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James Bennett

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Boost social media training; improve internal communications


Following Melcrum’s Social Media Report 2010 into the use of social media within corporates, James Bennett reveals that improved training is crucial to success.

“This is [using social media] how our customers are interacting with each other, and contributing and writing about our products, and how many of them want to interact with us as a business and as a producer. We have to be in that space, and to be in that space effectively we have to understand it, use it ourselves, and be able to participate. To do that, we have to begin using it internally and making it a part of our everyday business. From having no real understanding, we're now at the point where we see that we have little option but to participate.”

The quotation above originates from an unnamed company that contributed to Melcrum’s Social Media Report 2010 ‘How to use social media to solve critical communication issues’. In the three years since we last produced a report on this topic for the internal communications profession the tools and techniques, uses and strategies surrounding social media have drastically changed.

"Nowadays, as many companies are discovering, employees have a need to collaborate, share, discuss and produce content inside their organisations as much as they do in their own personal lives."
Social technologies in play have also noticeably improved in the past three years. In our 2007 report, the core technologies were easier to outline. Self-publishing of written content was done via blogs and wikis. For audio and video there was podcasting (audio) and vodcasting or vlogging (video). Social networks were defined by the likes of MySpace, which was still the preserve of Generation Y, Facebook was only just beginning to gain traction, while virtual world technology was gaining popularity with businesses using Second Life.
Twitter had just been born but no one knew it existed. The technology landscape in 2010 is vastly different. The original social technologies remain but are embedded in people's everyday personal and working lives and derivatives of these technologies are taking centre stage.

The rise of Twitter

Microblogging, such as Twitter, is one example. From Barack Obama’s rise to office and the alleged suppression of the Iranian elections to Dell’s billions in unforeseen revenues and Melcrum’s thousands of new customers, microblogging has changed the way we communicate and do business both externally and internally, forever. The same can also be said of the internal communicators' favourite idea of “internal Facebook” or collaborative people finder tools that allow employees to rapidly connect to and, collaborate with each other in a real time and secure environment.

Nowadays, as many companies are discovering, employees have a need to collaborate, share, discuss and produce content inside their organisations as much as they do in their own personal lives. Businesses are being driven by their workforces to implement and participate in the world of social media. But how well are they doing it?
"Since 2007, significant in-roads have been made into how social media can benefit organisations when used behind the firewall; fantastic examples of best practice have emerged and progress has been made."
Our research (see report statistics below) found there is a long way to go before the internal communication arena catches up with its external counterpart. The majority of the profession report that social media policies are not in place and if they are, they are inconsistent and unclear in their intentions. What's more, social media skills perception is low and internal communicators are in urgent need of training to take their teams forward and bring their organisations into the 21st century.
In addition, internal communicators are undecided over the value social media can bring and overly focused on the tools rather than prioritising the business case; many leaders are stuck in the dark ages, still insist on purely communicating by email and have yet to see the benefits social media can bring to the bottom line; and tight budgets impacted by the recession of the last two years, never-ending IT restrictions and executive fear over a loss of control are all preventing the internal function from progressing.

Taking the long-view

In the long-term, social media is also changing the definition of what constitutes the role of an internal communicator. At Melcrum's Social Media conference in London in February 2010, independent advisor and social computing evangelist, Euan Semple, suggested that many of the audience: “Wouldn’t have jobs in five year's time," and that “at least, you won’t be called internal communicators”.

Statements like this can either be bewildering or exciting depending on your perspective. Significant change is already happening in many organisations. Roles are changing, and individuals and teams that recognise the shift and that aim to move from communicator to facilitator and beyond to pure communication and collaboration advocates, as well as connectors within business, will arguably survive and succeed.

"From Barack Obama’s rise to office to Dell’s billions in unforeseen revenues; microblogging has changed the way we communicate and do business both externally and internally."
There is an issue, however, with internal communications teams actually gaining the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully implement and embed social media tools and capabilities into communication strategies. Based on our research, many communicators feel unprepared for the ways in which their roles are changing, with “team expertise” rated averagely at between three and five out of 10. The profession has a great deal to learn.

Social media training

But we should perhaps be more optimistic about the function’s future and its use of social media? Since 2007, significant in-roads have been made into how social media can benefit organisations when used behind the firewall, and some fantastic examples of best practice have emerged and progress has been made. Training has also improved with a number of companies, including Melcrum, running packed courses including social media for beginners and more advanced users, intranet masterclasses and modules on online video, user generated content and SharePoint, a globally used Microsoft collaboration and intranet tool used by some of the world’s largest companies.
As Richard Dennison, internal program manager at BT in the UK, says: “Before you send out invitations to your leaving drinks, there is hope. We are, after all, good communicators. We can write well, we’re articulate, we’re empathetic, and we’re networkers. These are exactly the kind of skills that we can use to keep afloat in the information rapids of the future. The question is: how do we use these skills?
“One significant advantage we have is our relationships with senior managers. In a world where senior managers do their own communications, informally through their blogs, or by whatever new channels emerge, we'll need to provide a new kind of service for them to maintain these relationships.”

Melcrum Report statistics: five key findings on how the profession uses social media

  • Severe need for social media internal communication training: More than two-thirds (64%) of all global internal communicators rate their team's social media expertise, on average, as very low or low - between one to five out of 10: The average is three out of 10 (17.3%), while only 13% rate their social media skills as 8 to 10 out of 10. In addition, our survey found that 22% of global internal communication professionals believe their team lacks the skills to make social media happen.

  • Encouraging signs but still a long way to go: Social media is part of 30% of internal communicators' everyday communication strategy plans, however the encouraging sign is that almost half (44%) believe it is here to stay, will play an important role in the future development of internal communications and disagree it's a fad.

  • It’s good to talk: Getting employees to talk to one another and share information is the most effective use of social media within respondents' organisations to date.

  • Video killed the radio star: Online video was chosen as the most popular "social media" tool with 52.6%, with blogs (51.9% - respondents were told they could tick all the tools that applied to their use of social media), instant messaging (47%) and social networks, including Twitter, Facebook and Yammer, in fourth place with 37.6%.

  • Internal communicators fight for SM implementation: Internal communicators are fighting for social media to be implemented into everyday employee life and workflows across the globe with more than a third (36.5%) admitting it's "tough" to get budget and 33.7% complaining of tough IT constraints and restrictions. One fifth (20.9%) said it was "very tough" to get budget, however only a surprisingly low 40% said employee buy-in was "easily achievable". The majority said senior executive (32.2%) and IT buy-in were "achievable but not without a fight”.

About the author: James Bennett is Melcrum's head of content and has been a business journalist and editor for 10 years working across magazines, websites, weeklies and newspapers. For more information about Melcrum or the Social Media Report 2010 visit


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