By Paul Squires, Head of Digital, Summersault Communications.
Social media. It’s the term on everyone’s lips, as are the websites and services that are part of it.
Empowering people to connect and share information is one of the building blocks of social media as well as a powerful internal communications strategy.
The days when internal comms practitioners put out a cascade message and hoped for the best have long gone, as have those emails, which had a recipient list longer than the message itself.
Companies that are starting to adopt social media are often seen as being “leading edge”. This is correct in terms of adoption of the channel, but not necessarily in how the message is delivered and shared.
Before social media came along internal comms practitioners worked very hard in aiming to give colleagues a voice that could be heard by all levels of the organisation: whether in employee forums, union meetings, “Town Hall” events, internal magazine letters pages.
The concept of two-way feedback is not new. However, what social media can offer, when introduced and managed correctly, is unique and makes a positive contribution to company culture.
One of the cornerstones of an internal social media strategy is the blog. It’s something that is understood by employees, easy to use and is a natural extension to the Intranet.
It’s important to offer a reasonable number of concurrent blogs at any one time. In doing so, the blog service will become far more attractive to a wider group of colleagues who will interact with each blog in a different way.
It doesn’t really matter what the range of blogs looks like; offer a way for colleagues to contact a central function to set one up and have a very short and informal process to get them created.
The result: diversity, inclusion, and a range of voices - in other words, more reflective of corporate culture than the “cascade” methods of old.
Blogs that invite colleagues to talk about a “hot topic” work but only when the topic is sufficiently motivating. Regardless of the feelings of employees, blogs are an ideal way to harness and share thoughts, concerns and difficulties etc.
They can be hugely advantageous in developing internal openness and advocacy, as well as make a positive contribution to the employer brand.
Finally, and this is really important, develop guidance that allows colleagues to understand how they should talk about their employer outside of work time. As people become increasingly used to social media, there are countless unofficial employer groups (particularly on Facebook) discussing employers, companies and brands.
If senior staff don’t know what colleagues are doing in these spaces, the permanency of online content can cause considerable damage. Rather, get a group of “willing participants” together, co-develop a guidance document, and then offer it onto the internal blog for comment.
The key issue here is to partner with HR on the development of this guidance and to ensure that the document operates within a “mutually legitimate” space outside of work. It’s important that colleagues don’t feel like they are being told what to do in their own time.
However, when carefully planned, developed and communicated, this becomes a win-win situation: colleagues clearly understand the “frame” of what they can say online, as well as develop an increased understanding of how their employer understands the democratic nature of social media.
Overall, the key is to develop social media in a way that is open, participatory, yet reflects how the organisation ticks.
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