With more than 1 billion people using Facebook, 200 million active Twitter users and 200 million active LinkedIn accounts, staff are becoming increasingly competent in digital communications. This is an opportunity for the digitally savvy HR Director, but it can leave others feeling quite exposed.

Staff expectations about communications are raised by their experiences using social media in their private time, but corporate environments are often very “locked down” when it comes to social networking. This can make the concept of BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – nothing more than a pipe dream.

The Guardian newspaper surveyed 1,500 employees and found that 42% wanted to talk with their managers using Facebook, 20% wanted to tweet their head of department or CEO and 40% of managers wanted to talk to staff using social media. However, two thirds of staff had no involvement in corporate social media activity and 25% are not allowed to access social networks in the office.

Trends in Internal Comms

Large organisations are beginning to use social media internally to engage staff. Last year, Deloitte launched a blogging competition to boost social media engagement during the Olympics. The winners were given tickets to the Games to represent the company and share their experience across external and internal social networks.

Increasingly, company directors realise that internal communications is an investment and not an expense and many organisations are now looking to see how they can work with their HR teams to harness social media in order to get the most from staff and foster a culture of innovation and collaboration.

The new world of internal communications is not about pushing communications to staff but one of engagement, sharing, listening and responding. Using collaborative spaces online also helps keep information within the company instead of squirrelled away within the dark corners of overflowing email inboxes.

Developing internal communications is not just about working out the key messages. The starting points are working out who the communication is designed for. What do they need to know? How do they want the information? What kind of culture and behaviours does the company want to encourage? Internal communications can then help support the company in meeting employee needs as part of the bigger picture of realising corporate objectives.

Here are the latest trends in internal communications:

  • Move away from intranets – many staff feel that intranets are too corporate and big, hard to search and end up being full of HR forms and policies
  • Move towards social networking for business – companies are migrating to platforms such as Yammer
  • Emergence of print – with so much taking place online, there is a real opportunity for print too, such as themed newsletters or magazines especially for staff profile/people stories
  • Increased collaboration – companies are using platforms that help encourage connectivity and knowledge sharing across the business, such as Yammer
  • Gamification – companies are starting to use social tools, such as virtual badges and points, to drive awareness of internal programmes or build traffic to certain channels
  • Access to social media – companies are starting to allow “online ambassadors” to promote the organisation they work for
  • Internal recognition – increased story-telling of staff success stories in their personal and professional life

Protecting the Brand and Employees

In light of the recent Twitter hacking incidents targeting major brands, HR directors may be looking for advice and reassurance about the management of their own social media profiles. In February, Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked to say that the fast-food chain had been sold to McDonald’s “because the Whopper flopped.” Jeep’s Twitter account was the next victim, with tweets stating that the company had been bought by Cadillac.

Social media and the law is still a hot topic, with landmark cases going through the courts relating to business, politics and the world of celebrity on a continuous basis. Moreover, given the prevalence of hand-held devices with almost instant access to social media platforms, HR directors need to take the lead and produce clear guidelines for their staff on what is and is not acceptable.

If companies are serious about incorporating social media in to their bottom line, I would suggest that they develop a sound social media strategy which fits in with the overall company business plan. To be most effective, HR directors will need to work closely with the marketing, IT and legal teams to ensure that the brand and the employees are protected. A well trained, digitally savvy HR director would be perfectly placed to lead the board into the world of social media.