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Social media can be a powerful internal engagement tool

While many firms are investing in a strong social media output, or indeed focusing their entire marketing strategy through digital and social platforms, a communications disconnect can be found at the centre of many large organisations.

The latest research from recruitment solutions provider Hyphen shows that UK organisations are failing to harness the potential of social media for more effective engagement with employees, and therefore missing out on valuable opportunities for innovation and knowledge-sharing.

The research shows there is a clear opportunity for HR directors to lead significant internal communications and organisational development programmes by embracing a desire among employees for greater interaction with senior management via social media channels. This has wide-reaching consequences for organisational culture, and could lead to the creation of a highly engaged workforce and industry-leading internal communications.

The survey of over 1,500 UK employees, conducted between May and June 2012 as part of wider research into the use of social media in the workplace, shows that there is a desire among employees to engage with managers and executives via social media channels.

Over two-fifths (42.3%) would be happy to converse directly with their line manager or team lead via Facebook and a fifth would be content tweeting the head of department (20%) and CEO (19.4%). Likewise, nearly two-fifths (39.2%) of managers would be happy to reciprocate via channels such as Facebook.

With the right parameters in place, there is opportunity for employers to communicate with their employees online, facilitating effective employee engagement at all levels of the organisation.

But the research and conversations with industry leaders show that management is failing to take the opportunity to engage with talent in this way. It is not investing in innovative internal communications or organisational development tools, such as designing engaging in-house social media platforms, rather than simple intranets and newsletters, which are, more often than not, poorly used and ineffective.

And while many organisations are focusing their social media efforts on external audiences, implementing complex and highly strategic digital campaigns that lead to significant public or consumer engagement, they are neglecting to address the potential such channels offer for effective internal communications, brand-building and advocacy within their own organisations.

HR directors need to find a way of shifting the desire for social media use into a productive way of engaging employees while at work. There are of course organisations that have successfully integrated social media into their internal communications. Early, successful adopters of social media for employee engagement include IBM and Nokia, which have created their own social in-house platforms, Blue Twit and Social Blue, and Socialcast, which are all based on the same model and logic as Facebook and Twitter. The success of Yammer, and its recent acquisition by Microsoft, has been in part due to a desire from progressive corporates to find alternative solutions to tired intranets, message boards and newsletters.

It is of course important to establish when social media presents the right forum for employee communications. Sensitive issues should be taken offline through appropriate HR channels and data privacy must always be observed.

Nonetheless, implemented effectively, social media can be a highly successful internal engagement tool, encouraging innovation, idea generation and knowledge sharing across teams and departments.

Investment in social media as an internal communications tool must now be the norm for companies that want to get the most from their employees, encourage creative thinking, and foster innovative organisational culture at all levels.

Zain Wadee (pictured) managing director at recruitment solutions provider, Hyphen