Could social media be an effective tool for the development of 21st Century internal communication (IC) strategies? I am contacted every week by students at all levels who are undertaking research and reading and are on the hunt for case studies, resources and opinions to help shape their thinking and approach. If you have reached my blog on this basis, welcome, you may find my resources page helpful.
I’m delighted to introduce Kayley Peters as a guest writer. She’s a BA (Hons) Advertising and Public Relations student at the University of Lincoln in the UK and on Twitter @KayPx. She recently completed her undergraduate dissertation on the subjects of internal communication and social media and has written here about her studies, what she discovered, and her conclusions.
Over to you Kayley…
Could social media be an effective tool for the development of 21st Century internal communication strategies?
My dissertation had the title ‘Could social media be an effective tool for the development of 21st Century internal communication strategies?’
I chose to research this particular subject after receiving ineffective internal communication at my current place of work; it made me think that this particular organisation’s internal communication strategy needed updating. I thought that social media could fit into it since so many people now access news online, so why wouldn’t they do the same for organisational news?
But rather than focusing on this specific organisation for my research, I wanted to find out if internal communication strategies were taking a back seat across a number of industries, and from the point of view of employees, rather than the organisation itself.
I had three objectives for the research:
- to gain a wider understanding of employees’ attitudes towards current internal communication strategies at the organisations they work for
- to gain a understanding of employees’ attitudes towards the use of social media for internal communication in general
- to discover whether or not employees believed the use of social media would benefit the organisations they work for.
To achieve these objectives I carried out a 5-participant focus group, each participant having experience in a different industry, and an online questionnaire, with 103 respondents.
Nearly 30 years after Grunig and Hunt developed their four models of public relations, my findings reveal that the public information model still dominates across a number of industry sectors, with newsletters and notice boards being amongst the most commonly used forms of internal communication.
Although this is the case, my findings reveal that the more an organisation focuses on providing information, the less effective employees perceive it to be.
I found that employees want to be more involved with the organisations they work for after finding a positive significant relationship between internal communication providing the opportunity to provide feedback and perceived effectiveness. This is where I thought social media would integrate perfectly.
Although I found that employees perceived one-way communication to be ineffective and want to communicate with organisations on a more conversational level, interestingly, my findings reveal negative attitudes towards the use of social media as a two-way communications tool, particularly from the focus group.
They felt that using social media in the workplace was ‘unprofessional and could cause damage to working relationships.’ However, I later found out that the participants had limited knowledge and experience of social media platforms, constantly referring to Facebook, which is likely to have affected their opinions on the concept of using social media for internal communication.
The findings from the online questionnaire, however, completely disagree, indicating that using social media in this way would enhance working relationships with both other employees and management. I felt that the contrast in findings was due to the limited knowledge of social media platforms as the findings from the online questionnaire revealed that 84 per cent of respondents did use social media in some way to communicate at work allowing them draw from experience the effects it had had.
Unexpectedly, employees believed that the use of social media for internal communication would be more useful as a one-way communication tool. It was found that one-way forms of internal communication were perceived to be ineffective but perhaps it is how information is distributed that is the issue.
Participants of the focus group were particularly enthusiastic about this concept; it was found that using social media for one-way communication would benefit those working part-time since they felt less knowledgeable of the organisations they work for than those working full-time. However, they did feel that they would be unlikely to go out of their way to read something related to work.
Furthermore, my findings reveal that it would largely depend on the culture of the organisation whether or not the use of social media for internal communication would be beneficial. Participants of the focus group tried to relate the concept to the organisations that they had experience in; it was established that whilst social media would be perceived ‘a reputation killer’ in certain organisations, it would integrate perfectly into creative organisations.
Finally, to answer my question, ‘Could social media be an effective tool for the development of 21st Century internal communication strategies?’ there is no yes or no answer. It appears to largely depend on the culture of the organisation, as well as, the objectives of the internal communication strategy.
Post author: Kayley Peters.
Thank you very much for this article Kayley. What do you think of what she’s written? You’re welcome to comment below or tweet her @KayPx.
There were a couple of comments that struck me, including the idea that social media integrates perfectly into ‘creative organisations’ – I’d like to know how they are defined.
I can’t imagine any one-way communication being truly acceptable or accepted in an organisation, particularly if it’s done using social media – hardly sociable! Kayley’s comment of the fact it was recognised as ‘ineffective’ stood out. I appreciate the huge impact culture (and habit) has on organisational communication, and I think it’s that which in turn leads to acceptability.
If you want to know more about using social media for internal communication, I have written numerous articles on the topic including:
Why use enterprise social networks for internal communication?
10 reasons why internal comms pros should use social media
How Gatwick Airport uses Yammer
Creating guidance: 300 social media policies
I wrote a chapter on using social media for internal communication in the book Share This (Wiley, 2012).
Want to know even more about enterprise social networks? Check out this SlideShare from David Croston @insidecoms for a range of views (including mine), Rachel.