day truth. We've got to build story harvesting engines between marketing and the real world, and it's no coincidence that the companies that are best at external storytelling are best at internal story gathering.

    Jay Baer | September 2011 | United States

  • 2.Beyond capturing employee stories as content, I think employees are excellent ambassadors of an organization's brand - even its persona. In addition to Jay's point about how to develop the internal story gathering, I think this is possible within organizations that empower their employees. The Mayo Clinic's YouTube channel and the oft-cited customer service at Zappos are just two examples of this.

    Tweaking culture to share stories amongst one another is one thing. Tweaking a culture to be open, transparent, and fearless about the stories is another aspect altogether.

    Cece Salomon-Lee | September 2011

  • 3.Unfortunately, I have no employees yet, but it's something I always tell my Franchise PR clients. Always include your employees! They're your most important advertising and PR asset.

    Jamie | September 2011 | Chicago

  • 4.I was really intrigued by this topic. The first thing that popped into my head was a few commercials I have seen on TV where businesses have used their “customers” to tell their story or help define a brand. But what always runs through my mind is, “Are these really customers because they look like paid actors to me?” The idea of internal storytelling is great, because these employees are hands-on daily.

    Although I haven’t had the chance to see Mayo Clinic’s, Sharing Mayo Clinic, first-hand I’m sure it helps put a few patients minds at ease before a visit. My grandpa has visited there many times over the years and they are an example of a company doing it right.

    Jamie Johansen | September 2011 | Missouri

  • 5.Here's a story from when I was working for the American Hospital Association on materials to help hospitals go smoke-free. At a small hospital, the president smoked. He didn't want to smoke in the building, so he had a shelter built behind the building. He was pleased that more and more people were using the shelter--until he discovered that people were taking up smoking so they'd have a chance to hang out with him and talk--to tell their stories and the stories of their areas. He went cold-turkey that day and had the shelter torn down. It's a good story of unintended consequences and also a reinforcement of Shel's point that great stories can be found when people congregate regularly and informally.

    Kris Gallagher, ABC | September 2011 | DePaul University

  • 6.I remember I worked with a client at a PR agency that I used to work at. We had been trying to get a big piece of coverage for them without much luck. However, one day on a teleconference, we were chatting informally about interesting things about their employees. The client mentioned one of their employees was laid off from a big auto company, became an intern around age 30 for them (a medium-sized software company), quickly rose through the ranks and had just been promoted to a project manager there.

    We loved the story, took it to our contacts at the Wall Street Journal, and a story was published a few weeks later. It just goes to show you that major press coverage can happen from an informal conversation.

    James Gerber
    JDG PR

    James Gerber | September 2011 | Boston

  • 7.When it comes to content creation one of the hardest things for businesses is coming up with topic ideas on a regular basis. There's always plenty to write about and share, it's just a matter of knowing where to look and be creative about it. Employees are great resources of information.

    Nick Stamoulis | October 2011

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