Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.
Perhaps you’ve heard the fretting of senior leaders and read the cautionary briefs written up by your legal department.
Everybody wants you to know that modern internal communications—the social, digital kind—come with risks.
Employees might share confidential information. Productivity could decline as they waste time “liking” and reading non-essential posts on your enterprise social network. Management could lose control.
“These are very real risks,” says Becky Graebe, senior manager of internal communications at the business analytics firm SAS.
It’s just that, if handled properly, the benefits outweigh the risks, she makes clear in her Ragan Training session, “Forgo the familiar: Let’s talk about the real risks of modernizing communications.”
Graebe defines modern communications as digital and mobile platforms that are timely and relevant, using real words and genuine voices instead of corporate-speak. Such communications are interactive, collaborative and social. They favor inspiring visuals and videos.
Free download: 10 Ways to Get Employees to Open and Read Your Email
Here are some tips for reaping the rewards of modern communications tools—and winning over reluctant executives:
1. Collaboration means swifter problem-solving.
“If you want people to be swift and agile with our customers in responding to their requests and responding to their questions,” Graebe says, “what tools do you have in place for employees to do that amongst themselves?”
SAS uses a Facebook-like enterprise social network, The Hub, which launched in 2011. A place to goof off? Not at all.
In one case, a team had been working for days trying to resolve a bug in a program. They couldn’t figure it out.
Finally, one team member posted: “We have started testing the new XBRL-functionality. … One bug seems to exist.”
Help poured in from all over, and the bug was fixed within half an hour, Graebe says. Feedback came in from four different countries.
“You can’t get that in email,” Graebe says. “People don’t always know who their subject matter experts are.”
2. You’d rather hear criticism in-house—wouldn’t you?
The risks of such an approach are real, but so are the rewards. “If we can get employees to tune in to what we’re trying to do as an organization, that’s a positive,” Graebe says.
Although some leaders might be nervous about the wrong news leaking out, consider the risk of clamping down on all digital communications: Employees might find a higher-profile place to vent.
“I’d rather hear about them in-house than on Twitter,” Graebe says.
3. Social communications unearth innovation.
Though worrywarts often fear that digital platforms make it easier to leak proprietary information, they often don’t consider the flip side: That social sharing unearths good ideas for your own organization.
Particularly if you are in the innovation business, it’s in your company’s interest to help smart employees share their new ideas.
“The next big idea for your company is already in the mind of one of your employees,” she says.
Consider the employee who posted on The Hub: “For innovation day, I developed a prototype of a SAS/Graph dashboard which is usable by the blind. See my blog for details.”
4. People tend to trust their co-workers.
Speaking of blogs, any individual or group can blog at SAS, providing searchable, archived content. That said, people have begun using The Hub as a blog platform, but the purpose is the same: to share ideas and get responses.
One guy who posted, “Does anyone have experience with SAS BI in the SAP environment?” received two replies within five minutes and six over 24 hours in SAS offices around the world.
“This is what globalization looks like,” Graebe says. “We all talk about it… There’s not a manager or a leader who could have stood up in front of this individual and given him that kind of information.”
5. People can hear from and respond to leaders.
SAS communicators had to do some handholding with executives who initially weren’t comfortable managing via social post, but they quickly learned that something as simple as clicking “like” on a post can have an impact.
“Do you know how powerful it is to have your post ‘liked’ by a senior leader?” Graebe says. “It’s amazing.”
It also allows the top dogs to put gossip to rest. SAS is privately held, but false rumors were circulating that the company would be sold. Once, the solution would have been to issue an internal email. It would have been four paragraphs long and included links to a supplementary statement by legal.
With The Hub as his platform, Chief Executive Jim Goodnight posted: “I’ve heard SAS is being shopped for sale. Neither John nor I know anything about this. If one of you is out there shopping the company, please stop.”
Employees ate it up. One of them replied in a comment: “Dang. My eBay auction was already above expectations with a week still to go.”
6. Digital networks allow you to feature employees.
SAS uses a simple Q&A format for “On the Job” column, and employees recommend others. They answer questions, making it easy for SAS communicators to feature a wider range of staffers than they would if they were writing articles.
Here are the questions:
1. What do you do?
2. What would employees be surprised to learn about the job you perform?
3. What’s the most interesting part of your job?
4. What aspect of your job do you like best?
5. Because of what I do, SAS …
6. Which one of the company’s five core values is most important in the role you perform?
7. Memorable moments?
8. Talk about how a SAS colleague or mentor has influenced your career.
9. What is your fantasy job?
10. What is the best thing about working at SAS?
7. Social communications are more fun.
The interactions of digital platforms tend to make them more fun than stodgier means of reaching staffers. This is important for a younger generation that is working longer hours (answering late-night emails, for one) and therefore expects a little frivolity on the job.
“Our younger workforce is looking for ways they can have fun at work,” Graebe says.