Strategies & Tactics

Advocacy in Action: How Social Media Inspires Collaboration Among Employees

March 4, 2019

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As technology continues to influence communication strategies, more companies are using social media platforms to share information and engender engagement with their employees.

During the past two years, Rita Linjuan Men, Ph.D., of the University of Florida, Julie O’Neil, Ph.D., of Texas Christian University and I conducted two studies examining internal social media and its role in influencing employee engagement, which is defined as employees who are connected to the values and mission of the company. In other words, they feel empowered, bring energy, passion, and discretionary effort to their jobs, and serve as advocates.

The scope of the studies

The studies focused on two types of internal social media: social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and enterprise social networking sites that are internal to a company like Yammer and Jive. We obtained both the practitioners’ and employees’ perspectives.

First, we interviewed 27 PR practitioners and thought leaders, who have at least five years of internal communication experience and work at companies known for workplace satisfaction (based on third-party evaluations of top U.S. workplaces). We conducted a second phase of the study in 2018, which included a quantitative online survey among 1,150 employees from U.S. organizations representing diverse industries that had adopted internal social media.

A review of professional and academic literature indicated organizations are using internal social media to facilitate employee communication and engagement in order to create greater workplace efficiency, encourage innovation and strengthen organizational reputation.

The interviewees acknowledged this trend of using social media in internal communications.

Many interviewees believed the two-way, interactive features of social media build connections and foster collaboration among employees. The interviewees stressed a mindset of giving up control to inspire conversation and collaboration among employees across communication disciplines, operational divisions and global locations. For example, one internal communications practitioner shared how using internal social media created opportunities for collaboration among groups of relevant functions, such as IT and HR, representing numerous countries.

Bringing tools employees are already using in their personal life to internal work conversations was seen as a cost-effective and targeted method for reaching employees. Such tools included blogs and general social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Some companies used specialized internal social media tools provided by vendors such as Yammer, Chatter, Slack, Facebook at Work and Social Chorus. Other organizations developed their own enterprise social media.

The interviewees discussed the opportunity for employees to serve as advocates for internal and external audiences through internal social media. “Leading brands continue to roll out social media programs companywide in an effort to transform employees into brand advocates in social channels, recognizing the value in powering their employees to organically spread the brand’s message,” an interviewee said.

The practitioners’ perspective: Applying best practices for internal social media

The research identified some challenges with internal use of social media such as demographic and cultural differences among employees, computer and internet access, and inappropriate content. To address these concerns, the interviewees recommended training, listening, and timely and personalized conflict management. They also shared some recommendations to inspire employee collaboration and advocacy through internal social media:

• Social media training and education: The interviewees advised to create clear guidelines so employees understand how to post appropriate and meaningful content. Organizations should provide training on how to use social media tools, their benefits for employees and the organization, as well as how to share internal social content externally. “If social is done right, so employees understand the connection to their jobs, it can build community and engagement, and promote knowledge-sharing and efficiency,” an interviewee shared.

• Employee social advocates: Employees may not understand how to create relevant information and/or use social platforms to support their jobs and the company’s business objectives. Often, seeing other employees effectively use internal social media inspires others to participate and creates a better connection with employees and the company. Many interviewees recognized the value of identifying employee social media advocates, who are tech-savvy and innovative, to be the leading social voices.

• Leadership involvement and endorsement: Leadership can effectively serve as role models, set the tone for the organization’s social media culture and grant employees an opportunity to connect with top leaders directly. Greater accessibility and connection to leaders creates an open culture. “A lot of our leaders use Yammer to recognize their teams,” an interviewee explained. “Our CEO will use Yammer. When he scrolls through, he will comment on posts that are recognizing other people. And before we had a tool like Yammer, there was really no way for him to do that otherwise. It’s opened up a lot of recognition type of communication.” Leaders can help educate employees on how to use social media to support the company’s business objectives through facilitating enhanced conversation and collaboration.

