The Social Facets of Workplace Communications

“Social media is evolving so rapidly, but the enterprise space has a lot to do to catch up.” observed Kelli Carlson-Jagersma, VP at Wells Fargo Bank. David Grossman, founder and CEO of The Grossman Group, an internal comms consultancy, agreed that social platforms complicate an already tricky environment for workplace communications. Both spoke at Business Development Institute’s Social Media and Internal Communications Summit on Thursday in New York. Below are key takeaways.

Workplace communications are characterized by more questions than answers. Grossman noted, “Employees are often confused and skeptical about where their organizations are headed, they want to hear from their senior leaders, and they have information overload but are still searching for meaning” amidst all the noise.

Consistent character counts. “Character is a key differentiator for individuals and organizations, who need to sync the reality of their internal culture with their external reputation,” Grossman explained. Otherwise a company may end up like Goldman Sachs when its culture was laid bare by a disaffected employee in a March New York Times OpEd letter.

Employee communications help inform customer contact. “Our team members are also our customers so if we don’t get it right with them we don’t get it right for our customers,” Carlson-Jagersma pointed out, and she believes this holds true for many organizations.

Leaders need to be better facilitators. “There’s no longer just one leadership style,” Grossman stated. “We’re well past the era of the charismatic CEO. Leaders now need to be better able to connect with employees.” He cited Apple as a case in point when it transitioned from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook. “He’s in the spotlight, but in a different way than his predecessor.” Grossman also emphasized CEOs’ need to be more visible, a recurring theme from other recent conferences we’ve covered.

Different workplace occasions call for social media and/or in-person contact. Grossman described his views as “anti-social media on the inside” of an organization. He added that since companies have limited resources they need to make choices. He lamented that “internal face-to-face communications have fallen by the wayside, but they represent the best way to deal with conflict.”

Social media can still be used effectively along with in-person interaction, and Wells Fargo has explored inventive ways of doing so. The bank holds several annual employee meetings, and Clarkson-Jagersma piloted various social enterprise tools to use before, during and after these events.

Beforehand, Wells Fargo used Salesforce Chatter to invite attendees. During the event they used Chatter mobile to communicate with the audience and Poll Everywhere to conduct live mobile surveys. PhotoBooth enabled attendees to take their photos and post them during the meeting, and StoryBooth allowed employees to tell their Wells Fargo work stories and post them online. She reported that this social communications events model has now been rolled out company-wide.