Modern ‘Terms of Engagement’ Include Social Media

Af Robin McCasland Past Chair, IABC Research Foundation President and Senior Consultant, Brain Biscuits Strategic Communication Dallas, Texas USA
Publiceret torsdag 5. august 2010

Take a few moments to do an online search of major global companies, and you will find that many of them are using social media in simple yet effective ways to promote positive workplace cultures that help keep employees engaged and productive.

For example, a company may have a Facebook “fan” page from which they link video clips about employees doing charitable work in their communities. That same company might post links to news releases, via Twitter, about awards it has received for innovative processes or technological breakthroughs. Some organizations post recruiting videos about the requirements for various professional roles, or employee testimonials about their experiences working at the company.

These examples serve to reinforce good feelings among current employees, helping them to stay engaged with the goals of their companies and their individual roles in helping achieve those goals. There is a sense of pride about being affiliated with an organization that maintains a positive perception.

Job candidates, whether they are seasoned professionals or recent university graduates, view these examples favorably as well. When used strategically, social media can influence job candidates to choose one company’s offer over another, or make someone want to apply with a particular company that they might not have considered previously.

About half of the respondents to an employee engagement survey released recently by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Research Foundation say that they do not measure the effectiveness of social media. Fewer than half of the respondents have policies in place to address employee use of internal and external social media.

Also, roughly two-thirds of survey participants reported that their top executives do not participate in internal or external social media. Yet, employee engagement tends to be higher in organizations where top leadership communicates with employees openly and frequently, and where leaders have a positive presence outside of the organization, not just internally.

It is indeed a fascinating time, as social media continues to blur the lines between what we once knew as traditional internal vs. external communication. There is a great opportunity right now for professional communicators to partner with organizational leaders to create or build upon employee engagement communication strategies, incorporating social media.

The employee engagement survey cited in this story is the second of its kind conducted by the IABC Research Foundation and sponsored by Buck Consultants, a Xerox Company. Earlier this year, nearly 900 communication professionals participated in the survey, representing a broad industry and geographic base.

Effective communication sustains an engaged workforce
While a majority of respondents may not yet use social media to their advantage, a majority of them do believe in the value of employee engagement. Roughly two-thirds reported that increasing productivity and retaining top talent were their most important employee engagement goals. More than half of the participants indicated that increasing employee morale, and developing a more positive work environment, are also key goals. They also reported these other activities as part of their employee engagement strategies:

What Companies Do Percentage What It Means
Publishing a formal list of values 74 percent Communicating with employees about what the organization cares about most; the traditions it upholds; how leaders should behave; and how the organization should conduct business and treat employees, customers, shareholders and partners
Exit interviews with managers 73 percent Ensuring that employees have the chance to provide information on the reasons why they are leaving (advancement opportunities, pay or benefits enhancements or management issues, for example)
Surveying the workforce on engagement and work satisfaction 60 percent Conducting formal or informal employee listening to gauge the workforce’s engagement and commitment to helping achieve organizational goals and priorities
Information on workplace culture included in new-hire orientation materials 56 percent Including an introduction to workplace culture in the information new employees receive on their first day at work, or even before they begin
Involving senior leadership in new-hire orientation programs 54 percent Inviting the chief executive officer or other senior leader to meet new employees personally on day one, and set a tone about how the workplace leadership influences a positive culture

Gathering employee feedback is essential to sustaining strong employee engagement. And while it is good that 60 percent of the respondents said they survey their employees on engagement and workplace satisfaction, it means about one-third do not “listen” to their employees regularly. This translates to a lot of companies that do not have a good understanding of what their employees believe about their own jobs, or how they perceive their work environments.

Understanding what employees really think is the cornerstone of a highly effective engagement communication strategy. However, the information is most powerful when communicators use it to improve their strategies and adjust their messages as needed to address concerns.

More frequent communication cannot solve all workplace issues, but when strategic messaging is adjusted and targeted, based on employee feedback, it can demonstrate to employees that leadership is listening and doing its best to keep employees connected. Employees with a good understanding of the “big picture” are more likely to contribute fully because they can internalize how their roles, no matter how great or small, contribute to the organization’s success.

Measuring engagement communication effectiveness
Survey participants also reported the ways in which they most frequently measure the effectiveness of their engagement strategies:

Measurement action Percentage
Formal or informal employee feedback
(Remember that about one-third say they do not gather employee feedback at all.)
77 percent
Meeting annual company goals 48 percent
Measuring employee retention rates 42 percent

These three are all solid indicators of how well an engagement communication strategy is working. Other good indicators are:

  • Reaching annual new-hire goals;
  • Receiving credible external recognition (awards, local or industry honors) for various company achievements; and
  • Ongoing feedback from stakeholders other than employees.

All of these measurements are most effective when they are incorporated into an engagement communication strategy up front, during the planning process. Seek input from company leaders as well as human resources experts who may be responsible for setting some of the annual hiring and retention goals, and then determine which communication tactics could most effectively impact those goals.

The last bullet point above is key, and it is sometimes overlooked when planning a strategy. Employees are company ambassadors no matter what roles they serve. An employee’s comments and behaviors, inside or outside of the workplace, can influence perceptions among customers, vendors, shareholders and new hires. Such perceptions can impact the bottom line, ultimately.

It is valuable to seek input from these other audiences as well when developing a communication strategy, and to follow up with them during regular milestones as the strategy is implemented. Some of the questions to ask them include:

  • How do you think our company is different than our competitors?
  • What do you enjoy about doing business with our company?
  • Do you share the same values as our company (why or why not)?
  • How do you expect to be treated by our employees?
  • What behaviors do you expect from our leaders
  • Do you perceive that there are issues with our employees or our leadership that impact our company’s ability to have the best possible relationship with you?
  • What would you change about our company if you could?

The answers to these questions can help you shape a more effective engagement communication strategy. When your strategy is working well internally, it can have a measurable effect on how well employees engage and ultimately deliver on the “promise” of your company and its brand.

You may download complete employee engagement survey results at no charge from the IABC Research Foundation website at From the site you may also find more information about IABC, the Foundation, and other communication research studies in progress.

You may contact the author, Robin McCasland, at

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