Tuesday October 19, 2010
We thought you might be interested in this article on social media for internal communication, penned by Kevin in conjunction with the oh-so Italian Francesco Furnari and first published by our good friends at Simply Communicate. Francesco and Kevin have written more on this subject in our book Exploring Internal Communication.
We'd love to hear if/how social media is working for your organisation internally - has it been embraced, shunned or is your IT just too clunky?! Share your thoughts......
It isn’t an overstatement to say that social media has revolutionised information sharing and the way we communicate. Organisations have been relatively quick to adopt social media to communicate with external audiences, seeing the commercial opportunities and necessity of monitoring conversations and stepping in where necessary to manage reputational issues. However, many are only now beginning to see the value of using it to communicate internally.
The reticence to use social media generally – externally and internally – is a lot to do with fear of losing control. Up until the introduction of social media technology, communication was very much one-way, top down. It has now become user generated and bottom up too. Having to participate and use social media to deal with external audiences is one thing, but why open up a potential can of worms by using it to communicate with employees?
Because there are a great many benefits to using social media to communicate with staff. It can be a cost effective method of communication for a start, particularly for organisations that are spread out geographically and have disparate groups of employees to communicate with. More importantly, though, it is because it enables open communication, content and collaboration.
To help you make the right choices when using social media to communicate with staff, here are my top tips:
1. Establish if yours is a closed or open organisation
You’ll know the answer to this already. But using this as your starting point will help to focus your approach. Even the most forward thinking organisations have concerns about sharing information freely, but the truth is that there is no such thing as complete control, certainly not now. Even if you don’t talk about something, you can guarantee someone else will. It’s a brave new world out there and you need to rethink the idea of control, especially in closed organisations. Far better to be ‘in there’ discussing things and finding out what people really think.
2. Don’t make the mistake of looking at social media in isolation
While we are talking about social media specifically here it can’t be looked at in isolation. It is a tool or vehicle for communication. Just like more ‘traditional’ communication tools it should be treated as part of your overall communications strategy. It is one method of communicating. It is one way to reach your communications objective and it won’t always be the most appropriate. It’s all about using the right tools for the job – see tip no. 6.
3. Look for social media advocates amongst colleagues
You might be surprised by the number of staff who use social media tools with regularity outside of work and perceive them to be an integral part of their lives. And it’s not just young people.
Social media is all about sharing information and peer learning. You have early adopters who influence others and encourage them to participate and so on. If you don’t know how to do something the likelihood is you’ll ask a friend for advice online.
Empower your staff. Use their knowledge and experiences to help inform how you choose to use social media to communicate with them in the workplace, encourage them to explain to other employees the benefits to them and the organisation of communicating in this way. They might also be willing to help with training others how to use the technology too.
4. Get buy-in from senior managers
Getting them on board is a similar story. If senior managers aren’t users of social media outside of work and have fallen into the trap of thinking this is just something for the kids, then you could have your work cut out convincing them this isn’t the case. Provide them with information on how social media is used by a cross range of people. Present them with the business case by showing them how social media can help with reputation management, saving costs and time, and improving efficiency and performance. And offer them training – covert if necessary – because you are going to need them to participate and lead by example. They might actually enjoy it once they get going.
5. Don’t fear social media
We’ve already talked about treating social media like any other tool in your toolbox. But here’s the real reason why you shouldn’t fear it. Social media or networking is just an extension of existing human networks. Yes information flows quicker, but it can be influenced and with positive results. Yes it has its own set of unique challenges, but these can be prepared for and managed. Approached in the right way, social media can provide the most direct route to getting information out and the ‘purest’ feedback, allowing you to take appropriate action. This is the best way to generate employee engagement.
6. Use the proper tools for the job
The number and types of social media tools out there are expanding at a pace but currently fall into three types:
1. Written and spoken – email, intranet, blogs, wikis, podcasts
2. Visual – intranet TV, vodcasts, media sharing
3. Experiential – web, 3D, virtual worlds
The level of interaction, immediacy of the communication and responses offered by each of these types of social media varies. Some are better for some things than others. Your choice of tool or tools – as you are likely to use more than one and combine these with other traditional communication tools – will come down to what it is you are trying to achieve. Picking and blending traditional and social media tools in this way allows internal communicators for the first time to develop a genuinely converged communication mix for campaigns.
Successful examples might include using intranets to cut down on email traffic, wikis for corporate collaboration, podcasts (audio) and vodcasts (visual) for information about new business developments, and virtual worlds to pitch business ideas to managers.
7. Don’t forget that content is king
Whatever the digital medium, written and spoken, visual or experiential (and these do overlap), social media represents a shift from centrally controlled internal communication to more employee-generated communication. Communication becomes less formal and more conversational. Personality led as opposed to corporate. We are in an era of communications via collaboration; informing people through engagement and sometimes entertainment. That’s not however to say that centrally managed internal communication is dead. Social media simply marks a shift in the balance that is beneficial for employees and organisations. Central internal communication teams will continue to produce official communication, though it may often be in a more informal and conversational style.
8. Develop protocols or a code of conduct
We’ve already discussed the fear of losing control that letting employees loose with social media poses. But the point is that staff are already using social media and talking about their employers with friends and even strangers. This shouldn’t however lead you to immediately think in terms of sanctions. While these might be necessary in extreme cases, in the main protocols or codes of conduct can ensure staff use common sense and think before putting fingers to keyboard. Indeed, if your organisation doesn’t already have a policy regarding how it is referred to online by employees in and outside of work, then this is something you should prioritise.
9. Think big
Once you’ve rethought the idea of controlling communications, the possibilities and benefits of using social media are many. You’ll be able to gauge the mood of employees, monitor conversations and comment for potential issues, influence conversations, correct misinformation and head off crises, and you’ll be able to spot and grow ideas from the bottom up. Social media can really enhance innovation.
Ultimately, social media generates more credible content that employees value and are more likely to trust. Unmediated, it is the ‘purest’ communication channel we have. It allows us to truly practice what we preach and to listen to staff and discuss ideas with them rather than talk at them. It allows us to build better, stronger relationships and to get support for organisational objectives.