Cautious ‘toe dip’ pays off: employee engagement through social media at TransAlta

Helene Montpetit    October 7, 2014


Contacts : Julie Turgeon, Development and Construction Manager and Stacey Hatcher, Manager Communications

Industry: Energy

Description: Beginning as a small, local power company in 1909, TransAlta has grown into an experienced and well respected power generator and wholesale marketer of electricity. With approximately $3 billion in annual revenue, more than $9 billion in assets, and power plants in Canada, the United States and Australia, the company has proven its worth as a power generator, as a community member, and as a solid investment.

A few basic facts and figures

According to a recently published IBM white paper, within the next two years, 54% of companies expect to support their Customer Services processes with social capabilities (up from 38%) and 60% will socially-enable their Sales processes (up from 46%). As policies for business involvement are developed and tested, corporate fear of tapping into social media is slowly receding and frontrunners are reaping its many rewards, including a rise in employee engagement.

If you are wondering what employee engagement is and why you want your company to foster more of it-(or if you simply enjoy a well thought-out video)-take a few minutes to watch this clip.

Experimenting with social media

“TransAlta ran a social media pilot project in 2010 for one year,” says Stacey Hatcher, Manager communications at TransAlta’s Calgary head office. “It was a tentative *toe dip* into the waters. We wanted to wade in cautiously and to pro-actively tell TransAlta’s story through an un-edited medium. The communications team realized that whole new and interesting tools could be used to communicate to our various audiences, external and internal. The team had what I would call acceptable levels of support from executives and its board of directors, for social media activities.”

Then, in January 2012, the company launched several social media channels, including three Facebook pages: one for Canada, one for Aboriginal Relations, and  one for the US.

“In 2013, when the flooding hit Southern Alberta, the communications team and the company heavily leveraged its Twitter and Facebook accounts for crisis communications, and then to keep the public and the media informed as to what our hydro facilities were doing to hold back flood waters.  It was really this single event that demonstrated to the senior leadership within the company how valuable social media is to current day communications activities and the incredible role it plays when a crisis hits and information is needed instantaneously.”

The company has been very pleased with the results. “We incorporate social media throughout now,” says Ms Hatcher. We use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to post jobs and to recruit talent.We use Facebook to communicate our community activities to employees, to invite them to take part in company events, challenges and competitions, and to generally keep them updated on company initiatives. Our CEO issues a weekly blog post to employees, and we use YouTube to post interesting videos about our business, our facilities and our employees.”

Through various platforms, TransAlta celebrates employee involvement in the community and highlights their achievements. It currently has three Twitter handles (one for Canada, one for the US and one for job postings), is listed on Google + and Linked In and has posted several videos to YouTube. Employees are encouraged to post and recently starred in a short clip entitled Our People, Our Values released on YouTube.

“A few years ago, the company became more active on social networks and shared pages on our intranet,” says Julie Turgeon, Development and Construction Manager in TransAlta’s Montreal office. “We could easily keep up with what was going on in all areas of the business. The CEO’s weekly blog gives everyone a sense of high level management decisions and involvements. We feel supported and respected as employees. We’re not just numbers; we are made to feel that we add value to the company and this motivates us to try harder.”

It would appear that TransAlta’s cautious toe dip has turned into a productive, satisfying swim in the sea of good business relationships.

Lessons learned:

  • The higher its employee engagement, the better an organization performs.
  • Recognizing employee contributions and achievements through social media helps foster a sense of belonging, pride and importance. This is very motivating.
  • Cautious corporations can start small and see what works for them.
  • It may be a good idea to use different versions of the same channels when targeting different audiences (Separate Facebook pages for different countries or special groups).
  • Never underestimate the value of senior management participation in bidirectional communications. Being accessible shows engagement with, respect for and appreciation of employees.
  • Social media is terrific for crisis management, but can be used for much more.

Submitted By: Hélène Montpetit – SMBP Student, University of Waterloo. To contact the author of this entry please email:

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