How To Consider the Social Factors in Your Employee Communication

Can you use social media to engage employees – and if you aren’t, are you missing an opportunity for growth? One of the lessons that social media has taught Human Resources leaders is that informal information sharing, coupled with formal training, is an effective form of learning. Developing “communities of practice” (in which team members with similar concerns or in similar jobs are able to connect) promotes knowledge sharing and engagement. Social media can provide employees the information they need, and encourage them to collaborate with and motivate one another.

Unfortunately, employee use of social media can also backfire when managed too rigidly, especially in times of crisis like a union organizing campaign. Employers who fear employee use of social media, bury it in policy, and react negatively can create a PR nightmare for themselves. Effective social media usage requires letting your employees use their own words and viewing it as a learning tool that enhances workflow and strengthens a positive culture.  Embedding tailored training tools that are mobile-friendly and offering valuable content and opportunities for feedback are vital to the success of your “internal” social media strategy.

Endless Potential of Social Media

Social media implies networking, giving people a voice, motivating, sharing knowledge, and developing a unique culture. It can support your team members in their efforts to improve performance by connecting them with others in your company with whom they otherwise might not interact. Of course, at the same time, it also gives those employees an open forum in which they are able to criticize the organization. Don’t that that dissuade you – if you pay attention when your employees share online, you gain insight into what they are thinking as well as the opportunity to address internal issues before a union organizer promises to address them.

The recent proliferation of online charges of workplace sexual harassment, made via social media posts, is a good example. Despite the risks, savvy employers understand that social media and the transparency it affords provides excellent opportunities across departmental and geographic boundaries to address employee concerns, strengthen employee collaboration and relations, create a positive culture, improve employee knowledge of Company policies, deliver leadership perspectives on topics like unions and improve employee understanding of major business events like downsizing or restructuring.

The Pew Research Center recently completed a study on the use of social media in the workplace and found it engages team members in a variety of ways. Employees make professional connections that can lead to innovation, and they get expert information for problem-solving. Internally, these same active social media users often strengthen relationships with coworkers and ask work-related questions that can lead to process improvement. When social media is used to its best advantage, it offers measurable business value in the form of ideas and growth.

Managing the Risks with a Light Hand

The first rule of employee social media engagement for leadership is to avoid developing a list of forbidden conversations, discouraging open dialogue. Instead, you should offer positive leader perspectives and general guidelines. For example, a company that wants to remain union-free shouldn’t develop a social media policy that essentially says, “Employees are not allowed to discuss unions on social media.” A much better approach is to embed links to tailored training videos on a campaign website that explains the advantages of the company staying union-free.

Employees need the freedom to express themselves in their own words, whether using social media internally or externally. Social media is the perfect technology tool for sharing organizational news, management perspectives and guidance, and recognition of employee successes. These sharable moments also help reach audiences outside the company – employees’ families, community leaders, and others who can support your organization’s efforts in times of crisis. Your leaders can also post shareable information online about employees and the company to drive social media conversations in the right direction – without controlling them.

Online Safety For Employees

Self-Driven Learning

Companies are utilizing a variety of social media tools today that include microblogging, online video, communities of practice, instant messaging, wikis, and more. Employers become the facilitators as employee learning becomes more self-driven. TELUS discovered that 53 percent of its employees felt engaged and decided to improve that number. By turning to social media and creating a mix of formal, informal, and social learning, with the help of collaborative technologies, the company raised engagement to 83 percent. TELUS encouraged employees to collaborate via photo sharing, virtual worlds, wikis, and even gamification. Senior leaders now publish a blog to keep employees updated on company news and to get direct employee feedback.

Southwest Airlines also encourages employees and other stakeholders to share stories, exchange knowledge and find inspiration on its blog. Best Buy has several internal social media forums that include the Geek Squad Forums; Best Buy Community for exchanging ideas, opinions, ideas and tips; the electronic suggestion box Loop Marketplace wiki; videos; and Blueshirt Nation which enables employees to connect in a variety of ways to share information.

Leaders as Conversation Guides

Not just to stay union-free, but to create a union-proof culture, it’s incumbent on you to guide employee conversations within the context of a positive, engaging organizational culture. Companies realizing the highest engagement levels are using multiple social media sites, tailored training tools, and mobile, all with friendly content. The right blend of customized web, video, and eLearning tools will improve your employee engagement and provide you with ideal opportunities to detect potential issues that need to be addressed before they become big problems.

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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