Workplace Social Media Usage Can Boost Engagement

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 17, 2012

PALM SPRINGS, CALIF.—As we all keep current with friends and family on Facebook, check in with colleagues on Yammer, or source job applicants through LinkedIn, social media is making information “increasingly porous,” observed Alison Davis.

Davis led a concurrent session, “Use Social Media to Increase Collaboration, Productivity and Engagement,” at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2012 Strategy Conference here Oct. 3, 2012.

She is CEO and founder of Davis & Co. and co-author of The Definitive Guide to HR Communication (FT, 2011) and Your Attention Please (Adams Media, 2006).

Davis pointed to the rapid transformation of communication: 24/7 news coverage beginning with CNN in 1980, instant messaging in 1996, Facebook’s appearance in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006, the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010.

This has led to a growing wireless population. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. adults own a mobile phone, she said citing Pew Research Center data, and 68 percent of those in developing countries do so, too.

Mobile device users spend the bulk of their time social networking, conducting searches, reading, and communicating (22 percent, 21 percent, 20 percent, and 19 percent, respectively), she said.

New Communication Tool

This constant connection is leading to “super-sized” social networking, with 40 percent of adults age 55 and older using social networking, Davis said. Among18- to 34-year-olds, 86 percent use social networking, she added.

Some of the trends shaping expectations around social media, she said, include a changing way in which people use and seek out media. A larger percentage of people today receive their news from social media than from traditional media. The millennial generation, for example, is more likely to check Facebook to find out about an earthquake that occurs in a friend’s area than to tune in to a news outlet.

This is a lesson for organizations, she pointed out. Just as consumers look to their mobile devices to price-check goods, so, too, can workers use their organization’s information to learn how one of the company’s regions is doing versus another. They can also discover what they need in order to be successful in their jobs.

“Everyone today is expected to have a more participative role in organizations, not simply to be an audience,” she said, noting that participation equals engagement.

She listed seven ways HR professionals can increase social media use at their organization:

Know your employees by looking at your demographics. Look at your demographics and ask employees what they want or need to keep in touch with each other and management, and to perform their work. Are the people you want to recruit using those networks? Only 8 percent of Americans, for example, are active on Twitter, she said.

Loosen up. Be casual, not formal. Be prepared for lots of questions versus having all the answers.

Start small. Take baby steps in social media, such as sharing or commenting on articles. Advance to “training wheels” that could include texting questions during a live employee “town hall” meeting or encouraging chat tools during web meetings.

Do less telling and more listening. Consider having leadership start a blog and then encourage employees to comment and submit photos or videos about how their team contributes.

Involve leaders. Consider a one-hour live CEO chat—such as a text question-and-answer format. She gave the example of one company that had a three-day online event the company’s leadership hosted; in three days there were more than 800 posts and an employee survey showed workers valued the leader interaction.

Provide guidance. Offer training to employees new to social media and look to LinkedIn and Facebook for ideas on how to encourage interaction. She referred attendees to SHRM’s social media policies.

Create collaborative venues. She pointed to one organization thatlaunched Yammer as its new single platform for employee news and collaboration; Yammer membership increased from 1,688 to 12,000-plus in three months.

For HR professionals whose employers are nervous about using social media, she assured them that “it’s really something you can experiment with. You don’t have to get it perfectly right.”

She referred attendees to her downloadable e-book, 140 Ways to Use Social Media to Engage Employees, found at her company’s website.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor, HR News. Follow her on Twitter @kathygurchiek.


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