We don't have to hire a research company such as Forrester or Gartner to prove what we already experience. A study of the German Macromedia University, conducted in 2016, confirms that internal social media truly drive employee engagement and save time and money.
Its survey was conducted in more than 500 German companies across different hierarchy levels. The results were compared with a similar study that was realized by the same authors in 2013. The results have to been seen in the context that the use of internal social media in German companies has doubled since 2013, although it still involves only about every fifth German company.
For the study discussed within this article, scientist Holger Sievert of Macromedia University worked closely together with Internal Communications Manager Christina Scholz from Continental AG. They concluded the following:
1. Internal social media are an important tool to engage employees to actively play a part in the company
While 12.2 percent said that internal social media played an important or very important role at the same hierarchy level in 2013, 20.4 percent of the participants stated the same in 2016. Across different hierarchy levels the value jumped from 11.9 percent (2013) to 20.8 percent (2016).
2. Internal social media ease the flow of communication and collaborative work, which facilitates stronger engagement
3. To successfully establish internal social media and engage employees, flat hierarchies and open interaction are desirable.
As the report states: "Enterprise Social Networks are one tool via which managers and leaders are able to communicate with their employees directly and uncomplicatedly, and eventually become more engaged with them. This can be supported by different functions offered by social media, such as direct communication that is not time-delayed, less formal criteria as well as the chance to communicate across different hierarchy levels."
"This is especially attractive for employees when one compares it with speaking to their boss in a short meeting. Using social media can avoid disappointment on the part of employees, as they get direct feedback, which increases their motivation to engage more strongly with the company's processes."
4. Internal social media can be used to drive employee engagement by including appointees in decision-making processes. Managers must function as a role model concerning the use of internal social media.
As the report states: "Corporate changes like the implementation of new social tools is not the only area in which the management board needs to be a role model to their employees. In fostering a strong corporate culture and being engaged, managers also act as an example to their workforce. Employees become more engaged when they see that their leaders are. However, the study does show that the participants working in corporate governance still need to notice the high importance of them acting as an example to their employees. Other departments like communications and R&D value this aspect even more strongly."
"Moreover, in order to truly engage all employees, directors need to make sure that all appointees are reached with internal social media and that the respective message is clearly identified, given that the study shows that employees working on a lower hierarchy level do not feel that internal social media are used for leadership tasks."
5. A strong trust culture fosters employee engagement, when internal social media are implemented.
As the report states: "The general question concerning the importance of trust for the successful work with Enterprise Social Networks is viewed as important or very important by a majority of 88.3 percent. That underlines that certain corporate cultural conditions as well as a particular mindset must be in place in order to engage employees with new communication tools. Comparing the different departments, internal communications and the management board have an even higher regard for trust as an important factor concerning the work with internal social media (96.0 percent and 91.2 percent)."
The overall conclusion:
“The empirical results of this paper have shown that internal social media as a form of digital employee engagement can play an effective role to support employee engagement in general. Engagement also results in business benefits like cost and time savings. Certain cultural criteria such as trust, slightly flatter hierarchies and leaders acting as role models can greatly facilitate this process.”
“In summary, it is clear that Enterprise Social Networks will determine the corporate internal communication tools in the near future. Companies should now prepare themselves and self-define their corporate culture and goals in order to effectively unlock all the available benefits in terms of employee engagement.”