When employers should use social media

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Social media can help employees understand the value of benefits.
  • Establishing a social media strategy is vital to engage staff appropriately.
  • Social media should not be used as a platform to address individual or personal queries.
  • Before embarking on a strategy, employers must ensure they are committed to keep it going.

Case study: Gentoo builds engagement

In November 2011, property developer Gentoo Group launched an internal social media platform to help boost staff engagement.

Adam Brown, internal communications adviser, says: “The platform is called The Hub, and is a bit like a combination of Facebook and YouTube. “We plan to post pictures and updates on employee benefits, as well as links to where employees can find further information about rewards.”

The Sunderland-based firm, which has 1,600 employees, already had an online forum for its sport and social club, where it posted special offers from local businesses and details of events.

Brown says: “I think social media is particularly effective because nobody can be dictated to with it. Everything is based on the opinions of real people. If something is good, people will use it or endorse it. It allows effective two-way communication between a business and its employees.”


Social media might seem an obvious tool to communicate with younger staff, but it should be used with caution, says Jenny Keefe

A pay rise or Facebook access at work? It may surprise you to learn that many younger staff would prefer the latter.

Cisco’s October 2011 Connected world report, which polled 2,800 students and graduates worldwide, found that 33% would choose the ability to use social media, mobile devices and the internet more freely in the workplace over salary.

More and more large employers are capitalising on this trend to get staff excited about perks. The likes of John Lewis, Asda and Heineken are already using social media to get the benefits message across. Research by DLA Piper backs this up. Its October 2011 report, Knowing your tweet from your trend: keeping pace with social media in the workplace, found that 76% of employers have a social media presence. Almost 40% said one reason for this was employee communication, and 37% said engagement.

Social media can help you connect with younger workers, says Jim Christopher, a senior associate at Mercer. “The employee group most likely to use social media are those born after 1980 – Generation Y. This group use smartphones, tablet computers and social media outside work, namely Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. By mirroring this technology at work, a communication strategy has a greater chance of success.”

Communicating value of benefits

Used properly, a social media presence generates a word-of-mouth buzz for perks. Christopher adds: “It can be extremely beneficial when trying to get employees to understand the value of benefits. Employees
connect with one another to discuss benefits, share experiences and potentially enrol in schemes as a result of the conversations they’ve had in their own social community.”

The downside of sites such as Facebook and Twitter is that they are often open to the public. But private networking, such as Yammer and Chatter, could overcome this barrier. Tony Burgess-Webb, co-founder of social media consultancy Sociagility, says: “Microblogging tools are the easiest internal social media for employers to use. These employee-only Twitter equivalents are opening up a new, democratic channel for communication and collaboration. They provide desktop as well as mobile access, and group messaging as well as one-to-one communication for private discussions.”

Another new tactic is to stick scannable quick response (QR) codes in staff rooms. When workers scan these barcodes with their phone, they are taken straight to the organisation’s website, where they can learn more about perks. Anthony Bird, communications consultant at Towers Watson, says: “We recently put QR code posters in a retail client’s staff rooms to promote a flexible benefits scheme. These employees did not have regular computer access during working hours, but had iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys. The QR code linked to a specially created smartphone website promoting the scheme. During the three-week enrolment period, it was scanned over 1,000 times.”

Bird also suggests creating tag clouds. For the uninitiated, these involve going through text, for example employees’ feedback posts, identifying keywords and generating a graphic of the most-used words. “Tag clouds are great for highlighting what is being talked about,” he says. “They provide an instant pulse within an organisation.”

The first step in creating a social media strategy is to identify your goals, because each tool serves a different purpose. Nigel Ferrier, executive chairman of communication consultancy Ferrier Pearce, says: “To encourage conversation about benefits, a forum or LinkedIn group would be ideal. If the aim is to communicate benefits in a more engaging way, consider video and YouTube.”

It is also vital to choose the right kind of benefit to communicate. Ferrier adds: “Using such media simply to inform and engag employees works best with straightforward benefits, such as defined contribution pension plans or discount vouchers. For more complex benefits, social media is best used to educate or encourage debate. Using it to nudge people to plan and think about the benefits can be valuable.”

Robin Hames, Bluefin’s head of technical, marketing and research, says: “Pensions are an obvious benefit to communicate via social media. By their very nature, DC pensions change daily. The use of tools, and perhaps games, for pensions is also more applicable.”

Avoid indiscriminate use

But Alex Thurley-Ratcliff, head of multimedia at Shilling Communication, cautions against indiscriminate social media use. “You don’t want to release news in the wrong format,” he says. “We’ve all heard of organisations firing employees via text message.It’s the same with benefits. The short and temporary nature of social media can trivialise a message, but, used sensitively, can be useful to support other communications.”

One downside is that forums and Facebook walls can attract testy employees who may vent their frustrations about benefits. But avoid a knee-jerk reaction, says Towers Watson’s Bird. “If negative views are posted in an open forum, trust will be lost very quickly if you edit or remove those posts.

“Having a moderator to respond to negative posts is always a good idea, but often you will find employee advocates emerge and help to answer any questions or reduce negativity. Some employees will always have negative views, but it’s better to allow them to be out in the open where you can respond.”

Privacy is another challenge, says Thurley-Ratcliff. “You should never include information of a personal nature or respond to questions related to an individual’s benefits. But do tell staff where they can find the answer or direct them to call a number.”

Thurley-Ratcliff also warns employers: “Regularly updating social media can be time-consuming. Only start if you can keep it up. Don’t expect to use it as a one-way vehicle to feed out information. You must be willing to join in the conversation.”


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Top 10 tips for using social media

  1. Understand your goals. Pick the right tool for the job, such as a forum or a LinkedIn group to promote
  2. Start small. Focus on one or two topics first and pilot the scheme to a select group of staff.
  3. Crowdsource. Harvest workers’ feedback via channels such as forums, Twitter, Facebook and Yammer. Ask questions and float ideas.
  4. Set rules. Agree an appropriate policy that doesn’t restrict the use of your chosen social media tools.
  5. Be less formal. Avoid stuffiness – on social media you can afford to be more conversational.
  6. Keep it short and sweet. Use Twitter for short, timely reminders and include a call to action. For example, ‘Make your flex choices by10 December’.
  7. Assess risks. Before launching social media communication, involve the IT department and assess security risks.
  8. Monitor posts. Social media is a dialogue, not a monologue. Use it to engage with employees, not just to post information.
  9. Keep records. There is a danger of employees posting abusive comments or leaking company information. It is vital to keep a record in case of future disputes.
  10. Remember it’s an open forum. Do not post sensitive details or answer questions about individual situations. Give workers a number to call instead.

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