by Steve Nicholls | July 18, 2013
When most business leaders think of social media, they typically think of how it can help them communicate with clients or potential clients. They want to improve sales with existing customers, introduce their brand to new customers, create new revenue streams, and watch the money roll in. This is a great plan.  

However, social media is far more than just an external communication tool used for new business. Many business executives overlook the fact that social media can have a tremendous impact on their organization when used to improve internal communication. 

Social media is not strictly a public relations, marketing, or website matter, nor should using it internally be considered a gesture to keep employees “in the loop” or to boost company morale. It should be seen as an imperative company-wide project to improve business operations. 

The use of social media to improve internal communications is a completely undervalued tool that will help facilitate communication between departments, overcome geography, and ultimately, maximize productivity.

A happy staff is a hardworking staff, and social media will give employees a voice, allow them to communicate with upper management in a less threatening manner, and create a space for employees to easily share ideas and brainstorm, which will lead to greater profits.

Many executives do not want to integrate social media into the internal communication process because they do not understand the benefits it can bring. They hear about misguided tweets and other online mishaps that they figure will only require damage control. They consider Facebook as a way for employees to waste valuable company time; and after all, they do not even have the time or resources to spare. 

The first thing I would tell these executives is that their concerns are valid. However, inaction is no longer a solution. Social media is not going away, and if you choose not to embrace it, you will certainly lose your competitive edge. 

The key is to understand the risks, mitigate them, and maximize the benefits. Most problems within an organization are “people” problems and not “technology” problems. People problems can often be hidden from view, much like how an iceberg has 90 percent of its mass hidden from view. These invisible constraints can be the most difficult to deal with, as they relate to attitudes and skills, as well as written and unwritten rules and codes of conduct. Here are 10 ways that social media can be safely and effectively used by today’s business leaders to improve internal communication in their organization. 

1. Create a common language. Train the entire staff and create a common language built around social media. Explain how social media will help the company achieve its goals and how it pertains to their particular division.

2. Understand your company culture. Culture will define how well your social media projects do within your company and if you have a closed culture by nature, a transformation towards transparency needs to be made. 

3. Create internal social networks. This will bring the company closer together by facilitating formal and informal communication between different departments as well as between employees and upper management. Using a social networking application like LinkedIn as a personnel directory is a very good way to find people in your organization and looking at what skills or experience they have.

4. Encourage information sharing. Many organizations suffer from lack of information sharing. Creating a platform, such as a DIY Wiki platform, composed of all company-related information such as articles, videos, and webinars, is an excellent way to allow all company members to access valuable company information anytime, anywhere. 

5. Encourage employee participation. Speaking up in the boardroom can be intimidating for junior staff. Management should encourage staff to offer ideas in a less threatening environment via social media. This gives everyone a voice and may produce a great idea that otherwise never would have surfaced. 
 
6. Collect intelligence. User-generated content via social media is worth its weight in gold. It becomes valuable business intelligence that can be used to understand how to perform better, generate new ideas, and thus become more successful.

7. Look at mobile technology and online project management tools. Taking advantage of new technologies like iPads and smartphones, conferencing tools like Skype and Webex, or project management tools like Wrike and Zoho allows a company to function efficiently from many different geographical locations. 

8. Don’t forget the risks. There are always risks with every opportunity and these need to be taken into consideration and mitigated by including them in your model. Those who don’t integrate social media into their business because of risk will be left behind. 

9. Have a solid social media policy. Having clear rules and regulations in writing sets the framework for what is acceptable and what is not when using social media in the workplace. This will protect both the company and the individual and make the whole experience safe and easy. 

10. Do not go enthusiastically in the wrong direction. In order to take advantage of social media efficiently, a company needs to have a step-by-step model that will gradually build the right combinations of social media to meet specific business goals, within the context of its business environment.

Steve Nicholls is the author of Social Media in Business and is an international speaker and social media strategist who is often hired by businesses to introduce and integrate social media.