Or how to avoid one of your employees writing a song about your company…
One of the first uses many people consider for a social platform is corporate communications. I mean the kind of top-down good-news story stuff that the senior management would want you to read and feel good about so that you’ll be happier at work and do more on a day-to-day basis. We all know however, that the circular email, the printed out newspaper or whatever form it takes, is often dismissed by its readers as being simply propaganda from the HR department or some other faceless part of the organisation. Everyone is smiling in the pictures, someone is getting a carriage clock to celebrate 25 years service, and some department has done a charity paintball thing. You might glance at it for ten minutes and then put it in the trash, delete it, pass it on to someone else, or simply snort and carry on working.
Am I overly pessimistic and jaded in my outlook on the corporate newsletter? Maybe. But I bet many of you reading this will recognise some aspect of the status quo situation for corporate communications. Of course, its not just the monthly or quarterly newsletter that gets treated this way. Often communications from senior management are written in third-party dispassionate prose. Long paragraphs extending to several pages of your screen in the circular email announce changes of staff, new directions, etc. There is little to engage, motivate and drive you forward. There is rarely any kind of call to action, nothing that provokes a response, and again you return to your work.
With this long setup you have no-doubt recognised by now that I am going to offer you some sort of alternative solution. Some sort of panacea to these ills that drives engagement, enthusiasm, motivation and action. Well, maybe some of these things, but with the number of people using Facebook topping 1.1 billion we must assume that a more social, interactive form of media holds some sort of interest for people.
In the chart shown here, there are three big players in social media: YouTube, Twitter and of course Facebook. I haven’t included LinkedIn because although it is a significant player in business networking, its main use is similar to Facebook, in my opinion.
My point here is that a product such as IBM Connections provides similar functionality to the main players in the social media space but in a business context. YouTube provides video streaming – Connections has its media gallery. Twitter is primarily micro-blogging – Connections has its Status Updates. Facebook is about people information and status updates – Connections of course has Profiles and Status Updates too.
There are many parallels in IBM Connections to the kind of social media functionality you will already be used to, such as @ mentions and # tags.
Why then, if these social media tools are so popular, and the market-leading enterprise social business platform has much of the same functionality, would you not use it to promote your organisation internally?
Many organisations have recognised the need for a social media presence. They have a Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence, Twitter accounts and of course some sort of website. Internally, however, they have not invested so much. They might have an intranet which is underused and rely on paper or email mass communication as the means of communicating with its staff.
The reason many organisations maintain this imbalance in social communications is because they recognise the risks of what people in the outside world might be saying about them as a company. Unchecked social media rumours and speculation, un-handled customers complaining about bad service and so on are all the kind of thing a corporate communications or marketing department is kept awake with at night:
Since the publicity around this example and many others which followed it, like the guy who took out a paid-for tweet when British Airways lost his father’s luggage, larger organisations are much more attentive to the sentiments expressed in social media and are much quicker at correcting inaccuracies and putting out social media fires. Why, though, if they recognise the advantages and risks of social media, in terms of engaging their customers, and showing that they care, would they not want to use similar technologies for internal communications? Are they more scared of what their own employees might say about the company than the general public?
Fundamentally the culture shift to use social technologies is still happening, in my opinion. I believe many of the organisations who have a strong presence on social media have been forced into doing so because of some of the examples and many others I have illustrated. They have done it not necessarily because they want to be open, caring and listening to their customers but are in fact so scared of bad publicity they have had to take action. Internally though, the process is more controlled and of course, not public. The need to do something to be open, caring and listening is not one which they have to take.
At least, that’s what conventional corporate culture would mandate. These days, many of the best organisations have recognised that culture shift internally towards open communication and collaboration drives better and stronger customer service, happier employees and better productivity. In the recent publication “Raising the Game”, the IBM Business Tech Trends Survey highlighted that “Pacesetters” (those that believe that these technologies are critical to their business success and adopt them ahead of their rivals) are seeing a six fold improvement in communication and collaboration by embracing social inside their organisations.
Turning the Corporate Communications newsletter into a daily blog with the same kind of attention to typography, photography and journalism as is the case with the current monthly paper newsletter is the kind of thing that drives interest. People get smaller snippets of news (a single article, rather than ten or twenty at a time) and can be more compelled to provide comments and feedback about these specific points. With the current mode I as a reader have no idea what sentiments others are expressing about the content of the newsletter. Putting it into a central blog accessible from everyone’s desktop with the facility to comment means that I as an individual can participate in a discussion with my colleagues about this news.
Culturally of course, having open discussion in such a medium might frighten management. They may wish to put a stop to it to avoid discontent being stirred up. The truth, of course, is that people talk to each other anyway, its just that management doesn’t hear it when its done in the corridors or in the car park. By having open discussions where a debate can be aired and people’s views expressed and understood by a wider audience helps in these ways:
- People feel that they now have a voice to feedback on what’s happening in the company;
- Others find that they are not alone in how they feel and debate can be had;
- Management can get a better understanding of what the employees think of a particular announcement
In other words, the very thing that the management of an organisation craves – feedback to improve the business – is unlocked through the use of social internally. Using video, status updates, micro-blogging, regular blogging and all the other social media tools available to organisations using something like IBM Connections means that the path to business improvement can be accelerated.
In summary, if you want to improve employee engagement, improve morale, communicate better with your staff and understand from the experts (the people you employ) what your customers are saying and how to improve your products then open the door to a two-way conversation. Start with something simple and universal like corporate communications. Abandon the monthly paper newsletter or the long circular email. Use a blog to post a news update once a day or once a week. Use pictures, video, whatever makes it attractive to read and absorb and pose questions throughout the article. What do you think of this? What could we have done better? Do you know of a situation like this we could improve – give us your comments. Treat your employees as valued people and give them a voice, before someone makes up a song about your organisation!