Can internal communication practitioners use digital platforms to engage employees?
How can they influence each other?
Today Public Relations Masters graduate Gemma Trevers (@GTreversPR) has written a guest blog for All Things IC outlining her research project findings on digital internal communication and employee engagement.
I’ll hand you over to Gemma…
Can IC pros use digital platforms to engage employees?
While studying for my Masters degree at Manchester Metropolitan University I realised internal communication is where my passion lies.
Although I enjoyed each element of the course, it was internal communication that sparked my imagination, so it seemed only fitting to base my dissertation on the industry.
This being the age of digital I was keen to explore how platforms, such as social media, intranets and Yammer networks, were being used to engage employees.
When assessing current academic literature I noticed a gap in knowledge concerning the use of digital internal communications and how these could increase employee engagement.
Also, with the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) highlighting practitioners’ need to recognise the potential digital has, it became clear this is where the industry was heading.
Both internal communication and employee engagement have been highlighted as key elements of business practice, though few have addressed how these influence each other.
Also, most studies were conducted before the introduction of digital.
Due to this I aimed to explore whether there is a relationship between internal communication and employee engagement.
I also wanted to find out how digital platforms could raise levels of engagement, and if there is a place for social media in internal communication.
My investigation further assessed whether personal use of social media influenced practitioners’ thoughts on using it for internal communication.
The definition I used was: employee engagement is a positive psychological state concerning work and a motivational state with a willingness to invest in the organisational goals and success of the company the individual works for.
Hearing from the experts
Initially, public sector practitioners were interviewed on their thoughts and current practice in internal communications, employee engagement and use of digital platforms.
Practitioners were asked about their personal use of social media and whether they thought it could play a role in internal communications. From the feedback a questionnaire was produced and sent to practitioners in all sectors to assess whether thoughts and practice aligned across the industry.
Practitioners believed digital and traditional methods should work together, and many felt key messages should be delivered face-to-face initially and followed up with digital channels.
They remarked how digital platforms, particularly social media, were key to breaking down barriers in the organisation.
Having higher management on social media gave them a more personal feel, and employees believed it made the management system feel more open and honest, allowing employees to ask questions they previously felt uncomfortable asking face-to-face.
Digital feedback forms also made staff feel more comfortable, with practitioners finding these gathered more accurate and honest feedback, allowing effective changes to be made.
However, practitioners stated knowing the workforce was also essential, as not all employees have digital access, particularly in the public sector.
Providing both digital and traditional communication allows all employees to feel engaged and listened to.
Practitioners’ personal use of social media influenced their thoughts on incorporating it into internal communication.
However, many practitioners who supported using social media in internal communication believed key messages shouldn’t be sent via social media but rather it should be used to build trust networks and direct employees to the intranet.
No relationship was established between internal communications and employee engagement.
it was clear practitioners believed they played a key role in engaging staff, which in turn would influence employee retention.
From the research, two new models were established.
The first provides a framework for practitioners to follow when incorporating digital communications.
It is essential key messages are sent face-to-face first with digital reiterating the message.
Furthermore, staff feedback must direct future communications practice, so all employees feel engaged.
The second model details all elements that must be in place for practitioners to successfully incorporate digital methods.
Additionally, practitioners must emphasise the importance of having higher management on social media, with it allowing two-way communications and trust to develop.
However, knowing the workforce and their communications’ preferences is essential, therefore a range of techniques must be used so all staff feel engaged.
Despite face-to-face communications still being the most important tool to inform and engage employees, there has been a rise in digital internal communication and practitioners believe there’s a place for social media within this.
However, these methods must be conducted in the correct manner and be appropriate for the organisations’ employees.
Future research must investigate which platforms are appropriate for which messages, and further investigate the relationship between internal communications and employee engagement.
Thank you Gemma and congratulations on your MSc distinction.
— Gemma Trevers (@GTreversPR) November 18, 2016
What do you think of Gemma’s work? Do you agree with her findings?
You can read more about many of the topics she’s highlighted via my blog:
Who’s using what for internal social media?
Listen to social media’s role in internal comms
A new model for engagement and wellbeing
The latest employee engagement evidence
How employee advocacy works using social media
First published on the All Things IC blog 10 January 2017.