One of my favourite lines from a CEO, under the cosh from journalists demanding news of impending job losses, was that the company’s most important assets “turned up for work every day on two legs.” Whether he actually believed it or not is a moot point – businesses have claimed it to be true for years. A logical progression is surely to want those ‘most valuable assets’ to be as engaged as possible too. So the advent of social media must be manna from heaven for the internal comms and engagement teams, right?
If you throw a paper plane across the lobby of any large corporate headquarters today, the chances are it will hit a digital marketing or social media consultant. They’ll be sitting there, MacBook pro on their knees, just waiting to sprinkle magical digidust on the company’s external brand. In the vast majority of cases, no one from the internal comms team will even hear about this new magic dust.
Today, email and the intranet (or ‘oneway’ and ‘passive’, to give them their proper nicknames) remain the dominant channels used to carry key internal announcements and news of corporate developments to the company’s ‘most important ‘assets’ today. Email and the intranet serve a number of business objectives very well; it’s just a shame that internal communications and employee engagement aren’t among them.
I’ve tinkered with all kinds of internal comms channels over the years in a bid to come up with something half as powerful, as efficient and as fast as the water cooler (or smoking hut, if you’re so inclined). A secure social media platform dedicated to the needs of the corporation might be the closest anyone has come up with. But so far, apart from isolated, informal projects managed usually by the Geek department, it’s been generally under-utilised as an internal comms tool. You’re doing it and doing it well? Great. You’re a leader and the exception that proves the rule.
The corporate finance folk at Microsoft will be hoping that’s about to change. They’ve just agreed to fork out $1.2 billion for Yammer, a social media technology that is as easy to use as Facebook or Twitter but is designed for use within an enterprise organisation. If Microsoft doesn’t smother or starve it to death, Yammer could become the digital equivalent of the water cooler. But there are at least three key issues that need addressing within the businesses themselves.
The first, is that the internal comms teams need to get more engaged in the planning, design and development of the strategy, to understand better how social media can work for them alongside, and not instead of, existing internal channels.
The second is that the army of social media consultants cluttering up the lobbies start to apply some serious strategic thinking and creativity to social media as an internal comms, engagement and collaboration tool.
And finally, CEOs need to accept that the world won’t end if their employees are given free access to a platform where they can say pretty much what they want about what they want. These people might even have some good ideas worth consideration, if only someone is prepared to invest the time to listen to what they are saying on the platform.