When the senior vice president of customer and employee success at San Francisco-based Gild Inc. noticed that one of his employees habitually tweeted about being exhausted because of her job, he took action.
The day after she tweeted that she needed a glass of wine once she got home, Brad Warga asked if she had enjoyed her drink. While the gesture was blunt, it worked: They talked about her concerns and resolved her problems.
“It was good to hear the whisper before it became a scream,” Warga said.
Social media and other social networking tools have transformed the face of communication among employees and between workers and managers. Warga’s experience is an example of the informal ways in which social media is becoming a natural appendage of employee relations and business management.
“[Social media helps us to understand] the whole employee,” Warga said. “Knowing they have a pet, knowing they have children. … If they have a boss who doesn’t take any interest in who they are, they’re going to be demotivated.”
In a June 2013 survey, Ipsos and Microsoft polled more than 9,000 employees in 32 countries and found that a majority have used social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn; tools including text messaging and video chats; as well as internal sites like SharePoint to do their jobs well. Two out of five employees said social media tools encourage more workplace collaboration.
“It’s certainly helping employees to work smarter,” said Aliah D. Wright, author of A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites
(SHRM, 2013). “Never before have people had so much access to information that’s just sitting in the minds of others. People aren’t just turning to their friends on these networks; they’re tapping the collective knowledge of mentors, experts and business leaders so they can broaden their individual worldviews, get answers to questions, and gather and assess information to make sense of the world around them and help them in their jobs.”
Social media also influences how people learn, how they gather information and, ultimately, how they communicate and consume. Vlad Gyster, co-founder and CEO of Boston-based H.Engage
, has used the new media to introduce companies to seemingly more informal activities, such as gamification and other interactive elements.
“Fifteen years ago I might have sat down and scanned through The New York Times,” Gyster said. “That’s how I got my news. Now I go on Twitter and I scan my Twitter feed, and it’s a bunch of sources of information … and I form this picture of the world in my head, based on the pieces of content I’m looking at.”
However, the survey revealed some resistance among managers to moving forward with the times: 34 percent of survey respondents said “their management underestimates the benefits of these tools.”
So what’s causing the slow transition?
Some employers are uncomfortable with the lack of structure in social media engagement, said Warga. The information that flows across different social media platforms can become overwhelming, especially with the increased level of informality creeping into a traditionally formal environment.
How does a business with hesitant employers and tech-savvy employees get comfortably acquainted with new social networking tools?
Start small, experts said, by connecting employees on a common social network. Gyster pointed to a hotelier in Burlington, Vt., who used a Facebook group to expedite communication and make announcements.
“Now you’re tapping into a communication channel that people are grabbing little pieces of content every day from,” Gyster said.
Use what best fits the company, advised Jennifer Benz, chief strategist and founder of San Francisco-based Benz Communications. Employers don’t always need to dive into every new digital fad, she said. In fact, using every social media tool under the sun may not be conducive to company success and success in employee interaction.
“I would say that every organization should be looking at how to best use technology to accomplish goals,” she said.
“[Employers] need to look at the best practices.” If it isn’t efficient to company communication, it won’t be for the best. Then again, it’s not a bad idea for employers to occasionally test the deep end.” Adriana Scott is an editorial intern for SHRM Online.