Grapevine Communications in the Digital World

Grapevine Communications in the Digital World

Anybody remember the California raisins who used to sing “Heard it through the grapevine”? Here’s a fun little refresher for you if you need it:

In days past if you wanted to get the word out with actually calling a press conference, you “let” the busybody of the office overhear a conversation and by the next day the rumors were flowing. Now your staff isn’t blindsided about something and it’s not the “official” word either. A former PR pro from a major auto dealership said they used the “grapevine” to give employees a heads up about a possible layoff days before they made the official announcement. It softened the blow of the official announcement because the employees were already prepared for bad news and it gave them a little extra time to start looking for new jobs. Because the word didn’t come directly from HR or the communications department, it was still not an official word.

While that worked decades ago, today’s grapevine,however, isn’t limited just to gossip around the office. With your employees on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat and any other social platform available, your office news could be shared internationally within minutes.

The grapevine of social media can be a useful tool, just make sure you use it wisely. Ask yourself a few questions before you start churning the rumor mill.

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Who do you want to have a heads up? Should this just be internal or do you need the media or external groups to be alerted to it as well? For non profits, external groups could be constituents or donors, people who don’t always hear what’s going on inside the office.

What can be said on social media and who can say it? One of the non profits with which we work spend months planning the launch of a new program. While it wasn’t top secret, until all the paperwork was signed it was too early to release it to the media. Staff members understood the confidentiality of the situation and understood they weren’t allowed to post about it to social media. However, they did know which donors and constituents would be most supportive and excited about the new program. They talked to those groups of people to share the news and invite them to participate in the program launch. If any of those people had shared information about the program on social media, it would not have been traced back to any specific staff member. Even if the news doesn’t come from your company social media page, if it comes from a staff member’s page it still holds weight and traces back to you. The purpose of the grapevine is it doesn’t trace directly back to your company’s promotion.

What’s the purpose of an early release? Would talking about a new product, service or program increase anticipation or excitement for your company? Would it turn a potential blow up situation into a low, manageable fire? Would it encourage supporters to take action to help protect funding for your non profit or to stop a law that could damage your business? While you may not be ready to step into politics in public, by encouraging your customers, vendors or friends to protest newly proposed laws online you could affect change on the backend.

Using your company, organization or community’s rumor mill for your own benefit sounds a little manipulative. Maybe it is. Sometimes, however, you may not be allowed either by law, your company’s leadership or by signed agreements to speak publically about a situation. By being aware that sharing the news or venting to a colleague, friend or family member may spread the new further than you expected, you can save some face by keeping your news to yourself. You can also understand how the rumor mill works in the day of the digital water cooler and use that system to your advantage.