A majority of companies worldwide say they are becoming more knowledgeable about the use of social media tools to connect with and keep their workforces informed. In fact, more than two-thirds of companies surveyed by global professional services company Towers Watson plan to increase their use of social media tools over the next 12 months, though many question their cost effectiveness. The biannual study also found that companies with the best communication programs enhance the communication skills of their leaders and managers, and continuously evaluate performance.

“The way companies handle employee communication is fundamentally changing, largely due to increased expectations, diversity and globalization, as well as the growth of social media and networking,” says Kathryn Yates, global leader of communication consulting at Towers Watson. “Change and communication professionals can no longer do things the way they’ve always been done.”

The 2011 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Study found that 64% of respondents are more knowledgeable about using social media tools than they were a year ago, and 69% plan to increase their use over the next 12 months. However, only 28% report these tools are cost-effective at their organization, and just 15% have measurement tools in place. Respondents that find social media tools cost-effective are investing in social networks (63%) and leadership journals or blogs (58%).

“Companies are staring at a clear opportunity to use new media to increase engagement with employees,” says Yates. “Companies that are reluctant to try social media may end up limiting their ability to attract, retain and motivate certain key groups of employees.”

Surveying 604 organizations around the world, TW’s research also finds:

* More than half (56%) of companies that are highly effective communicators measure the communication function’s contribution to meeting strategic business goals, and 62% use their measurement findings to plan future initiatives or make business decisions. That compares with less than one in four low-performing companies taking these initiatives.

* Across all participants, only 37% are measuring progress against their change goals.

* Only 28% of companies are evaluating managers on their communication effectiveness.

* Companies highly effective at both communication and change management are 2.5 times as likely to outperform their peers as companies that are not highly effective in either area.

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