I recently organised a surprise birthday party for a friend. Since everyone uses one form of social network or other nowadays, I decided to send the invite out to our friends via Facebook (duly tested first to ensure she could not see it on mine or our friend’s profiles!).
I was surprised when just two days before the event, not even half of my friends had replied to my invite. After chasing by email, most of them said “Ah, yes, I saw the invite a while ago. Of course we are coming!” I was puzzled… why didn’t they answer? I saw they had posted updates so they had definitely been on the site recently. So why hadn’t they replied? When after the party I commented on this to my husband said: “People just don’t take Facebook invites seriously, you have to send them an email or give them a call”. I checked live invites from other friends and saw they were having the same problem. That got me thinking, does social media not carry the same weight as more traditional forms of communication? Is that also applicable when using it at work as a form of interaction between organisation and employees?

According to a recent report by Taleo Corporation, only 10% of employees routinely use social networks internally at work to discuss work with colleagues. That figure caught my attention. Could this be because the perceived value these have is low? Could it also be because of the lack of clarity around what it is used for? Linked In is for your next career move, Facebook to see what your friends are up to – so what is a social network at work actually for?

Three steps to greater participation

From an organisation’s perspective, there are a three things to consider when launching internal social networks:

  • Give it a specific use at first. Most organisations that have implemented them use social networks as informal forums for discussion initially and to foster innovation and knowledge sharing. A good example of this is LEGO, where Yammer communities have been set up where active discussion and knowledge sharing about ongoing work by staff are being discussed.
  • Let employees lead . Social networks are “made” to a certain extent by the community that uses them. Be led by what your employees seem to like using it for and adapt your communication and engagement strategy accordingly to make it a relevant forum. There are several tools that allow organisations to analysethe interaction points of employees and the business. An example of this is Capgemini’s Business to Employee approach (B2E). B2E listening is an employee-centric information gathering approach that can be used to improve and inform decision making.
  • Think about the generational profile of your employees. Generation Y employees are expected to take to social networks like ducks to water, but they still might require some training and support to adapt to these tools in the workplace, as suggested by my colleague Natalia McCready in her article “How digital are the digital natives?”. Older generations may not pay much attention to it at first, relying on more traditional methods of communication in the organisation, like email bulletins or intranet pages. Perhaps just like my 30 something friends, they might not take it seriously enough as an organisational communication vehicle and ignore it at first.

Look before you leap

The message for organisations here is don’t just jump head first into social networks, make sure they are part of a thought through and integrated engagement strategy to foster effective communication and desired behaviours in your organisation. If it becomes yet another random forum, the likelihood is that after a few weeks 90% are not using it because they forgot the password…