Uber’s approach to ’employee’ communication

A corporate communicator takes a close look at Uber’s new print publication, and issues a couple of caveats about its decision to go with print in a supposedly ‘timely’ quarterly magazine.

Uber has been linked to changing the future of labor.

I’m pleasantly surprised AND disappointed in Uber’s employee communication. First, the Uber drivers (the face of Uber to those who use the service) are not employees—they are partners, hence the quotation marks in my headline. Though many who use the service might see them as employees, they are not.

On Monday, March 2, to enhance its “partner” communications, Uber launched a brand new partner magazine called Momentum. Check that, a partner print publication called Momentum.

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The surprising part

Before we get into the “print is dead” argument, I love print publications. I think they are great. Soapbox aside, they are the true mobile format. And they never run out of power.

But print doesn’t seem very “Uber.” (This is surprising). And maybe that’s their plan. “Let’s communicate to our partners through another channel.” Here’s a quote from its head of operations:

“We want to strengthen the community of our driver partners—150,000 people strong—by making sure you are up to date on new developments within our company and giving you new and improved methods to connect to us and one another.

“As we gear up for another big year of improvements, we look forward to hearing from you about what more we can do to ensure you have the most positive experience possible on the road with our platform.”

Anyone who has managed internal communications will see a problem right away. There’s nothing up to date about a quarterly print publication. Sure, print is great for infographics and long interviews. But as soon as it’s printed, it’s out of date.

They spent five months creating Momentum and are launching it in only five markets: Boston, New York City, Chicago, Ohio, Oklahoma and San Francisco. It’s a good mix. You’ve got East Coast, West Coast and Midwest represented. But it’s not enough.

And the disappointing part . . .

It’s disappointing that they chose to launch a quarterly print publication to keep partners “up to date.” They already communicate to partners on a service app. Why don’t they use an internal communications app to do the same for partner communications? Again, perhaps it’s a new and different channel to engage with.

It also disappoints me that they are only launching it in five markets. Uber promotes on its website that it serves 55 countries. Quick analysis shows that Uber has a presence in roughly—150 U.S. cities. This partner publication reaches only 3 percent of Uber’s U.S. markets. That’s a swing and miss.

The content in Momentum is pretty good, though nothing beyond what you would find in a traditional corporate employee publication. There are health tips, a nice infographic, messages from leadership, product developments, employee recognition and events, good variety for a new, small-run publication but not earth-shattering.

I’ve been pretty harsh in this piece, but I hope that Momentum grows quickly. I give them credit for engaging partners in new communication, especially to offset some recent boneheaded statements from Uber leaders. I’m not sure that Uber understands the pressure that news like this puts on its partners—a great topic to present in a future Momentum. I applaud them for letting an internal publication be read by customers, something many companies fear but shouldn’t.

I know a few persons have had insanely bad experiences with Uber drivers, but I’ve experienced nothing but positives. I’ve met cool people with interesting stories who have chosen to drive for Uber. I’ve taken 44 Uber trips since 2013. And since August 2013, I’ve used Uber at least once a month. You could say I’m a fan of Uber.

For a company that’s changed the way we look at business, Uber shows the lasting power of internal communications.

Read the launch issue of Momentum.

A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.


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