Harnessing the power of employee engagement on social media

Social media has the potential to serve as a powerful communication tool for internal employee relations.

Walmart recently announced a plan for employees to communicate internal news by using Facebook’s Workplace. However, a survey by Altimeter found that only 25% of employees use their company’s social network. Historically, retailers have had a hard time trying to engage employees (even the ones sitting at computers every day) on corporate social networks, and that is even more challenging with mobile employees working on retail floors. 

FierceRetail spoke with Mike Hicks, vice president of marketing and strategy at Igloo Software, to learn why retail employee engagement on social is typically so low and what merchants can do to change that.

FierceRetail (FR): Why is the number of employees engaging on a retailer's social network typically so low?

Mike Hicks (MH): There’s a variety of reasons for lack of engagement on retailer social networks. Chiefly, many employees on the floor don’t have access to a computer or work-sanctioned mobile device during their working hours, unlike corporate employees. While it’s true that most employees in a retail environment have personal smartphones and could overcome this hurdle, it’s difficult for employees to take time out from interacting with consumers. Additionally, outside of working hours, it can be hard to give them a reason to log on to a company social network.

The bigger issue preventing employee engagement is the declining trend in social-only approaches. Unless organizations include other elements that improve communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing, it can be an exercise in futility. How do you measure the ROI of social alone? What is an organization’s end goal? We find organizations are far more successful when they deploy purposeful digital workplace solutions that encompass all these components. With this more holistic approach, what we see is employee engagement increases, while the social element ends up supporting and driving overall adoption of the digital workplace.

FR: Are there any retailers that typically have a higher social engagement?

MH: Restoration Hardware, Living Space Furniture, Living Social and Real Deals on Home Decor are all retailers that have taken the above approach. Instead of just focusing on social alone, they include collaboration, communication and knowledge sharing as part of their digital workplace and this helps them drive deeper, more meaningful employee engagement.

FR: What are some of the traits that go into making a social network engaging for employees?

MH: Once social becomes part of an organization’s overall digital workplace strategy, then one key way to get employees engaged in a company social network is to make it useful by tying it back to critical tasks that support the way work gets done. For example, integrating a shift-swapping solution into the digital workplace is one way to ensure employees continue to visit. Once you maintain a steady base of regular traffic, employees will naturally start to explore and utilize other areas of the digital workplace, including the more social elements, like clubs, events, kudos, anniversaries and birthdays. 

Another critical element to driving and maintaining employee traffic is a positive user experience. It should be intuitive and easy to use. If an employee has difficulty figuring out how to post a blog or leave a comment, they’ll get frustrated and give up. A good digital workplace will require minimal, if any, training.

Finally, the social elements of the digital workplace should be fun! It should provide employees the opportunity to interact with each other and get to know their co-workers. This should be customized to the company’s culture. We have seen our customers set up a page dedicated solely to sharing Beyoncé videos, pages for employees to crowdsource answers to questions, and pages for employees to organize and join clubs around their shared interests. 

FR: How does the new Walmart workplace application work?

MH: Not a lot is known yet about how Walmart plans to use the new application. Facebook won’t disclose how many of Walmart’s employees will actually use the service, and Walmart is technically on a trial run for the first 90 days. It has yet to be seen if the application will be successful.

FR: How does what Igloo does differ from what Walmart is using?

MH: Igloo is a full digital workplace platform that’s built for business and goes beyond just a company’s social network by changing the way work happens. Through its portfolio of digital workplace solutions, Igloo improves communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing and employee engagement across the business. It creates connections between people at work, but not at the expense of productivity or engagement, as social interactions take place within the context of work.

Igloo digital workplace solutions integrate with the existing tools and systems of the organization, at both a personal productivity level and enterprise system level, such as your CRM, HRIS, ERP, etc. to address real challenges that are impacting productivity and innovation. Examples of these types of solutions include Leadership Corners, Policy Centers, Corporate Onboarding, Deal Rooms, Knowledge Bases, Social Zones and Recognition Centers. They connect people, processes and information in the context of the work being done and they significantly reduce time to launch and time to value vs. a traditional intranet.  

FR: How important will social networks be in the future of employee morale?

MH: Social on its own has always been elusive and never quite caught its footing in the broader enterprise collaboration market because it is just one leg of a four-legged stool. What’s the end game of social collaboration? Unless it’s wrapped with the other legs of the stool—communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing and employee engagement—you just end up with unproductive chatter with no return on objectives.

The traditional top-down intranet where leaders blast out company information and policies does not cut it anymore, and employees won’t be engaged or loyal to an organization if they don’t feel like their voice is heard. Instead, digital workplaces enable employees to interact with each other as well as leadership, and tie the social elements back to improving communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing and employee engagement. It creates more effective two-way communication and helps employees understand how their contributions are working toward achieving corporate objectives. This plays a large role in employee job satisfaction, which in turn correlates to higher customer satisfaction, productivity and profits.