Engage your workforce with new communication platforms.

By Michael P. Savitt  
As social media moves past its infancy, organizations are challenged to determine what role—if any—such platforms should have in the workplace. Companies can leverage both external social media channels and internal social networks designed for organizational use. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are allowing employees to build stronger relationships with clients, connect with colleagues globally, promote their company’s products to customers, and uncover new trends pertaining to their industry.
In fact, more and more organizations are recognizing the value social media has in boosting employee morale and increasing workplace engagement. According to a 2011 Cisco study, which surveyed 1,400 college students and 1,400 young professionals between the ages of 21 and 29 in 14 countries, more than 40 percent of respondents would be willing to work for less money in favor of having unfettered access to social media while at work. On the flip side, 56 percent of respondents reported that if they were offered a job at a company that limited social media access, they would decline the offer, or accept it and find a way around the policy. It even comes up during interviews: 64 percent of respondents report plans to ask potential employers about their social media policy. Such evidence reveals that a flexible social media policy will not only attract top talent, but also engage and retain them.

The findings from another recent survey regarding employees’ use of social media in the workplace were just as compelling. The Social Media in the Workplace survey of more than 500 HR professionals, which was administered by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), found that 31 percent of companies track employee use of social media, while 43 percent block access to social media platforms on organization-owned computers/handheld devices. Companies run the risk of disengaging staff and losing prospective employees if they prohibit the use of social media.
From a marketing and recruiting perspective, organizations can use social networks to reach current and potential customers and employees outside of traditional media outlets. The Social Media in the Workplace survey found 68 percent of organizations have employees who use social media to reach external audiences. This research uncovers the importance of organizations establishing a formal social media policy that clearly outlines the goals, purpose, and limitations. With such a policy in place, organizations will be well on their way toward witnessing the benefits of employees effectively and efficiently using social media in the workplace.
Organizations can increase employee engagement through social media in several ways. Since social media provides an outlet for employees to openly share their thoughts and ideas with colleagues, co-worker communication and collaboration will increase. Social media also provides avenues to generate new business leads—such as turning a former colleague into a potential client on LinkedIn—impacting the organization’s bottom line. Being able to communicate via Facebook posts, LinkedIn group discussions, and tweets at work has the potential to spark innovation through creative ideas that can benefit customers. Employees who are able to use social media during work hours will be more apt to promote their brand outside of the office.
Internal social media platforms can be used within an organization to share valuable information, support employees, and facilitate the exchange of ideas. An organization’s IT department or a third-party vendor can create a private social network for employees to use to interact with each other. In fact, two organizations—McDonald’s and Sabre Holdings—are effectively using internal social media in the workplace to engage employees and build brand loyalty.
As the world’s leading global foodservice retailer, McDonald’s launched StationM in 2008 to foster regular communication between crews, managers, and executives across the United States and Canada. Through the internal blog, employees can regularly post content and freely comment on a variety of topics including products, promotions, and operations. The outlet reaches employees who do not necessarily sit in front of a computer all day at work. Overall, StationM serves as a valuable tool for employees with different backgrounds to connect with each other and openly express their opinions.

Sabre Holdings, a global travel technology company serving the travel and tourism industry, is another company that created its own social media platform to facilitate employee interaction and collaboration. Sabre Holdings’ Sabre Town, which exists in the company’s intranet, lets employees build a profile containing their picture, job title, location, contact information, and personal data (e.g., favorite lunch spots, where they like to travel, etc.). Once a profile is created, employees can navigate through the system to accomplish various goals:

• Communicate with colleagues around the world
• Obtain answers to Sabre product questions
• Facilitate question and answer sessions
• Join groups (e.g., golf, Chinese, working moms, etc.)
• Create personal and professional blogs
• View customer information
• Reference Twitter streams
• Receive global travel ideas, tips, and itineraries

Sabre Town has seen much success. Eighty to 90 percent of Sabre Holdings’ employees currently have a profile, and the majority connect to the platform for approximately five to 15 minutes per day. Since its inception, the platform has enabled better communication between employees and improved product knowledge.
External and internal social media platforms will remain a fixture in employees’ personal and professional lives for the foreseeable future. The need for organizations to establish a clear, concise, and fair social media policy to effectively aid recruitment efforts and successfully engage current employees cannot be overlooked. How companies incorporate such media into the workplace will mean the difference between attracting, engaging, and retaining a passionate, loyal workforce.

Michael P. Savitt is PR/communications marketing manager at Avatar HR Solutions, a Chicago-based human capital management consulting firm specializing in workplace survey design, implementation, analysis, and action planning. For more information, visit www.hrsolutionsinc.com.

Tags: Employee Engagement, Recognition & Rewards

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