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Speak digital? Translating internal social communications

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Today's workforce, more than any before it, includes cross-generational employee populations that speak different 'languages'. These languages, though, aren't native tongues. They are ways employees communicate with management and one another regarding day-to-day workplace issues.

The post-millennial "digital native," a term coined by U.S. author Marc Prensky in 2001, is quickly driving the way we communicate in the workplace, even though most of these natives haven't even started college. Yet, the future is now. Those companies that want to recruit and retain top talent now and over the next 5-10 years would be wise to start planning ahead.

Real Life

Imagine you are the VP of sales & marketing for a large, global manufacturing company. It’s the end of first quarter; sales are down and have continued that trend for the past three quarters. You are stumped and you just don’t understand…

You decide to tap your product marketing team for fresh ideas…new and creative ways to communicate and connect with your consumers. Your product marketing team recommends increasing your digital communication efforts, starting with a full-court social media press. You decide to trust your team.

Fast-forward. It’s the end of second quarter. Sales are up 35% from Q1. Even more impressive are your corporate social media statistics: Facebook activity increased by 25%, twitter followers increased by 40% and LinkedIn engagement increased by 17%.

Behind that activity, though, is where the true treasure lies. Consumers are engaging in ways that directly impact your bottom line. They are asking questions, demanding improvements, and creating fresh ideas that help your business – all in real time. They are speaking digital – and you and your company finally understand.

Now, imagine a similar scenario, only you are the VP of corporate communications. Feedback from the VP of Human Resources shows employee engagement is down and the VP of operations complains productivity is low. Corporate messages are falling on deaf ears. Intranet analytics show stories with little to no visitors and embarrassingly few comments. Attendance at recent leadership meetings has been sparse, even after touting free giveaways of the latest tech dongle.

Even worse, turnover rates are at an all-time high. Your top talent is leaving and you don’t understand why. You are stumped and you just don’t understand…how did things get so lost in translation? Now might be a good time to pop in and visit your buddy over in sales & marketing. “But he used digital social media to help fix his problem,” you say. The good news is: you can too!

Get Connected

Connected. More than ever, our personal and professional lives revolve around this influential word. Consumers want to be more connected to the people and things that matter most. Employees want to be connected to something greater during their traditional 9-5. The influx of digital communications is transforming the way we work around the world. Social engagement – internally an externally – has reimagined how we think about brand management.

More and more, the line between employee and consumer is waxing thin and companies that want to remain competitive must address the increasing demand to stay relevant. Like the guy in sales and marketing, identifying ways to leverage digital communication channels like enterprise social networks (ESNs) is one critical way companies can start to ‘speak digital’ internally just as well as they do externally.

If you’re like the VP of communications mentioned above, an ESN may be the right choice for your team. Here are three things to consider before deploying one of your own.

Know the Way You Think

Many organizations have spoken and unspoken ‘philosophies’. Last year, we all knew where Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO stood when it came to ‘who wears their clothes’. While it can’t be proven, one might deduce that his viewpoints could imply the internal mission of the company: create clothes for skinny people. Or take the Papa John’s gaff in light of the impending (at the time) implementation of Obamacare. CEO John Schnatter’s threat to cut workers’ hours and raise the price of pizza to offset the company’s cost of Obamacare came at a high price: lost business.

Many on the outside looking in were outraged – imagine how Papa John’s employees felt! The value placed on money versus lives resonated loudly and quite possibly permeated the inner workings of the entire franchise, doing nothing to nurture positive employee engagement.

On the flipside, you have Giam Swiegers, CEO of Deloitte Australia, who loves connecting with his people and uses enterprise social networking to connect and to lead the organization through growth and cultural change. Ultimately, the way an organization thinks should positively influence its employees and its customers. If it doesn’t, some level of course correction should occur before pursuing digital communications of any kind.

Know the Way You Work

Once an organization knows the way it thinks, it can then identify how that thinking influences the way it works. According to Duane Craig in his TechRepublic blog, “Before deploying enterprise social media, consider your organizational nuances, what problems you're trying to solve, and your company's goals.” All of these embody what makes your company tick.

Duane elaborates, “Enterprise social media usually causes people to change the way they've been working. In many cases, that's a good thing, because organizations with silos, entrenched professional hierarchies, and far-flung operations stand to gain the power locked up in sequestered data and sequestered people.”

Once you identify the way your work, you’ll have a clearer understanding of what it will take to create a more engaging, collaborative and productive work environment. All of which can lead to a more connected workforce. And that’s where enterprise social networks truly shine.

Know Your Mission

Why does the company exist? What does it do? And more importantly, why does it need all these amazing people it employs to do it WITH them, not just FOR them? Where is the company heading, and what will it take to get there? This is what employees want to know at the end of the day: what is the mission and do we want to tag along for the ride?

Traditional means of internal communications fall short when this one critical success factor is missing from corporate messaging. Have you ever taken a road trip without using a map (or GPS in this day) to help plot the journey? Neither should organizations expect employees to exercise blind faith 40+ hours a week, 52 weeks a year.

Even more, employees rarely have a voice on these mission-less journeys, not even at occasional ‘pit stops’ where the whole objective is for ALL passengers to refresh and recoup for the next leg of the long trip ahead. Blogger Ashley Adams Gross, in her blog Enterprise Social’s Effect on Internal Communications paints this picture well, claiming:

“The pre-Enterprise Social era was very much a “push” era. Information was pushed down the chain of command and released via email or memo internally. This “one to [sic] many” way of communicating information out to the broader organization tended to leave employees without a voice. They weren’t able to express their thoughts on a decision made nor were suggestions for improvement able to be heard. The message receivers were simply that. They were receivers. The only choice they had was what to do with the information once they received it.”

What are You Waiting For?

Think back to the VP of sales & marketing…what did he learn about his consumers by leveraging social media? They ‘asked questions, demanded improvements, and created fresh ideas that helped the business – all in real time.’ The same can apply to employees of any-sized organization by leveraging enterprise social networking channels like Yammer (a Microsoft product), Salesforce’s Chatter and Jive to name a few of the most popular ones.

So what are you waiting for? Make it happen. Like…yesterday. ;-)

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