• Creating shareable, relevant and practical content: Many interviewees suggested organizations actively create social media content for employees to share and encourage employees to lead efforts with content development. The content should be relevant and practical to employees.

The interviewees emphasized the value of employees sharing personalized and dynamic storytelling about the company and its employees through internal social media, which then strengthens a connection to the company’s mission and values, creates a more personable culture, and inspires employees to serve as company advocates for both internal and external audiences.

An interviewee discussed the benefits of creating conversations about company initiatives: “Employees felt much more connected to the programs we were rolling out, and they felt more a part of what we were doing when they could submit their own photos and experiences.”

• Authenticity and consistency: Interviewees emphasized the importance of being authentic and consistent when it comes to using social media to engage employees. As with other channels, organizations should work with employees to ensure all digital communication aligns with the organization’s brand and values.   

With the increasing role of employees as storytellers and ambassadors, the line between internal and external communications is blurred. An interviewee noted, “Any brand that wants to continue to be relevant with new audiences will have to really blur those lines between what we’re sharing internally versus externally. They have to align.”

• Monitoring and listening: Many interviewees suggested monitoring internal social media and using an educational approach to address any inappropriate posts. Social media is about listening to employee voices and concerns, and then responding to them in a timely and proper manner. Monitoring and listening via social media also help foster conversations internally, build relationships and enhance employee engagement. An interviewee said, “Social media allows us to be able to make sure that we are connecting with [employees] in the way that they want to be connected with, and a way that makes them feel appreciated and heard.”

The employees’ perspective: Understanding the value of using internal social media

Topline results of the employee survey provide insights about employee motivation for using internal social media and how this social media usage can impact organizational transparency and a sense of belonging or identification with the organization.

• Motivations for internal social media: The findings conveyed that employees are motivated to use internal social media for three reasons: getting information about their jobs and the company, connecting with like-minded employees, and gaining a sense of empowerment through voicing opinions and sharing ideas. While past studies have indicated that entertainment is often connected to the use of social media, it wasn’t a motivator for internal social media.

• Impact on organizational transparency and identification: The survey indicated that when employees are actively using internal social media, they tend to perceive the organization as more transparent, identify more with the organization or feel a sense of belonging, which further builds quality employee-organization relationships and contributes to a higher level of employee organizational engagement. Employees’ use of internal social media contributes to an enhanced level of perceived transparency of the organization and organizational identification.

Interestingly, the results indicated the more employees read and interacted with conversations on internal social media, the more they felt connected and involved with the organization regardless of employees’ level of satisfaction with their prior relationships with the organization.

Further, when employees engage actively on internal social media by perusing messages, contributing content, and conversing with one another, they tend to perceive the organization as more transparent. Finally, the increased transparency and enhanced connections make employees feel more empowered.

Overall, both studies showed that inspiring employees to use internal social media can facilitate engagement. The research suggests technology will continue to transform internal communication and employee engagement practices, including the evolvement toward being more social, personal, participative, mobile and behavior-driven.

While future research is warranted to further examine the value of using internal social media, both studies support organizations investing in the time and resources to effectively implement and manage it.

 

This project was supported by grants from the Arthur W. Page Center and Kent State University College of Communication & Information.


Learn More About Employee Comms

Join hundreds of passionate PR professionals on May 15-17 in Phoenix for the 2019 PRSA Employee Communications Section Conference. Connect 19 is where you’ll discover the hottest trends, effective tactics and proven strategies in internal communications.

Michele E. Ewing, APR, Fellow PRSA

Michele E. Ewing, APR, Fellow PRSA, is an associate professor and public relations-sequence coordinator in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University. Connect with her via email (meewing@kent.edu) or Twitter (@meewing).

Comments

Jeff Julian says:

Great post! Timely for my team as we look to pilot a social media employee program next fiscal year. Thanks for sharing this excellent content.

March 8, 2019

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