Rebecca Peters: Engagement lessons that organisations can learn from social media

Given the prevalence of social media in most people’s lives, it should be one of the most accessible ways for employees to exercise their voice. However, our research tells us that business social media is less commonly used to solicit voice than one-to-ones, staff surveys and team meetings.

Organisations may be discouraged from using social media given the public nature of it and the lack of control over its content. There are also practical considerations that can deter employers from making more use of it. For example, privacy settings and anonymity on some platforms may make it impossible to view what is being said, and collating views and opinions from multiple sites can be labour-intensive.

However, that is not to say that social media does not have any benefits.

Business networks can help with innovation by offering a platform for idea creation. It can also be used to raise concerns and unethical work practices. In some cases, social media may even embolden people to be more blunt or honest than they normally would, given the swift action employers can take when their dirty laundry gets aired in public. It can also give employees a direct line to senior management, helping to break down lines of hierarchy.

Employees may choose to set up their own private groups on social media channels to share tips and experiences. This can help to build up camaraderie and collaboration, and be an empowering space for them. However, these groups should not be set up because management is not listening and plans should be in place for feedback to be given about what is being said.

Whatever tools are used to collect employees’ views, it is less important than the prevailing culture within an organisation. After all, meaningful feedback is only going to be obtained when organisations are open, honest and trustworthy. If employees do not feel safe or protected, or that their voice matters, they are going to be less forthcoming in sharing and more likely to self-censure or remain silent.

It is important to have different mechanisms in place for staff to be able to voice their opinions. Having a business social media platform only is unlikely to make employees feel empowered to exercise their voice and should not replace other formal and informal channels for voice.

Rebecca Peters is a research adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development