It's difficult to argue that there hasn't been widespread uptake of social media for business, from a marketing point of view. Now companies of all size and type are using social media platforms and technologies as a way of reaching new and existing customers. And there's no doubt that it's being done well and driving real business benefit. But there is a danger in organisations that see the total benefit of social media as just being for marketing, and don't look to how it can be used to transform their business from the inside and crucially connect employees. It seems that customers are being given a higher level of consideration of employees, in terms of how they can connect with the business and the information they can exist. How many people can really say that social technologies have been used to open up the information bank within their organisation and provide an easy route to staff members at all levels?
The right to information
The fact is that everyone has a basic right to information and this applies whether you are internal or external to an organisation. Yet consistently businesses are focusing their efforts on using social platforms to distribute this information to their customers and not their employees. This is dangerous, as an uninformed workforce can be restrictive to the progression of your business and importantly how those customers are dealt with once you've used social media to bring them into your business. What if that customer is more informed about your business practices than the person they're meant to be dealing with? This is seen consistently where companies carry out promotions on location based networks for example, yet fail to tell their employees what they're doing. If you've never heard of Foursquare yet a customer waves a mobile in your face telling you they're entitled to a discount because they're a mayor, chances are there's going to be a pretty awkward exchange. This is representative of a danger of social media, that it becomes outward looking, when it should in fact start from the inside - out.
This is, in many ways, phase 2 of social media. Social media is beginning to make its way into the boardroom, as we have CEOs tweeting etc.. yet far too often it's about what they're saying to their customers as opposed to what they're saying to their employees. Phase 2 of the social media revolution means a connected workforce, unified by social technologies and the ability to spread information quickly and effectively. It's time for companies to start looking at how social media can be used internally, else you risk implementing half a strategy and fostering a disconnect between customers and employees, when the latter can only really serve the former if you're connecting them and giving them the right information in new ways, outside of silos.
Let's not wait 10 years
Social media is getting on the agenda for internal communications, but unfortunately not quickly enough. In a survey by Melcrum on internal communications, just 23% felt that social media was going to dominate the practice in 10 years time :
10 years? 23%? Despite the fact that this seemed to be the area where most people agreed on the survey, this should be worrying. And it's something that has to stop today. We simply can't wait 10 years for less than a quarter of companies to allow social media to play such a prominent part in internal communications. That has to happen now. In fact, it should have happened yesterday.
The tools of the trade are there for this to happen even on a basic level. Connecting employees via social technologies is of course an important consideration for larger organisations in particular. Overhauling your entire internal communications system is by no means an easy feat. Yet it should have been on the agenda when social media first emerged. It seems that we all got a bit sidetracked with looking at how it could be used for a bit of free and exciting marketing, without looking at what might happen if each employee was trained in and connect with social media. Instead of information in organisations being contained in silos and a string of emails, let that information be distributed via social technologies, such as Yammer. This is an excellent way to connect employees on a basic level, via a desktop application. Think of it like a private social network for your employees. Say goodbye to emails with hundreds of people cc'ed. Pop it up on Yammer and open it up to discussion. It should be as simple as that.
IBM getting it right?
This is not representative of all organisations of course. In a recent article, IBMs internal social networking policy was highlighted as having a 'social business management council', which is attended by staff from across different levels, including right up to the CFO level. Here, the internal social media policy is set and discussed, focusing on how employees should be using social media as they view it as an intrinsic part of the business. This sets an excellent example in how social media management should be executed internally, and then allowing it to affect how you communicate with your external stakeholders. But while these social media 'councils' show the right way to go to manage social media internally, instead of blocking it completely, it still doesn't look enough at how social media can be used to connect employees, but more at how employees should use social networking in external activities.
This next phase of social media needs to become a widespread practice among organisations soon. This is of course not a total representation of how businesses are using social media internally, as there are certainly organisations that recognise the benefit of social media to open up employee communications. But it needs to happen more, if the full potential of social media for business is to be realised.