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Tips for using social media to engage employees by Gail Franks, MD of Summersault Communications

Social media. It’s the term on everyone’s lips, as are the websites and services that are part of it.

Empowering people to connect and share information is one of the building blocks of social media as well as a powerful internal communications strategy.

Before social media came along, internal comms practitioners worked very hard to give colleagues and management the chance to be heard by all levels of the organisation, whether in employee forums, union meetings, Town Hall events or internal magazine letters pages. The concept of two-way feedback is not new. However, what social media can offer, when introduced and managed correctly, is unique and makes a positive contribution to company culture.

One of the cornerstones of an internal social media strategy is the blog. It’s something that is understood by employees, easy to use and is a natural extension to the intranet.

It’s important to offer a reasonable number of concurrent blogs at any one time. In doing so, the blog service will become far more attractive to a wider group of colleagues who will interact with each blog in a different way. It doesn’t really matter what the range of blogs looks like; offer a way for colleagues to contact a central function to set one up and have a very short and informal creation and set-up process. The result: diversity, inclusion, and a range of voices – in other words, more reflective of corporate culture than the “cascade” methods of old.

Blogs that invite colleagues to talk about a hot topic are effective, but only when the topic is sufficiently motivating. Regardless of the feelings of employees, blogs are an ideal way to harness and share thoughts, concerns and difficulties. They can develop internal openness and advocacy, as well as make a positive contribution to the employer brand.

Finally, and this is really important, develop guidance that allows colleagues to understand how they should talk about their employer outside of work time. As people become increasingly used to social media, there are countless unofficial employer groups (particularly on Facebook) discussing employers, companies and brands.

If senior staff don’t know what colleagues are doing in these spaces, the permanence of online content can cause considerable damage. One solution is to organise a group of willing participants together to co-develop a guidance document, and then offer it onto the internal blog for comment. Partnering up with the HR department will also enable support on the development of this guidance and ensure that the document operates within a “mutually legitimate” space outside of work. It’s important that colleagues don’t feel like they are being told what to do in their own time. However, when carefully planned, developed and communicated, this becomes a win-win situation: colleagues clearly understand what they can say online, as well as develop an increased awareness of how their employer understands the democratic nature of social media.

Overall, the key is to develop social media in a way that is open, participatory, yet reflects how the organisation ticks.

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