Counterpoint: Using Social Media for Employee Engagement

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by Sven Larsen (@zemoga)

The latest trend in employee communications is, unsurprisingly, social media. Increasingly, companies are investing in – or building their own – internal social networks, blogs and microblogs, hoping to build sheltered digital communities for their employees to interact, resulting in boosted morale and positive influence on business results.

It sounds nice, but its being met, in all but the most techie and/or most relaxed environments, with mixed results. At worst, its greeted with distaste, disbelief, and shaking of heads. Its unfortunate, but not altogether unsurprising, when you consider the current environment.

The aftershocks of the Great Recession are still being felt. Not every company is still shrinking, but precious few are growing. The employees who are left are missing old colleagues, afraid for their own jobs, and doing the work of several people on a daily basis. Its doable, but its not easy, and it doesnt leave a lot of room to introduce optional activities. In this climate, any novelty that requires activity and is inessential is going to be viewed with skepticism. Strengthening employee morale and motivation is more important than ever – but its also harder than ever.

Furthermore, in any climate, good or bad, when a new communications vehicle is introduced, particularly one that is “pull – requiring employees to visit a new real or online destination, rather than getting a message delivered to them – adoption will require effort.

A third problem, apart from the timing and the difficulty of getting people interested, is the functionality of many internal social vehicles. It goes without saying that theyre not as robust as Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn; they simply cant be, as smaller companies producing a product that is usually more restrictive. However, as logical as the limitations are, they tend to turn off well-versed social networkers who miss the features theyre used to, or to confuse social-networking novices who arent familiar with any social interface, let along one thats slightly clunky or kludgy.

The combination of the adoption curve, along with the current climate, along with the sub-par functionality of many offerings, means that this may be an inopportune time to bring social media into internal communications. Its not that its never going to work – but it may be that now is the wrong time.

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One Response to Counterpoint: Using Social Media for Employee Engagement

  1. There are two things we tend to always overlook:

    1. Clear business case for the change, and

    2. Bottom-up felt need/demand for the change.

    If social media is thrown into the corporate environment because it’s the new trend, and there isn’t an organic adoption curve because of demonstrable felt need, it isn’t going to take off quickly. No matter how often we argue its inevitability.

    My 2 cents (as a heavy social networker)