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Social networks can bridge communication gap

Published on Friday, 05 Jul 2013
Jeff Tang

While all-pervasive social media has revolutionised the way people interact with each other in a cluttered online environment, it appears that many employers are being sluggish to embrace social network channels to engage with their workforce.

A new survey by global professional services company Towers Watson reveals that while individuals hoover up endless hours “staying in touch”, only about half the companies spoken to are using social media tools to communicate with their staff. Even among companies that have introduced social media technology into their employee communication channels, there is uncertainty over which social media tools are most effective.

According to Tower Watson’s 2013 Change and Communication ROI (Return on Investment) study, 56 per cent of employers surveyed use social media tools to engage with employees, but only 30 to 40 per cent rate them as highly effective. Furthermore, only 40 per cent rated the use of social media technology as cost-effective. A total of 290 large and mid-size organisations from across North America, Europe and Asia participated in the study.

Jeff Tang, Asia-Pacific director of talent and rewards and leader of global financial services at Towers Watson, says there are clear reasons why companies are unsure if their social media engagement efforts are being effective.

“Many companies we spoke to that use social media to engage with employees have not been able to implement measuring tools to gauge if their efforts are effective,” Tang says.

“We are at a junction where awareness surrounding the use of social media is high, but a real challenge for employers is tying social investments back to the bottom line, measuring its effectiveness and deciding if the process makes business sense.”

He adds that many companies have not assigned a social media budget so the costs are absorbed by HR and corporate communications departments.

Tang says drivers for setting up employee social media engagement channels should be based on defined fundamentals. These include the types of message the company aims to convey, whether social media adds new dimensions to existing channels of engagement, and intended results and impact. “Effectiveness boils down to how companies identify and manage content, and how they measure results,” he says.

The study also found that while about 40 per cent of employers say they are effective at building a shared experience with employees as a whole, the percentage drops by roughly half, to 23 per cent, on building community with workers located away from main offices.

However, Tang says there are examples of companies in Greater China using social media to engage with their local workforce in Africa and South America. “The messages, which include video clips, are usually recorded in Putonghua, but these can be subtitled and still allow viewers to get a feel for the CEO or whoever the speaker happens to be,” he says. He sees this as a positive alternative to managers in remote locations attending meetings in Greater China and reporting back on company operations and expectations.

Jowie Yu, Towers Watson’s Hong Kong senior consultant for rewards, talent and communication, says social media can allow companies to engage employees in key areas such as performance, collaboration, culture and values.

“There are a lot of opportunities to create a social media environment for sharing both the challenges and rewards of work,” he says, adding that social media should not be viewed as a replacement for traditional channels of employee engagement.

Yu recommends integrating social media with other communication channels, such as e-mail, newsletters, meetings and events. “From surveys, we know companies that have successfully implemented social media initiatives have reduced the overload of e-mails circulated to staff,” he says.

Feedback from companies surveyed also identified the use of social media to create company forums and blogs. Yu says one company stood out for the way it uses short video clips to illustrate the way it operates and the different job procedures.

“This type of approach can lead to better employee understanding of the way the company operates and help them to feel more engaged,” he says. The same approach, he adds, could be used if a company is looking to promote job rotation and career development within an organisation.

The Lane Crawford Joyce Group is one example of a company which has set up a Facebook-type social media channel to encourage employees to become involved in company activities. Company executives say the I-Jam platform allows employees in second- and third-tier mainland cities to feel that they are appreciated and close to the company-wide operations.

“It is really about engagement – letting our people know what’s going on and encouraging them to be part of it,” says Thomson Cheng, managing director of the ImagineX Group, the brand management and distribution arm of The Lane Crawford Joyce Group.

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