Niall Cook: Can social media be used effectively for employee benefits?

It depends on who is using it.

The Current landscape of social media and employee voice report, published in March by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, suggested senior employees often lack understanding about how social media works.

Management often sees social media as just new broadcast channels. The result is simply more noise, with the risk that nothing gets through. In the age of social media, the old adage ‘didn’t you get the memo?’ can easily become ‘didn’t you see it on Yammer?’, and the answer is usually ‘no’. Similarly, HR teams have been known to use social media to repackage benefits that are out of date or out of tune with staff needs. A pig with social media lipstick is still a pig.

The key to effective use of social media is in the name: it’s social. Enabling the employee-to-employee exchange of information can be a very powerful way to create a sense of belonging.

HR professionals should therefore focus on three things: understanding what drives and motivates staff to turn to social media, often creating their own unofficial channels to meet organisational goals; close co-operation with others in the organisation to embrace social technologies that create internal environments where staff can discuss benefits-related topics openly; and stimulating, facilitating and participating in conversations to help educate staff and increase understanding of benefits.

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But to be truly effective, they must also educate senior management about the opportunities that social media presents.

Niall Cook is an adviser at Sociagility and author of Enterprise 2.0: How social software will change the future of work