Social media has a reputation for distracting employees but when used properly, it can actually have the opposite effect.
Whether it's Facebook or Twitter or another social media channel, these platforms allow for improved communication between an employer and its employees, as well as employees and their co-workers and even customers.
Adam Wootton, director of social media and games at Towers Watson, a global professional services company in New York City, says social media can drive engagement and productivity.
“If companies want to communicate with their employees effectively, they need to meet the employees on the same street they’re on,” Wootton says. “If employees use these tools and techniques to communicate, they’re going to react well to this media.”
As an example, an internal social media platform allows employees to post a range of items, from client presentations or an idea for a new product, and receive instant feedback from other workers. Employees can even use internal social media platforms to receive more personal information, such as benefits plans.
“If you think of Facebook, it has a big collaboration feature around photos, so if you post a photo your entire network can see it and give you immediate feedback,” Wootton says. “Some of these internal social media tools have the same concepts, but instead of focusing on photos, they are focused on documents, concepts and ideas.”
Using internal social media platforms allows employers to protect the organization and its employees from a privacy standpoint, as well, Wootton says.
Some employees may be hesitant to interact with their employers on their personal Facebook accounts, but with an internal option, employees can maintain some privacy while still participating in this interactive form of communication. From the employer’s perspective, this ensures that confidential information is not spilled into a public forum.
“It works both ways,” Wootton says. “Employees can keep their personal lives from their professional lives, and the company can better control the data flow.”
Research by Towers Watson finds that employees of all ages are embracing social media usage in the workplace. As expected, the younger employees have a greater willingness to adopt social media, though the adoption rate is high among all employee groups. In fact, the fastest growing segment of Facebook users is women over age 45.
To ensure employees get the most out of social media in the workplace, it is important to have a change management plan in place, Wootton says.
The plan should specifically communicate how social media can help employees become more engaged and productive while also ensuring safety and privacy. For employees to feel secure, they need to understand that their documents are safely backed up and that there is a process to keep private documents from unintentionally making their way onto the social media platform.
“If the employee can see that they can do their job more efficiently and effectively by using social tools, you’ll have a much easier time getting employees involved rather than feeling like this is just one more thing they have to do in their already busy day,” Wootton says.
While more traditional electronic communication tools, such as email and instant messaging, still have their place in an organization, social media provides another outlet that can help employees receive immediate feedback and engage with fellow co-workers.