Unilever leaders chat strategy with employees

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16,000 line managers in Unilever, the consumer goods giant, were invited last year to take part for the first time in the company’s Change Leaders Conference (CLC) digitally through Chatter, an internal social collaboration tool. The conference is a two-day event that brings together around 400 senior managers face-to-face to share and discuss plans around the business strategy and vision.

BitesizeCLC, building transparent leadership communications

Historically, the event had always taken place behind closed doors, and followed with a local cascade in each business area and geography where topical outputs were discussed.

There were several reasons why Unilever decided to open up the CLC via Chatter. “The primary goal was to promote the event among employees and to increase awareness of the company strategy,” said Sarah Etherton, Senior Internal Digital Channel Manager. Another goal was to make senior management more transparent, create content to be discussed after the event, and help the organisation come up with plans that would support its strategy.


Etherton explains how they approached the project. “Initially, we wanted to include all employees but we opted for a smaller audience. This was our first comms project of this kind and we wanted to test how it would work with a smaller group of 16,000 rather than opening it up to Unilever’s entire population of 95,000. We did not know how it might be received – or if plans  needed to change during the event.  We wanted to make sure that the team would be able to respond, react and deliver.”

The company created a dedicated Chatter group called BitesizeCLC to be used during the conference. “We thought long and hard about what we should call the initiative. We did some brainstorming and agreed that the name bitesizeCLC best represented what we were trying to achieve. It was descriptive as we knew we’d be posting short snippets of information to give a flavour of the event – just like bite size Mars Bars!”

They also set up a space called CLC Insider that the communications team populated with content about the event. This included short videos of senior managers outlining what they hoped to get from the conference, as well as articles summarising  key presentations. “This enabled senior management to review content before the event”.

Etherton’s team continued to create and post content throughout the event. They uploaded photos of the presenters, quotes and comments, short polls about the presentations to find out what employees found useful, as well as ‘vox pops’ with delegates expressing their views about the event. The team also managed all content shared by employees and ensured that any question posted was answered.


“Posts tended to be very factual, while comments were more emotive. It was a post announcing our Global Compass Award winners that attracted the largest amount of comments.” The Compass Awards, open to all staff, acknowledges employees for their contributions to Unilever’s growth ambitions.

Images were the most popular type of content both in terms of posting and commenting, while articles and PowerPoint presentations accounted for nearly half of all file downloads. “We asked participants which content they enjoyed most. Nearly 60% said thay they liked summaries of articles.”

Post-conference communications and measurements

The BitesizeCLC Chatter group continued to remain active after the event to encourage staff to read and view its content. “It was a good record of the conference and a way for employees to dig into the material at a later date.”

“BitesizeCLC showed that employees were comfortable with using Chatter alongside a live event whether as an active participant or just a follower,” said Etherton. The use of Chatter for the conference helped to increase adoption of the platform. Of the 16,000 employees invited to be part of the event, only 3,680 were active Chatter users before the event. During the conference this number rose to 7,520.

Employees also reported feeling more included and motivated thanks to the initiative. When asked directly how useful participants found bitesizeCLC, 86% of respondents shared feedback like: “It did provide real time information on key program results. It was like following an internal Twitter feed”, “I felt as though I were actually attending the event!”, “A big step in democratization of information in Unilever”.

Neil Atkinson, Head of Global Digital Engagement, pointed out that “the Chatter activation was a big step forward in integrating social with our traditional broadcast communications. It was a heavy resource investment to create and curate content during the event, but made a very positive impression of openness and transparency, helping employees feel involved – and equipping them with the tools to comment on and share content across their own networks.”

Recommendations for future delivery

“With events of this type, it’s critical to ensure that a clear brief, objectives and requirements are agreed up front as resourcing implications are considerable,” recommends Etherton.

Etherton also believes that using Chatter for this type of events can be a very efficient use of leaders’ time. It helps to deal with time zone issues as people can join online at times convenient for them. It also gives leaders the opportunity to ‘own’ subjects and engage directly with employees.