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Inside Story: Successful “Social” Strategies for Employee Communication

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Social media is the communication engine powering some of today’s most unlikely events—from the anointing of overnight celebrities to the fundraising of millions to the spurring of global revolutions.

External social media success stories like these are regularly in the news, but we rarely hear about extraordinary outcomes attributed to social media in internal employer-employee communications. Why? It’s simple: companies attempt to use the same platforms to form communities, exchange ideas and influence behaviors, but the rules of engagement are different for them.

Let’s make successful S.O.C.I.A.L. media strategies for internal communications easy to remember with some real-life examples.

S – Solve a Business Challenge

External social media rarely solves problems. Rather, it mostly connects us with friends and provides entertainment. Organizations can’t—and shouldn’t—try to compete with that. Instead, companies should use social media to tap into unique organizational challenges, build teams, and resolve issues together.

Example: A global engineering firm had a large, engaged group of retirees and a new class of younger engineers. Many retirees expressed a desire to continue making a positive contribution to the organization during their free time—and the newbies needed help. A social platform was developed to reengage retirees, connect them to current employees, and foster collaboration to meet business needs.

O – Open, Honest, Authentic

An organization’s external social media brand is built on its style, voice and substance—all of which must be unique and true to the company’s values and point of view. An authentic perspective combined with a unique, candid style and tone help separate brands in the external social media landscape. Shouldn’t the same approach hold true for engaging employees via internal social media platforms?

Example: A national poultry processor was implementing a consumer-driven health plan. The company feared employees wouldn’t comprehend the plan design and reject the cost-focused rationale for change. They launched a social media page called “The Roost” to candidly communicate with employees. Innovative games, interactive tools and the ability to connect with—and learn from—coworkers fostered an open dialogue about the benefits changes. Traditional communications promoted the site and cleverly asking employees if they were “Ready to Rule the Roost?” Pre- and post-launch survey results indicated significant increases in health plan and preventive care understanding.

C – Champion the Cause

In the external social media world, people listen to luminaries. Whether it’s in music, sports, movies or fashion, users are drawn to people with inside knowledge and shared passions. Fittingly, leaders have inside knowledge about the company’s values and a shared interest with employees to exemplify the firm’s values and execute the company’s mission. Leaders can use social media to embrace (and share) both with candidates and employees.

Example: A global biopharmaceutical firm regularly engages its executive vice president of human resources to post articles about the company’s mission, vision and values on LinkedIn. Those articles are also promoted internally to employees via email, intranet banners and digital signs. The leader is communicating with the outside world, including external candidates, about what the company believes in while connecting with employees on the same topic, at the same time.

I – Internal Should Match External

How does your organization interact with external clients or customers on social media? Are you taking the same approach when you engage with employees? After all, they’re the ones who are delivering on your company’s mission and brand. Your internal social media style, voice and message should fall in line with your external social media approach.

Example: The same biopharmaceutical company in the previous example regularly uses LinkedIn to promote the value the firm delivers in the communities where it operates. This social media strategy localizes the reach of a global organization. When company leaders communicate via LinkedIn, their message, tone and style should always align with the external approach. This way, candidates, employees and personal connections see the organizations and its leadership in lockstep.

A – Always Within a Social Context

Social media is inherently, well, social. That’s the way it was designed! Too often we ignore this. We focus on using it for one-way information sharing instead of building social communities; we’re often too eager to get our message out to the masses by any means necessary. Recognize this: sometimes it’s not about your message—it’s about your audience’s desire to connect, be heard and be understood.

Example: A clothing retailer noticed many of its expectant mothers weren’t receiving the appropriate prenatal care. Recognizing the powerful bond of motherhood, the organization built a Facebook page where mothers-to-be could interact, learn about the company’s benefits and compare notes on pregnancy. The page even featured a virtual baby shower for moms a few weeks out from giving birth. Preventive checkups increased, unnecessary maternity claims decreased, and mothers were healthier.

L – Listen

Sometimes, social media can feel like a bunch of noise—an echo chamber of cyberbullying, trolling and opinions. Lost in it all? The beauty of social media is it’s an effective listening instrument. People regularly use social media platforms to gather feedback—on what to wear, what to buy, or where to travel. Companies should focus on gathering input, too—on what employees want to know and what they value.

Example: A national cable company was being acquired. Employees had questions about the acquisition but didn’t know where to turn. An email inbox and website were established and promoted. Questions and comments were catalogued, responses were drafted and vetted through the proper channels and outreach back to employees closed the loop. Then, common questions/answers were posted to the website for access anytime. The two-way communication efforts allowed employees to better understand the nuances of the transaction, learn from their colleagues and witness the responsiveness of the firm.

#BeAnInsider

Done wrong, engaging employees via social media channels can result in wasted efforts, squandered resources, and distracted employees with a visible channel to voice their displeasure. But, by sticking to these “socially acceptable” communication principles, your organization can make the most of the current social media platforms (and be ready for the ones your kids already know, but you’ve never heard of). Are you successfully using social media to engage your workforce? I’d love to hear your story. You can get in touch with me by email or on LinkedIn.

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