Employee Communication Via Social Media – Overcoming Internal Resistance

‘Digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’

What differentiates the ‘digital native’ generation, who grew up with the Internet from those who didn’t?

Typically, many older workers, or ‘digital immigrants’, talk about their comfort zone. They find comfort in a hierarchical, command and control management structure. They are good communicators, who like to think, plan and do – in that order. They favour a top-down approach and generally like to play safe. Many of our senior managers fit into the digital immigrant generation.

Digital natives, on the other hand, prefer a guiding and nurturing environment. They do not want instructions handed down from on-high. They are great communicators and great networkers. But they do it differently. Digital tools and social media are like extensions of themselves. This emerging generation thinks acts and communicates quickly. They like engagement and like to try things out. They harness their team’s collective experience and skills in order to find solutions. It’s all about communicating. Many of the people now joining the workforce are digital natives.

The old way and the new?

The old way uses intranets or websites as static sites. Staff can search and find, but have limited ability to contribute. The new way is interactive and collaborative and uses social media such as Social networks (e.g. Facebook), Blogs, Discussion Forums and Wikis. Social media tools definitely add value to employee communications. They can help build relationships, increase collaboration, improve productivity, reduce silos, and build engagement. They also offer an excellent means to share ideas and gather qualitative feedback. So why is social media sometimes so hard to implement as an internal communications tool? Communicators understand the power of social media but their senior managers, who are often digital immigrants, remain wary and unconvinced. Are these the arguments that you are hearing?

‘It’s not a priority”

A CIO magazine’s study,Top Technology Priorities found that even IT professionals don’t consider Web 2.0 a priority. They’re focused on network consolidation, outsourcing, CRM, and security. This would seem to back up management’s assertion that Intranet 2.0 needs to take a back seat.

The response

Point out that Web 2.0 tools are already commonplace. Innovative companies are already leveraging the power of these tools. Many social media tools are easy and relatively cheap to implement. They don’t need to compete with major IT plans.

Don’t make sweeping claims when you are proposing social media tools. Managers don’t want to hear about social media democratizing the organization. They want to know how business goals will be supported. So use language the CEO will understand and focus on concrete goals where possible.

Spot opportunities and start with small simple projects. Provide evidence of success before proposing a wider implementation.

Do your homework. Support your proposal for a wider implementation with case studies. IBM, Sun Microsystems and the hundreds of other Fortune 500 companies are already successfully wielding these tools.


Choose web 2.0 channels that have been specifically designed for employee communication. Use low cost communications channels that are quick and easy to implement and manage. Use a platform that is easy for IT to implement and has little need for ongoing IT support. Choose a platform that allows access rights to be targeted to specific staff groups. Ensure centralised reporting allows you to easily quantify the value of the web 2.0 channels and demonstrate their strategic communications value to senior managers.

Try a free trial or low cost pilot to test concepts out prior to a more comprehensive commitment to social media as an internal communications channel.

“We don’t have the time, money or resources”

Management quite rightly recognizes that communicators are already overworked. They might also voice concerns about the cost of the tools and the lack of support resources.

The response

Explain tools that assist internal communications assist you. As for the tools being hungry on money and resources, explain that generally these tools are relatively inexpensive and require little time to set up. Rather then worrying about the return on investment in financial terms the focus should be on what can be gained from making them available. To keep costs down, lease a Web 2.0 solution. This allows you to leverage developments based on learning from other organisations. Study less and do more:

  • Start the dialogue and keep listening to the comments
  • Spot opportunities in the business where social media could provide a good fit
  • Start small and simple and use an iterative process
  • Predict concerns and solve problems early
  • Create an army of evangelists


Choose web 2.0 channels that have been built only for employee communications purposes, they are not a ‘one size fits all’ solution with a confusing array of set-up options.

Use a solution that is authenticated back to employees computers which means it is very secure but staff also do not need to remember a user name and password. Just one click and staff are able to participate.

Select a user friendly, intuitive solution that allows staff to participate with little or no training. Use a low cost solution that can fit within existing employee communications budgets. Utilise free trials to test out small deployments and evolve the use of staff social media channels based on staff feedback and learning. Increases in productivity facilitated by improved information flow can easily cost justify the use of social media for employee communications. For example, an interactive Helpdesk channel provides effective real time support channels for staff by allowing them to ask questions in interactive online helpdesks. This means that answers can be made available almost immediately and become part of an evolving searchable repository of knowledge. It doesn’t suit our culture

“These tools aren’t a fit with our culture. It’s not the way we do business…”

The response

Do you have a young, tech-savvy workforce in an organisation with a flat structure, or is the structure hierarchical with predominantly older workers who may feel uncomfortable with new technology.

