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Current Trends: Internal Social Media

In a short time, social media use by organizations has gone from spotty to expected. In fact, organizations using social media for external communications are now the norm. Even the armed forces, traditionally hesitant to participate in social media, are joining in: last week the Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations Adm., Gary Roughead said that “the Navy is ‘irreversibly’ committed to engaging in social media throughout the organization and has only recently come to realize the ’demand for radical transparency’ in external communications (Source).”

The next step is for organizations to use social networking internally. Employees have long been using sites like Facebook and Twitter to connect with each other both personally and professionally, something that has proven to strengthen ties among employees. Now, many organizations are also beginning to use social media to foster workplace collaboration. Some organizations have developed their own internal social networking sites which provide ways to collaborate specific to their needs, while others utilize public sites like LinkedIn, Yammer, or Facebook.

Successful social media usage in the office can allow employees to connect to each other regardless of organizational hierarchy or physical location. Connecting on social media works better for collaboration than email because there is a clear and accessible record of conversations and work—no one has to be caught up to speed.  This non-traditional and transparent way of sharing knowledge can be a challenge for some organizations, but can have the benefit of exposing employees to projects that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to—easily adding a fresh set of eyes to an issue without having to schedule a meeting—or giving employees access to experts in their company without even an introduction.

There are three main issues surrounding the use of social media in the workplace: participation, productivity, and privacy.

Participation

The first hurdle is getting all employees to participate on one chosen platform. If some employees aren’t online, it creates the extra work of filling them in on what they missed. Getting everyone to participate may be difficult for many reasons, including generational divides, performance-based incentives that may cause employees to want to keep knowledge to themselves, and the issue of asking employees to contribute to yet another website in an already-crowded social media landscape. Organizations should first determine if participating in social media in the workplace is right for their employees.

Productivity
Clay Shirky somewhat famously remarked, “There is no such thing as information overload, just filter failure (Source).” A major concern of managers is whether or not social networking sites allow employees to be productive. Particularly for large companies, it’s important to find a platform that allows information to be stored and displayed in a way that makes sense to employees. That’s one reason why there isn’t a one-size-fits-all site for every workplace.

Privacy
When you ask or require employees to use public social networking sites for business, you run the risk of unintentionally exposing the employee’s personal life or portraying the organization in an undesirable way. Organizations should establish a social media policy before jumping in.

One thing is clear—there is not one path to internal social media success, but the first thing an organization must do is invest time.  As with all technology, using social media in the workplace is something that takes work to reach its full potential.

Caroline Sheedy is an Account Supervisor at Adfero Group. She works primarily on a strategic communications team for a U.S. Department of Homeland Security contract. She works to develop creative ways to showcase information to an international audience on the DHS website, Study in the States. Caroline also enjoys following and writing about the up-to-the-minute social media trends. Read More