No matter how conservative the company, sooner or later some senior leader will say something like, “Do we have Twitter?” or “Does the company Facebook?”
“Huzzah!” you think. “We’re moving into the 21st century.” But don’t get too excited too soon. Using social media to communicate with employees isn’t a question of tools; it’s a question of culture. The communications team may be ready, but is the rest of the organization?
Here are five (*with an optional sixth) questions to consider in determining whether using social media tools with employees will work with your organization’s culture:
- Do all employee have access to information and data? Using social media is about sharing. Senior managers may be the only employees with full access to information, and sharing may not be a priority for them.
- Do your current communication practices blur the lines between those who create content and those who consume content? In an organization where extensive approval processes must be followed before memos are sent or articles are published, social networking is not likely to flourish.
- Do you have the technology infrastructure to support the social media practices you would like to pursue? Don’t underestimate this. The goal is to interact, not simply to broadcast. Budget dollars to support technology development may be elusive with a leadership team that isn’t convinced of the value of the tools.
- Do you have a flat organizational structure? Do peer-to-peer interactions occur regardless of hierarchy or are relationships unidirectional?
- Do leaders not only listen to employees but also take action? If you encourage a conversation, people may start talking. Are you and your leadership team ready to respond?
- *Is your industry highly regulated? In the health care industry, for example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rules can make using social media a very risky business.
If you find yourself unable to answer these questions in the affirmative, you may want to lay a little groundwork before you start pursuing the use of social media, which is to say you may want to focus on the culture before you focus on the tools. Social networking is more about sharing than telling – more about collaboration than control. It has the capacity to nurture a shared sense of purpose and engagement throughout your company in countless creative and productive ways, but only if the organization is ready for it.
Culture is the bedrock on which successful internal communications programs rest. They are often integral to the culture. Social networking is about conversation and engagement, and not every organization’s culture is ready for it – at least not yet.
Nonetheless, social networking appears to be here to stay. Isn’t the role of the communications professional to find a way to use it to competitive advantage? In my next post, I’ll offer suggestions on how communicators can help pave the way for social media success.