Social media plays growing role in recognition schemes

Employers are switching on to social media as a tool for delivering employee recognition, but the strategy must be carefully controlled.


  • Employers are increasingly using social media as an internal communications tool.
  • Popular sites include online billboards, such as Chatter, Jive and Yammer.
  • The low-cost, instantaneous nature of social media-based recognition programmes makes them attractive tools for employers to use, particularly during the economic downturn

Recognising and applauding the successes of our friends and family has been made easier by the plethora of social media tools in existence. We can congratulate friends through Facebook, share anecdotes of a job well done on Twitter and track their career progress through LinkedIn. But what role does social media have when it comes to workplace recognition programmes?

Employers are increasingly using such media as an internal communications tool, with online billboards such as Chatter, Jive and Yammer proving popular platforms for communicating with employees.

Yammer, part of Microsoft, is used by 200,000 organisations worldwide, including Deloitte, O2 and Shell. It is designed for company collaboration, file sharing, knowledge exchange and team communication.

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Grant Beckett, vice-president of product at Globoforce, says: “Employers are creating communities of interest around a project, an organisational structure or a theme to drive the cross-pollination of ideas and information across the organisation. These feel like a GooglePlus, where an individual joins communities and invites others to join them.”

Employers are increasingly using these community-based billboards to build and promote recognition programmes, says Colin Hodgson, sales director at Edenred. “Approved nominations are increasingly presented and communicated via blogs or billboards,” he says. “This enables employees to go and congratulate their colleagues through the same blog or billboard.”

A major benefit of a community-based recognition programme is the greater democracy achieved by all-employee access, increasing the likelihood of engagement.

Beckett says: “Making it social broadens the fabric of all the recognition moments within the organisation. It is not held by a select few managers who can nominate people or held by a committee choosing the employee of the month, but really making it more of a culture within the organisation.”

One of the challenges of this approach is ensuring that the recognition programme is not broadcast outside the organisation. Andrew Johnson, director general of the UK Gift Voucher Association (UKGVA), says: “Clearly, there are some great tools to use for employee communication, but employers should be clear about that line between work and home.”

Beckett advises employers to keep their recognition programmes within the organisation’s firewall. “Some providers boast that being able to post it to external social media is a positive thing,” he says. “But what happens, especially on LinkedIn, is that they are telling their competitors who their stars are and why they are being recognised.”

So, what are the rules when choosing social media sites? Consumer social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, are certainly most popular with younger, tech-savvy staff. But employers should not become preoccupied with site choice.

Niall Cook, co-founder and principal at social media consultancy Sociagility, says: “It’s not about choosing platforms like Twitter or Facebook, but about employing the underlying technologies in an internal environment. Wikis, micro-blogging and sharing tools all have their place as part of a joined-up strategy, and it is a case of selecting those that fit with the culture of the organisation, the capabilities and attitudes of employees, and the objectives of the business.”

Of course, not all employers will be ready for such technological advances. Globoforce’s Beckett says: “I was talking to a conservative, UK-based bank, and it was very interested in it, but was not sure the workforce was quite ready for it. In other industries, it is only a matter of time before it is full-scale.”

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Research conducted by Edenred in September 2012 exclusively for Employee Benefits

Cook adds: “It’s very much a case of aiming before firing. Employers should be prepared to undertake research and not expect social media to be a panacea to their ills.”

Nevertheless, the low-cost, instantaneous nature of social media-based recognition schemes, together with the ability to engage staff individually, makes them attractive for employers to use during the downturn. The use of social media also signals a move away from traditional employee recognition schemes.

“Organisations are becoming strategic in the way they deliver recognition,” says Edenred’s Hodgson. “It is less about the local manager, a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates, and more about identifying the impact on the individual, on the culture and atmosphere within the business, and on overall performance.”



Virgin Media employees shout about colleagues

Virgin Media has evolved its recognition programme, Shout, from a paper-based scheme to a social media-based model in line with the organisation’s focus on technology in recent years.

The scheme started at Virgin Mobile, where it was managed by an external provider. Staff fi lled in a form, known as a ‘Shout’, and handed it to a colleague, who pinned it to the back of their desk.

When Virgin Mobile was rebranded to Virgin Media in February 2007, the recognition programme was added to the company intranet, and in 2009 employee profile pages were introduced, like those used on Facebook, on which the Shouts could be displayed.

Emily Scammell, engagement and employee insight manager at Virgin Media, says: “Bringing [the programme] in to be part of each employee’s profile makes it a more sociable process. [Employees] may not be looking for someone’s Shouts, but they will see how they have been recognised. There is also a live feed of Shouts displayed on the front page of our intranet.”

Employees’ profile pages also display their contact details, job role and team, a profile image, and an ‘About Me’ tab, where staff can give details about when they joined the company, their hobbies and their favourite film.

Shouts can be downloaded from profi le pages for use in employees’ appraisals with their manager, although managers receive an email each time one of their team receives a Shout. Managers are encouraged to recognise Shouts in team meetings.

Virgin’s recognition programme is open to almost 18,000 employees, and an average of 543 Shouts are registered each day and 19,000 each month.