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Hi Corporate. It's me, Social Media. Your Newest Employee.

For the most part, Corporate America IS adopting social media, some companies more quickly than others, but hey … we’re gradually getting there. My impressions though, is that most companies focus more on implementing social media from an external marketing and public relations standpoint rather than fully exploring the other side of the house.. internal communications. What about internalizing social media? Building that Enterprise 2.0?

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’ve been working on building out a strategy on implementing social media tools for my company. In my research for best practices and what other companies are doing, I came across this fantastic post written by Carolyn Ray at the Financial Post.  Her post really highlights the fact that social media is NOT going away — that it truly is the next level of tools to internal communication:  engaging in two-way communication from the bottom-up, top-down and side-to-side. Her post is provided below, and I welcome your thoughts on this topic. Talk to me about what your company is doing to internalize social media?

While much attention has been focused on social media’s attractiveness as an external marketing tool, they are also the fastest way to connect people inside organizations. There is great promise in their ability to facilitate transparency and authenticity in communications and make a meaningful advance in employer/employee relations. They have the power to inspire workplace collaboration and engage employees in the company’s mission. What is required is willingness on the part of leaders to move beyond the comfort zone of traditional, top-down communications and engage in continuous, open dialogue with their teams.

Many recent studies have highlighted the role of social media as a game changer for internal communications. In our research, “Start the Dialogue: Engaging Employees in Tough Times”, NATIONAL Public Relations found that social media are the top trend influencing internal communications. Communicators from organizations across Canada identified many positive attributes of dialogue, including the ability to build relationships and trust with leaders, better understand employee concerns, improve message retention and overcome internal silos.

The majority of survey respondents told us that there is more dialogue today between senior management and employees than ever before. However, the conversation is still via traditional channels such as employee town hall meetings, and there is a profound lack of two-way communications outside of these formal events. This finding is echoed by the International Association of Business Communicators 2009′ Employee Engagement Survey, which found that 56% of top executives don’t use social media as an employee engagement tool.

Our own research revealed two main challenges to effective communications: the structure and process of internal communications, and management’s unwillingness to engage in dialogue. Respondents also reported that their communication budgets and staff have decreased during the economic downturn despite growing pressure to communicate with an increasingly diverse group of stakeholders.

It’s a familiar story: Hard times trigger corporate cutbacks in so-called “discretionary” expenses such as employee communications despite the blindingly evident truth that economic uncertainty raises anxiety levels among staff and can lead to low employee engagement. Precisely when more communication is needed, less is offered. Short-term financial gain is traded for long-term organizational pain.

In fact, a recent Watson Wyatt Communication ROI study shows that firms that communicate effectively are four times more likely than their peers to report high levels of employee engagement and 20% more likely to report lower turnover rates. They also enjoy higher market value and better shareholder returns. In short, the more engaged the workers, the higher the profits.

Given the strong correlation between communications and business performance, are companies leveraging one of the most powerful employee engagement tools — social media — at their disposal? Sadly, the answer is no.

When one considers the tremendous surge in social media in people’s lives outside the workplace, this defies logic. Social media are now mainstream. Facebook has 250 million users. Twitter has 32 million users. Nielsen Online reports that social networks and blogs are now the fourth-most popular online activity, ahead of personal email. Web-based member communities are visited by 67% of the global online population. How we choose to connect at home needs to be reflected in our work environments.

In less than two years, Millennials, those born between 1981 and 2000, will outnumber Baby Boomers in the workplace. How will this impact employee engagement? Is the company newsletter still the right tool to facilitate dialogue in a sea of online forums, blogs and wikis and mashups? For organizations that choose to embrace them, social media can inspire trust and build the credibility of the leadership team. Socially intelligent leaders will find new ways to connect with staff across the generation gap.

Today’s organizations and business leaders are being asked to do more — and communicate more — than ever before. Social media are changing the game for how we engage employees as partners in business success. Fortunately, the right tools are already available. All that is needed is for business to embrace them –and start the dialogue.

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