News came in this morning that Vodafone Australia and 3 Australia are planning to merge their businesses into one brand. This is pretty big news in the Australian telco world. Obviously the two organisations feel they can have better economies of scale and can compete with Optus and Telstra more effectively as a combined entity. It highlights the uncertain economic times that we are currently living in.
3 CEO Nigel Dews has released a statement to staff saying that jobs may go when the two companies merge. He also stated:
“It is extremely important that I keep the communications channels open to you about what’s happening, notably where we are up to with the process and how positions will be filled.”
The number one issue that faces CEO Nigel Dews right now is transparent communication. At a time like this, clear and consistent communication with all stakeholders is vital for keeping staff, customers, and shareholders content with the events taking place. A lack of communication causes confusion, a sense of uncertainty around the future, and negative thoughts towards the business.
It is a time when staff are nervous and good people could so easily leave in an attempt to feel more secure in their employment, or to avoid the stress of the two companies merging.
Customers could also start to feel the distraction that a merger creates. Service levels may drop, or existing and potential customers may perceive the merger as confusing. With plans and offers from both companies set to merge at some point in the future, some people may want to opt for the “certainty” of the competition (i.e Telstra or Optus).
It got me thinking that in this modern world of web2.0 and social media, what tools and techniques does a CEO now have at their disposal that can be used to manage communication around the merger in a better way. Here is my plan on what Mr Dews should be doing to ensure that customers and key staff are not lost during this turbulent time.
So what should Nigel do?
Carl’s thoughts on a Web2.0 / social-media comms plan for the 3 and Vodafone merger
- Setup a Staff blog about the merger
An internal blog for both Vodafone and 3 staff can be used to not only disseminate information from the top down, but also can be used to gather feedback and ideas from staff. Regular posts (at least every couple of days) should be made by the management/board on the status of the proposed merger so that staff know what is going on. Staff should be invited to comment, and offer their opinion on the merger. They should be asked their opinion on the positive things about each company that they would want to see retained in the new combined entity (and the negative things that they feel should be left behind).The blog can be a tool where staff can engage, not only with management, but with each other. It can be a forum where thoughts can be shared across both organisations for the first time outside of the boardroom. Staff from Vodafone can communicate with staff from 3 and get a sense of the organisational culture and potential synergies that may exist when the staff are merged and start working together.
This will contribute greatly to a staff members understanding of what is going on, and general feeling of well-being.
- Setup a public/customer blog
This can be used to communicate information about the merger to existing and potential customers, and also other interested parties such as the media and shareholders. Currently both companies issue press releases and shareholder announcements. These forms of communication are vital and should be continued, however they are also very “one-directional”. A blog can stimulate a conversation between the company and its customers. It can be a tool where the benefits of the merger to customers can be explained. Questions around phone plans, billing, offers can be answered. A blog provides an oportunity to portray to customers that the merged company is open and honest about the business decisions that it makes, and it cares not only for shareholders and profits, but also for providing the best services and products for customers.
- Start TwitteringMr Dews should sign-up to twitter and start using this to disseminate “mico-information” about the upcoming merger. People (staff in particular) are going to want to know that the new CEO of the combined company is working hard to make sure that it will be a smooth transition, and it will work. Mr Dews can tweet about meetings and discussions being held, decisions being made, and timings of key milestones. This will give staff an insight into their leader, and a sense of where or what he is leading them to. Staff could also reply to tweets, allowing them to give their opinion on matters that are important to them. Twitter would give Mr Dews a huge amount of engagement with staff, and would allow him to make better informed decisions that will affect employees. Mr Dews can also use the thoughts and opinions of staff when making decisions about the business. Tweets from staff effectively become the CEOs conscience when making business decisions that will affect staff. For staff, Twitter makes the CEO accessible. Staff can feel included in the events that are taking place, and they can join in the discussion.
With each of these initiatives it is vital the the company doesn’t just set them up and forget them. This is ‘social’ media, and people are going to expect a conversation – either as an observer, or a participant. Staff that raise a concern or issue about the business will expect a response. People want their questions to be answered. If they can’t be answered then they want an honest response telling them that they have been heard, and when the answer is available they will get a reply.
Yes this kind of communication will take time, and yes it will consume resources, but if done properly then the benefits that flow will be worth it. Good staff will be retained, customers will be reassured, and the success of the combined company will be guaranteed.