Study proves internal social media engages employees

A new study points to several benefits that arise from social intranets, as well as a core deficiency in most organizations: a failure of leadership to lead.

Evidence continues to mount that social intranets have the potential to produce big results for organizations. The ongoing McKinsey & Company study points to outcomes ranging from increased market share to reduced time to market, along with a host of other positive results. Studies from MIT and Aberdeen Group show productivity gains among employees using social intranets.

Yet a recent study from IABC and Prescient Digital Media suggests that 39 percent of companies don’t have any social components on their intranets (the number is as high as 49 percent in other research), and a substantial number of those that do have only one (like a wiki or a blog).

Worse, only 28 percent of employees—including executives—rate their overall satisfaction with the social dimensions of their intranets as good or very good.

As I noted back in November, a Forrester study reveals that only 28 percent of information workers use these tools at least once a month. Those who do tend to be early adopters are well-paid, highly educated and pressed for time. In other words, they’re the same people who likely adopt new technologies on the Web.

It’s easy to reach a conclusion for all this research: companies are letting considerable amounts of money swirl the drain because (a) they haven’t implemented social media behind the firewall or (b) they have installed some social tools but haven’t taken the steps to ensure they deliver the kinds of results of which they’re capable.

A new study from APCO Worldwide and Gagen MacDonald points to even more benefits that arise from social intranets, but it also points to at least one core deficiency in most organizations: a failure of leadership to lead when it comes to what the report labels Internal Social Media (ISM).

The payoff

Most leaders understand the connection between the size of the organization’s population of highly engaged employees and market share growth. It’s why they fund engagement studies and task various departments with growing the number of employees ready to give discretionary effort to help the company meet its goals.

According to the APCO study, companies using ISM enjoy higher levels of engagement across the board. The advantages of ISM don’t stop there:

  • Employees at companies that do a “good job” with ISM are less likely to leave their job than those working a companies doing a “fair/poor job,” and more likely to recommend the company to others. Fifty-eight percent said they would rather work at a company that uses social media. (The report also notes that two out of three college students ask about social media policies during an interview and 56 percent said they would either not take a job at a company that blocks social media access or circumvent those blocks.)
  • Sixty percent of respondents view the use of social media as tangible evidence that they work for an innovative company. Consequently, they’re more likely to be ambassadors for the organization’s brand and reputation.
  • Employees at companies doing a good job with ISM are also more likely to recommend their company’s products or services (89 percent to 64 percent), give their employer the benefit of the doubt in the face of lawsuits or crises (88 percent to 55 percent), buy company stock (75 percent to 45 percent) and support the government policies their companies support (64 percent to 36 percent).
  • Sixty-one percent of employees said their company’s social media tools improved collaboration with their fellow workers across great distances.

The problem

While ISM offers huge benefits, the APCO study also points out that employees see executive leadership as more important. In fact, when employees make decisions about whether to recommend the company or support it during a crisis or lawsuit, leadership communication matters vastly more than any other single factor. (This, by the way, flies squarely in the face of a popular school of thought that asserts only communication from immediate supervisors is effective.)

The report concludes that the ISM strategy needs to be “built from within—informed by (the company’s) culture, driven by distinct business needs and embraced by early adopters,” and that “executives and leaders should not only align around strategy but embody the change they envision.”

With 75 percent of employees indicating that executive leadership is a key tool compared to only 22 percent making the same claim of ISM, the marriage of the two would create an unbeatable combination. Conversely, in organizations where executives fund ISM but don’t actively use it in pursuit of business goals, you can expect the kind of bland results so many companies are experiencing, with few employees using it regularly, minimizing the kinds of results these tools could deliver.

Gagen MacDonald produced this video summarizing its results and conclusions:

Leading Internal Social Media for your organization from Gagen MacDonald on Vimeo.

A version of this post originally ran on Holtz Communication & Technology.

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