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October 4, 2011 Social media in the workplace and employee communication

By Doug Shaw

com•mu•ni•cate: Verb/kəˈmyo͞oniˌkāt/
To share or exchange information, news, or ideas.

Social tools are everywhere. Some companies try to restrict access to these tools for fear of what their employees may say, about the company, about each other and about the customer. Why do companies persist in employing people they clearly don’t trust? I wish I knew the answer. And as fast as the company blocks access to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and more, employees arm themselves with smart phones and tablets and step outside the restricted zone. Control is increasingly becoming an illusion.

I will be engaged in an active panel discussion about social tools and employee communications at the Social Workplace Conference in London, on 1st November 2011, with other communications professionals.

Far too often the role of employee communication is in fact a broadcast role, not a communicating one. The company predominantly wishes to get its message across and is not particularly interested in hearing back the other way. In a recent conversation about employee communication, the CEO of a global company professed to me a complete ignorance of the world of blogging despite the company having an active blogging platform which staff used to share issues and ideas. Instead he preferred a printed newspaper sent to all staff once every two months. That’s not communicating, that’s telling.

In order to be authentic nowadays employee communication should be available via social tools in order to create dialogue more simply and effectively. Or just recast it as employee broadcast and be honest with your people. We just want to tell you stuff; your opinion is of no interest to us. And please, don’t tell me there’s a staff survey for that – from my experience staff surveys are one of the biggest wastes of company time and money. Staff plough through endless questions for people to turn vast swathes of ticked boxes into coloured charts and reports which then serve as wonderful desk drawer linings.

I believe using social tools as a means of communication creates fantastic opportunities to engage with each other, with customers, with any group you care to think of. And of course as fallible humans, we will make mistakes along the way. When a company drops the ball it is simultaneously creating an opportunity to recover and delight a disappointed customer.

I recently experienced difficulty with a company who made some system changes and lost my mailing preferences. This resulted in unwanted emails and phone calls from them to me. We tried to resolve the dialogue together and it wasn’t working. One blog post and a few tweets later the company founder is in contact making an honest apology for the errors. The company picked up the vibes on social media, and communicated. The resulting feedback on the blog and on Twitter was excellent, and the company gained new customers as a result. We all make mistakes; it’s how we recover from them that counts.

Social tools are here to stay. The smart workplaces will embrace them and define new employee and customer experiences, and if I was the printed newspaper favouring CEO, I’d be worried.

Doug Shaw is founder of What Goes Around Limited. Engage with him on twitter.


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