Networks are the backbone of social media. Disparate groups of people connect to one another through links, posts and messages. They participate to connect and to express their opinions. By this account, employee groups present companies with networks that are poised to share, discuss and socialize content. Employees have a vested interest in joining communities, participating in forums and following blogs as these tools help them gain insights about their field and their competitors and perform better at their jobs.
While social media seems to be a natural fit for connecting employees across departments and geographies, many companies face challenges in using such open forums of communication for business. The first barrier to action is the possibility that employees may create liabilities for the company by participating in social media. Next, the company may not have enough resources to stimulate and sustain conversations with internal stakeholders. These efforts may seem to be too much work for little gain.
The key to creating noticeable change and attaining business goals through social media in a company is to educate employees about the best practices and pitfalls of participating in online conversations. Coaching employees in best practices for sharing opinions online can help companies find the right balance of creative thinking and responsible communication. In fact, guidelines and processes can help companies be more efficient and agile in fostering online employee communications.
Today internal blogs, forums, wikis, instant messengers and employee social networks are popular tools among companies who wish to connect their workforce. There will be more seamless ways to share knowledge across organizations in the future. Yet, regardless of the platform a company chooses to employ, there are a number of basic steps organizations can follow to get the most out of their internal communications based in social media.
Start with a social media policy and training: Establish formal rules of communication on company-branded social media platforms. Tap into the expertise of communication, legal and human resource departments, as well as your IT expert. Assign roles to a team of people who should review and approve content. Note any types of information that employees should not exchange through internal social media channels. Explain the company’s position about external, informal social media communications in which employees may engage. Do they have to put disclaimers on their personal blogs? How should they identify themselves if they are speaking about company matters in public forums? Guide employees on how to use social media forums in a safe way that will not generate liability or messy legal issues for them or for the company.
Listen first, then lead: Before launching a social media platform for internal communications, take employees’ pulse. Conduct brief surveys or qualitative discussions to uncover the most pressing communication needs. Ask employees which social media channels they currently use and which tools they find effective for the communication goals you have in mind. Scan online conversations in public forums for traces of any issues. Then consider the right platform, topic areas and employees who should lead the conversations internally.
Choose the right platform for the job: Think of the communication goal that needs to be accomplished before deciding on the social media channel to use. Consider your team’s time, resources and talents. The latest, most advanced tool in the marketplace may not necessarily be the right choice to get the job done. For instance, a high-level executive who has deep experience to share and limited time to dedicate to social media may best be served through a blog that gets updated once a week. Meanwhile, a team of people who need quick feedback, several times a day may prefer a forum or an internal community set up as a marketplace of ideas.
Know your culture: Social media tools are for engagement, but will your employees participate? To ensure high levels of adoption and compliance, consider how your company’s culture may affect internal, online conversations. Will your employees respond to an invitation from management? Will they need to build consensus at the department level before joining an online activity? Will you need to find internal influencers who can be early adopters and lead the pack?
Bring online meetings offline: Supplement online meetings with offline, fireside chats. Technology can speed up information exchange, but more traditional face-to-face meetings can enhance employees' satisfaction and increase their dedication to their online groups and shared projects.
Plan for sunset: When planning the launch of an internal social media channel, consider its lifetime in light of your mission. Does the project rest upon the expertise of a single employee or department? Can the company sustain it for the foreseeable future? Is the channel built around a specific event (e.g., Olympic sponsorship) or a broader theme (e.g., new business wins)? Have a communication plan ready, in case the conversation leaders leave the company or the project runs its course and comes to an end.
Measure success: Contrary to common belief, social media is not amorphous and there are a number of ways companies can analyze employees’ usage patterns to gauge the success of their online initiatives. Volume, content and tone of online conversations, adoption and participation rates, as well as employee satisfaction are among the many metrics companies can use to evaluate the success of their social media communications. If the channels are set around a particular project or business goal, there may be additional outcome metrics (e.g., closed sales, number of reservations, submissions for a contest) to consider.
Whether internal or external, all branded social media communications are employee communications. Your workforce represents the company and carries titles whether commenting on products in online review sites, posting comments on blog networks or participating in discussion forums on the Intranet. Establishing the ground rules of communication and teaching best practices in social media communications will give employees the opportunity to share their creativity and enhance their professional knowledge as they experiment with new technologies. Social media tools that facilitate idea generation and sharing will help companies bring new projects to life faster than before. In addition to contributing to employee satisfaction, internal social media platforms can increase productivity and unearth new opportunities for collaboration.