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Social Media and Employee Communications: An Opportunity to Experiment

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, June 10, 2009

Most employers are using blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels to communicate with employees, according to a recent study. If you're not yet convinced of the value of social media to reach patients and other healthcare consumers, internal communications might be a low-cost, low-risk opportunity to experiment with new forms of media, to measure reception and effectiveness, and to figure out which tools work for your organization.

In a survey of nearly 1,500 employers, 97% said they "frequently" use social media to engage employees. Another 19% said they occasionally use it and only 1% said they rarely or never do. (Kind of makes you wonder what that 1% is waiting for, doesn't it?)

Social media beat out even e-mails and intranets, which clocked in at 75% and 72% respectively, according to the Employee Engagement Survey released June 9 by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Research Foundation and Buck Consultants.

Remember employee newsletters? Still popular among hospitals, overall they're on the decline, according to this survey: Only 28% said they use them regularly.

If the idea of using your employees as social media guinea pigs is appealing, consider starting by measuring whether the tactic is effective. Best practice measurement tactics for social media are still emerging, and most of the respondents in this survey still aren't using them. In fact, 46% aren't using any measurement at all—it was the leading response.

The most common measurement tactic was monitoring usage and other data (33%). That's not a bad place to start, but there's more you could (and should) be doing, such as conducting surveys and focus groups, for example. Only 1% reported that they use these tactics. Think about that for a minute: That means an overwhelming majority are pushing messages out to their employees without bothering to ask them what they think or trying to determine if it's working.

And, ironically, the ability to engage in two-way conversations is one of the greatest strengths of social media. Julie Freeman, president of IABC, says companies are starting to understand that.

"Companies are moving away from the one-way communication model where they would send out information hoping people would read it," she said in a release. "Using the various social media tools, companies can now engage employees in discussions and foster conversations between teams across geographic and other boundaries."

Some other key findings from the survey:

  • More than half of the respondents (52%) report their communication budgets have decreased and 35% report their communication staff has been reduced over the past 12 months
  • The most common reasons cited for communication budget and staff cuts were the economy (46%) and organizational mandates (42%)
  • Forty-eight percent report their employee communication strategy has stayed the same despite the economic downturn
  • The frequency of ongoing employee listening reflected an "all or nothing" approach, with 62% of respondents saying they regularly engage in employee listening activities such as surveys and focus groups and 30% percent saying they rarely or never engage in these methods
  • Fifty-six percent of top executives are not currently using social media, and nearly half (46%) of organizations are not measuring social media's effectiveness
  • Almost six in 10 respondents (59%) think their company has a well-established internal or employer brand

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