The promise of social media in the corporate context is inclusion—inclusive, consensual decision-making, not tacit acknowledgment. There’s a difference.
I was privy to a conversation with an individual at a particular organization who left for a time and then returned:
Senior leader: “I think you left because you felt like you weren’t appreciated for what you did.”
Colleague: “No, I wanted to be included—I wanted to be consulted as a respected member of the decision-making team for my experience and expertise.”
Employee recognition vs. inclusion
The difference is less than subtle. We have paltry look-alikes for inclusion at most organizations that travel under the name of employee recognition and rewards. Employees are recognized and praised at various award ceremonies and in company newsletter write-ups, often with some sort of modest financial reward attached to it. These awards are sometimes named after the organization itself—the Company B Award—in an attempt heighten their importance.
But this is not inclusion, and in some cases amounts to little more than a condescending pat on the back. Reward and recognition programs may result in some emotional connection and have some transitory effect on employee motivation. But in the long run—taken on their own—they send the wrong message. Employees gain satisfaction and motivation from the work they do—from the work itself—and from the value their contribution brings to to the organization.
The gift of employee feedback
Motivation and engagement result when senior leadership actively listens to employee feedback, demonstrating that they not only appreciate them (which costs them nothing) but value their contribution and opinion as a trusted partner in the decision-making process (which costs a lot). Establishing a trusted partnership costs more in the short-term, in the time and effort it takes to reach a consensus of opinion, but the payoff is invaluable in the long-term; namely, motivated and engaged employees who actively contribute to the bottom line.
This is where social media comes in. Social media communication channels can help bridge this gap between employee appreciation and employee inclusion.
A word on employee-sponsored social media efforts
And let me say this unequivocally: Social media efforts work best when sponsored by executive leaders as part of an overall commitment to inclusive decision-making and transparency. Some organizations accomplish a great deal with bottom-up social media initiatives, deploying listening tools like Radian6 to monitor online conversations and advance important charitable causes. These social media efforts may even bring bottom-line value to the organization, as they respond in real time to negative chatter on social media channels. Negative customer perception may be dispelled and adverse impact on sales may be averted through personal social media interaction, and the number of calls coming in to call centers can be reduced.
But overall these employee-led initiatives result in pockets of social media activity, rather than widespread adoption across the enterprise. There is no consensual decision-making model in place because the effort was not sponsored by C-level leadership. In fact, at some of these organizations, C-level executives wouldn’t go near social media channels with a ten-foot pole. Participation remains bifurcated at these companies, and a hydra-headed organization emerges where social media is encouraged in some quarters but not all. Ask yourself what message employees receive about social media in the absence of real C-suite endorsement.
Do I think employees who kick-start social media efforts at an organization can ladder-up to something more strategic? Yes, I do.
But it’s like the tail trying to wag the dog: Without C-suite commitment to inclusion social media efforts do not ring true and do not result in cultural change.
Without cultural change an organization’s social media efforts amount to little more than employee appreciation.
Employee appreciation—2,4,6,8 whom do we appreciate? Oy—spare us.
I just realized that I wouldn’t give your blog the SEO benefits it deserves with a one-word answer — as fitting as my first comment was. You really nailed it with this post, Dom. You are so right about the need for buy-in from the top if an organization is to go far with social media. I couldn’t have said it better — so I plan on sharing the link with my peers, clients and with those in the community I manage at http://Facebook.com/WestchesterSocialMedia
Thank you, Chris. Glad you enjoyed it.
Yes, yes and a thousand times yes! When employees feel that they are part of a trusted partnership they’re 100 times more motivated and engaged and actively contributing to the bottom line. So the payoff is absolutely invaluable. Thanks for including us in your article!
Community Manager | Radian6
The strategy has to be driven by the top level. It is not possible for lower level employees to create a strategy for the company. They are foot soldiers of an organization. They provide input to help build the strategy and that can only be built by C level employees.
It is indeed unfortunate that C level is so far away from social media. Does it have to do something that Social media is kind of young thing while most of the top level managers are older? Or does it have to do with the fact that it demands more openness than ever before ?
Ashvini, I do think it has more do with cultural aspects rather than age at most organizations– though I do think age can factor into it. The most likely culprit is a command and control management style and the resistance to a more consensual decision-making model where workforce feedback is valued authentically and acted upon. Think Southwest Airlines, Ford or Zappos. The C-suite is on-board with social media, driving the requisite cultural change.
Great post. I’ve seen all of that happen through a large corporation where I was PR manager (employee awards were regular but listening by C-level execs was random and almost never happened).
A few years later I worked as marketing manager for a major consumer brand. Senior management put its collective heads in the sand and pretended they were open to suggestions and were being transparent, but it was the furthest thing from the truth. It was dictatorship and any attempt at team building was thwarted at best.
If management listened and took even small steps to better internal communication, external communication would have improved as well. The best advocates for your brand are happy employees. This is always true!
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