It is important to recognise your culture, and to work out what will work and what won’t. It is true social media fits better where the culture is democratic and open, rather than hierarchical and paternal. However, even conservative companies are finding increasing numbers of digital natives joining their ranks. Collaboration and team work are here to stay. Knowledge-sharing enables the whole company to benefit from an individual’s expertise, and ensures that this knowledge doesn’t exit the organisation when the individual leaves.

Explain that providing additional channels for sharing information does not equate to loss of control or a decline in standards. It should lead to increased productivity and innovation. It may be helpful to encourage knowledge-sharing and collaboration by assisting executives to lead by example. You could also workout a system of rewards for champion bloggers and networkers.


Select a platform with a range of moderation options. Simply select the setting required for a specific employee blog, staff discussion forum or online helpdesk. Even the most risk adverse managers should feel comfortable with a communications channel that requires every post and comment moderated.

If possible set up moderators to receive desktop alerts notifying them of the need to approve content so that approval (or not) can be fast and seamless.

In time, as managers become more comfortable with the social media as an employee communications tool, it may be appropriate to reset the moderation level to only anonymous posts and comments or even to switch moderation off altogether.

For organizations that are really adverse to social media, why not consider an electronic magazine fomat that permits ‘user generated’ content.

This will enable you to distribute ‘safe discussion’ directly to the employee’s computer screen.

“It will open a can of worms”

“Employees will say inappropriate things. People will complain, or insult management. Bad language will appear on comments…”

Management may express concerns that the ‘rumour mill’ will take over, or that staff will spend all day complaining. Management may also be concerned that knowledge-sharing via staff forums or blogs sets a dangerous precedent. This informant is ‘unofficial’ as no-one has authorised it.

The response

Gossip and staff complaints were around long before Web 2.0 came on the scene. If social media channels do throw up unpleasant surprises, you have at least identified that there are issues which you can address, rather than having a seething undercurrent. Where engagement is low and/or guidelines and policy are not stated, staff may not know how else to communicate worries or causes of dissatisfaction.

Define what social media tools can be used for as part of your strategy and communicate the policy. For example, some companies allow comments to go live without being filtered, whereas others insist that comments go through the editor. Some organizations allow anonymous posts while others don’t. Some even have a forum entitled ‘Rumour Mill’ to flush concerns and gossip out into the open to be addressed.

Not all information needs to be official. Tacit knowledge is still shared around the water cooler, or sent via a memo or email. It may never be captured in a form that can be shared. Management agree that this is a huge disadvantage when knowledgeable staff leave, taking their ‘unofficial’ knowledge with them. Online tools, on the other hand, capture this know-how. Your staff will easily recognize the distinction between opinion and authoritative content.


Specify a ‘Code of Conduct’ clearly at the top of each page view. Implement a range of moderation levels which allow you to monitor and approve posts if required. For example, moderators could be set to receive a desktop alert when an anonymous post or comment is made.

Use multiple interactive channels. Setting up a specific, moderated helpdesk, for example, around an organisational change, can help keep inappropriate content out of other staff discussion forums. ‘Risky’ discussions, where sentiment might be negative, can be targeted securely to only those affected. This means that negativity does not need to ‘infect’ the rest of the organisation.

“It’s too risky, too uncontrolled”

Management may equate loss of formality with a decline in standards. The idea that staff can write what they want runs counter to the command-and-control structure of many organisations. Considerable time, effort, and money go into crafting a strong brand image. CEOs may fear that the company’s image will suffer if they make it easy for staff to say anything they want about the organization or their colleagues and managers. They may also worry about leaks to outside world.

The response

Just because communication is taking place online doesn’t mean that professionalism and respect will be forgotten. Most staff already know that inappropriate use of email is not acceptable, and will transfer this knowledge automatically to social media tools.

Don’t forget that Management have legitimate concerns about the need to keep some information confidential. You can offset Management’s fear of losing control by implementing appropriate security measures and guidelines for these channels, just as you do with email and Internet use. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to setting the policy. You know your organisation and whatever works best for your organisation is the best way to go. IBM’s solution was to create a wiki and to get its staff to create the policy themselves.

The fact that blogs and online discussion are visible is more likely to deter inappropriate comments.


Choose social media channels that have been built specifically for secure employee communication. Use a solution with a Client applet that resides on staff computers. Only staff who have the applet and have been targeted with access rights can view these channels. This means that the risk of leaks to the outside world is dramatically reduced.

Code of conduct and moderation options mean that if it possible to keep a close eye on conversations that are considered high risk.

Desktop alerts can inform moderators when new content is added to blogs, forums, Q&A spots and staff helpdesks. This can allow moderators to check that information is correct and amend posts if necessary.