Social media the next frontier

by 01 Apr 2008

SOCIAL MEDIA has begun to improve companies’ ability to enhance employee communication, according to a global consulting firm.

“When properly rolled out, social media and Enterprise 2.0 tools can help companies meet their number one internal communication goal – engaging employees,” said Michael Rudnick, global intranet and portal leader at Watson Wyatt.

“Instead of simply mass emailing information or posting to an intranet in hopes employees will see it, social media tools help employees actively participate in creating and sharing information. This shift to employee-generated content has resulted in employees’ becoming more engaged online.”

However, at the moment, many companies are focused on the risks of social media. Executives often express concern about giving employees the ability to create content, and many information technology departments are blocking employee access to the most popular external social media tools.

These concerns are reminiscent of the productivity fears raised, and subsequently disproved, when the internet was introduced into the workplace in the mid-1990s, Rudnick said. The way for employers to address these concerns is to do just as they did 10 years ago – setting clear guidelines for acceptable use while adopting social media for a productive, internal purpose.

“Companies need a plan to introduce these new technologies into the workforce. Simply deploying the technology is not enough – and can even be counterproductive,” he said.

“However, employers that avoid social media altogether are missing an important opportunity and running the risk of alienating generation Xers and millennials [generation Yers]. Embracing the technology with proper planning, guidelines and change management for its use are effective approaches to ensuring success.”

A good example of how employers can adopt social media internally is to enhance their static intranet with more dynamic Web 2.0 technology. On most intranets, news is posted primarily by a limited number of communicators.

A social media-driven intranet allows most, if not all, employees to create information and participate in a company-wide dialogue. Content can be contributed in a variety of ways, including blogs, blog feedback, wikis, vlogs, podcasts and other Web 2.0 tools.

This more collaborative approach provides for relevant and up-to-date content on intranets without dramatically increasing the burden on a company’s communications function.

However, guidelines, training and change management about appropriate use, along with strong firewalls (to keep prying eyes out), are needed to ensure that social media is used productively and sensitive information is not inappropriately or inadvertently disseminated, Rudnick said.

Heather Hamilton, Microsoft’s recruitment blogging expert, said that companies that haven’t started blogging are missing out on a rich recruitment tool that can create a dialogue with potential employees, increase their visibility in the online space, and demonstrate and understanding of their target market.

Hamilton, who will be speaking at the Australasian Talent Conference in April, said opening the lines of communication had a major impact on the company’s recruitment outcomes.

“Microsoft’s recruitment blog began as a tool for collecting résumés, but we soon found that creating a platform for two-way communication with prospective candidates, allowed us to be aware of any myths about the company, paint a real picture of what it’s like to work at Microsoft, and give people the tools to tailor their résumés, thereby increasing recruitment success rates,” Hamilton said.

“There is no short-term solution for attracting talent, but blogs can be an effective way of shifting opinions and perceptions about a company, while enhancing visibility, which is crucial for companies to get themselves on the radar of potential employees and to keep in touch with alumni.“

Hamilton also stressed that blogs are not about posting jobs, but about engaging in ‘quality conversations’. “The most successful recruitment blogs will talk to people about something of value to them or something they want to know,” she said.

“For example, at Microsoft, we realised there is really no-one out there telling candidates how to write a good CV, so helping them with their CVs means they can tailor them and be clearer about what we want on them, which is also improving our shortlist.”

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