The Art of Listening (and Telling) to Employees through Social Media

Tracey Pearce-Dawson    October 7, 2014

Organization Name: Southwest Airlines, Yammer, IBM

Industry: Airline, Technology

Web references:,,,,

It was about seven years ago when I got my first taste of social media while working in corporate communications for a large transportation company. It was a new communication medium called “the blog”. It promised great things – the ability to engage with your employees in two-way conversation versus pushing out an e-mail en masse. It was more informal, provided the blogger (preferably a member of the executive team) with the opportunity to share with employees company news and highlights, as well as relay personal reflections and observations – not typically found in a company-wide e-mail. But there were two problems. The first – very, very few (higher up the chain) wanted to write a blog. The second, those who did enjoy putting pen to paper had to have their message vetted by the communications department. Neither scenario was a good one, and, needless to say, the blog concept was filed away for another day.

Fast track to today and the world of communications and engaging employees is a very different one – due to the ever-evolving uses of social media in the workplace, clearly outlined in the following chart posted on


Forbes contributing writer Karen Higginbottom, who writes about “the junction between being human and the workplace” provides interesting insight into the power of social media as it relates to employees. In her recent article Social Media Ignites Employee Activism, Higginbottom cites a study of 2,300 employees conducted by Weber Shandwick. The study found that 50% of employees post messages, pictures or videos in social media about their employer and more than a third have shared praise or positive comments online about their employer without any encouragement (from their employer).

The study reminded me of Southwest Airlines and its best in class approach to communications. For those who have flown with Southwest Airlines – you’ve probably already experienced the quirky approach they have when it comes to customer service. And by quirky I mean entertaining, outside of the box, and ‘I haven’t had a bad experience to date’ (knock on wood). Part of this, I believe, is because the company empowers its employees. Southwest Airlines actually has a number of employees contributing to their Nuts about Southwest blog – and the results are impressive: 12 million monthly visits to its website, 1 million Twitter followers, 1.3 million Facebook likes. More than that – it makes you want to keep flying with them – just check out this video:

This may have made my younger professional-self very nervous – but having experienced the positive engagement that comes from employees when you empower them to showcase what’s important to them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr and various Social Media boards – and share a perspective that I may not have thought of with my ‘communications hat’ on – is exciting. By the way, it certainly helps when you have put in place employee social media guidelines. IBM, which was one of the first companies to establish social media guidelines is looked upon as an example of best practice. You can check theirs out at Social Computing Guidelines.

Social media can be especially informative when dealing with highly sensitive issues, whether they be acquisitions related as discussed by Steve Compton, Customer Success Manager with Yammer in the following audio clip interview with Voice – The Engage for Success magazine.

To have an understanding of what employees are saying (whether positive or negative) is invaluable for an organization – and social media is playing a crucial role in keeping employees and their respective companies up to speed.

Lessons for others:

  • Don’t be afraid to try new forms of social media – you don’t know until you try
  • Living the brand inside is just as important as living the brand outside
  • Leverage your employees’ stories and experiences – they are more memorable than facts

Submitted By: Tracey Pearce-Dawson, SMBP student, University of Waterloo

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