The Company Campfire: Innovating Communications

jthayer    May 30, 2016

Social media is often perceived in the business world only as a marketing tool that bolsters customer satisfaction and engagement. This client-centric approach limits the ways in which social media can be utilized as a positive tool in the workplace. Social media has many business applications that are not related to marketing, including strengthening employee engagement by improving internal communications.

An engaged employee is an employee that pays attention to their role within the company and cares about the work they perform, as well as the success of the company. (Cataldo, 6) Disengaged workers are not only poor for morale, but also can cost a company in lost productivity, absenteeism, high employee turnover, and a loss of customer satisfaction.

Research shows that only 4 out of 10 employees can describe what their employer does, and only 3 out of 10 felt deeply engaged by their employer. This lack of engagement is not the result of too few communications, because employees have reported receiving on average 4.4 different types of communications from their employers (including newsletters, inter-office memos, and emails). The problem is that these communications are often focused on the sender and flow from upper management to employees. This approach overlooks the importance of employee feedback and uses a one size fits all approach to corporate communications.

Felicity Menzies argues,  “reliance on what worked in the past is no longer sufficient.” Outdoor adventure retailer REI has been ranked as one of the best places to work by Fortune and Forbes for two years running.  One of the reasons for this high ranking is REI’s approach to employee engagement and internal communications. REI has integrated a dialogue approach to corporate communications by launching a blog on their company intranet: The Company Campfire.

Staying true to their roots as an outdoor adventure company, REI has created a virtual discussion where executives and employees can share their opinions around a virtual Camp Fire.  In fact, the posts are minimally edited to preserve authenticity. Research shows that corporate communication tools are more likely to succeed if upper management also participates. The campfire has enticed 4,500 of 11,000 employees to log in at least once, and most posts earn up to 40 comments. These stats clearly indicate that the Campfire approach has succeeded in creating a culture of employee engagement.

According to the Harvard Business Review, for corporate social media communication tools to work they must be designed to:

  1. Listen at scale: Leaders need to listen actively and demonstrate to employees that they are being heard.
  2. Share to shape: Share information that will inspire your employees to take action. Show them what is important to you.
  3. Engage to transform: Engage with employees in a thoughtful way. Ask meaningful questions about improving the organization.

REI’s Company Campfire is successful because it follows these three principals and executives listen, share, and engage. The blog features posts by executives, monthly questions for employees to answer, company news, and highlights employee achievements.

Lessons for Others

REI has innovated the ways in which internal communications are disseminated by using social media as a business tool. By creating a multi-directional internal communications strategy that leverages social media they created a culture of communication and honest dialogue. REI employees are engaged employees because they have a voice. As such, they are more productive, innovative and have a positive impact on company profitability.

Organization: REI Co-Op
Industry: Retail
Name of Organization Contact: Diana Kowalsky

Authored by: Jthayer

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


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