As social media proliferates to all corners of society, many employers are taking advantage of its open and connecting properties in the workplace. However, as with any development designed to ease communication, executives must ensure that they balance high-touch interaction with technology to achieve a healthy company culture.

Social media has quickly become ingrained at IBM, which was among the first organizations to develop a social networking policy for employees. The company created the Digital IBMer Hub to inform employees about social media and any internal social initiatives.

The Hub hosts modules that introduce IBM employees to the social Web and workers learn how social computing tools can "foster collaboration, disseminate and consume news, develop networks, forge closer relationships and build credibility," says Kevin Winterfield, brand strategist with IBM. The Hub also provides a digital system for identifying and cultivating internal experts at the company.

IBM encourages the widespread acceptance of social media as a legitimate business tool. Some sales reps who actively use social and digital media tools at the company identify 11% more opportunity revenue than those who are not taking advantage of social networks.

IBM's recent study of 700 global chief human resource officers found that financially successful companies are 57% more likely than underperformers to use collaborative and social networking tools.

According to Deloitte's Core Values and Beliefs survey, 41% of executives believe social networking helps to build and maintain workplace culture, while only 21% of employees have the same view. Further, 45% of business leaders believe social media has a positive effect on workplace culture, compared to only 27% of employees holding this opinion.

This "suggests executives are possibly using social media as a crutch in building workplace culture and appearing accessible to employees," says Punit Renjen, chairman of the board, Deloitte LLP. "While business leaders should recognize how people communicate today ... they must keep in mind the limits of these technologies. The norms for cultivating culture have not changed and require managers to build trust through face-to-face meetings, live phone calls and personal messages."


Lack of critical mass

Adam Wootton, director of social media and games at Towers Watson, believes the main downfall organizations experience when using social media internally is the inability to get a critical mass involved in its deployment. "Elements like getting senior leader support, and relevant and interesting training for the system, is important to get success tential," he says.

Winterfield agrees that IBM's success with social media in the workplace rests on a supportive leadership team that is clear with its goals for the platform without limiting the employee discussion.

Some environments are more conducive to implementing social media than others. Organizations where employees can work more effectively together than on their own can be good candidates for social media, especially so the company can bring together dispersed employee knowledge.

Sodexo, Inc. North America uses both open and closed Facebook group pages to communicate with employees, in addition to traditional channels such as email and newsletters. The company uses closed pages for manager training, sharing best practices and idea generation, interdivisional group communications and employee network groups.

The company also uses private links on YouTube to distribute training videos to employees. Sodexo also uses social media at conferences, dinners and events to engage employees and drum up excitement.

David Pollack, senior director, talent development at Sodexo, believes that integrating social media into the company culture has improved employee engagement.

"With our decentralized workforce, diverse communication strategies, including the use of social media, help us connect with our employees and provide them with information that helps them to o their jobs most effectively," he says.

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