Hit & Miss – Employee Engagement Using Social Media

katie    May 17, 2017

A communication revolution is sweeping over the workplace as it begins to dawn on company stakeholders that the personal benefits of social media communication could be bolstered in the corporate setting. If using social media for internal business communications sounds like a conflict of concepts, then this blog might change your mind… or not.

A few mind-boggling stats:

According to SEC filing, for the first time, Facebook’s U.S. ad revenue will be larger than the biggest traditional media companies trailing only behind Google.

Updated May 8, 2017

  1. Worldwide, there are over 1.94 billion monthly active Facebook users for March 2017 (Facebook MAUs) which is an 18 percent increase year over year.
  2. There are 1.15 billion mobile daily active users (Mobile DAU) for December 2016, an increase of 23 percent year-over-year
  3. 28 billion people log onto Facebook daily active users (Facebook DAU) for first Quarter of 2017, which represents a 18% increase year over
  4. There are 1.74 billion mobile active users (Mobile Facebook MAU) for December 2016 which is an increase of 21% year-over-year
  5. On average, the Like and Share Buttons are viewed across almost 10 million websites daily.
  6. Age 25 to 34, at 29.7% of users, is the most common age demographic.
  7. Five new profiles are created every second..
  8. Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.(Source: The Social
  9. 75 billion pieces of content shared daily as of May 2013 which is a 94 percent increase from August 2012.(Source: Facebook)
  10. 50% of 18-24 year-olds go on Facebook when they wake up.
  11. One in five page views in the United States occurs on Facebook.
  12. 42% of marketers report that Facebook is critical or important to their business.
  13. 16 Million local business pages have been created as of May 2013 which is a 100 percent increase from 8 million in June 2012.

 

 

This staggering social media phenomenon is literally sweeping over every demographic. I’m living proof. I’m 65 years old, have never had any interest in social media at all and here I am taking a course for Social Media for Business Performance because my new client requires that skill set. I’m almost hallucinating: I’ve got to launch a Facebook page and join Linked-in to pass! But I digress…

Back to the point: social media employee engagement. My investigation has raised some questions for me. Why are companies motivated to incorporate enterprise social networks to communicate with their employees? Companies want to make money for their shareholders. Cultivating employee engagement with social media is going to be a big financial investment and require valuable time to change their IT systems and then disrupt daily operations to train their employees. So what’s in it for the company? What would compel a CEO to take advantage of their employees’ prowess with peer-to-peer social technology, to increase employee communication and collaboration (i.e. to give their employees “a voice” outside of their immediate shouting range)? Or, is all of this effort, just perhaps… to keep up with the corporate Joneses?

According to Caleb Papineau on May 7, 2017 in his post on TINYpulse, team-building can provide a business with a variety of benefits by providing the opportunity to:

  • practise effective ways to problem solve
  • improve channel of communication
  • see co-workers’ strengths and weaknesses

… and allows businesses to achieve:

  • greater support among team members
  • a better understanding of the company’s brand values and expectations
  • improve understanding of each team member’s role

… and provides innovative ways to:

  • push employees out of their comfort zones
  • let off steam after an intense work period
  • make employees feel wanted

So, is business keen to invest in Enterprise Social Networks (ESN)?

According to Bhuvan Srinivassan in his 2013 paper, “Enterprise Social Networking: the next competitive advantage”, companies are investing billions in ESN:

What I’ve read about this provocative topic has been condensed nicely.

From the research it seems that a possible end-run for including Enterprise Social Networks, with respect to employee involvement, is to create a new kind of ‘consumer experience’ for the employee. Ultimately, the company can use internal social media platforms to enhance its brand with the employee, and a happy/engaged employee will work harder and champion the brand. Of course, internal employee involvement with the executives will engage the employee more, get Millennials happier they’re in “with-it” companies, and the CEO can tell his stakeholders, the Board, and the Annual Shareholders’ Meeting attendees that he’s “on it!”

But does it work?

I have chosen Westlund as the case study for my Social Media for Business Performance certificate program. Reasons: It’s Canadian! Westlund specializes in supplying pipes, valves and fittings to the oil and gas and mining industry (westlundpvc.com/about-westlund/corporate-structure/), and is a division of one of Canada’s oldest companies, Emco, incorporated in London, Ontario in 1906. With over 30 branch locations across Canada, and over 200 distribution locations, the company boasts a 2500+ employee base.

“We Are Westlund!” greets you on their website. It is a rallying cry, like “Freedom!” from Braveheart. There is a Westlund Way: Fast, Focuses and Flexible. “We combine the reputation and business prowess of a major national”.

In an effort to find an appropriate contact, I combed through their website and found David Needham who had given an inspiring 2-minute Youtube video on Westlund’s ESN innovation “The Knowledge Network”.

 

David kindly allowed me to interview him about why he developed “Knowledge Network”, and the interview delved into other Enterprise Social Networking efforts at Westlund. Below, are some excerpts from that interview:

Lubin:                      Why did you create “Knowledge Network”?

Needham:            As a new MT, I was assigned a project to create something that adds value. Westlund’s general manager needed a fast-track format for any employee to ask company experts how to solve customers’ problems. I developed “Knowledge Network” and it is now on Westlund’s video platform allowing employees to reach out to experts in various product groups across the country and get answers sometimes within an hour. It’s been a great success as “Knowledge Network’s” fast expert problem-solver capability increases outstanding customer service, and ultimately increases revenue and profits as our organization is based on profit-sharing and a team culture whereby a win for one is a win for all.

Lubin:                  Other colleagues introduced a commercial ESN platform, “Yammer”. Deloitte Australia’s CEO believes “Yammer” is indispensable to enhance company-wide communication Youtube video. Why has Westlund virtually abandoned “Yammer”?

Needham:            The answer is simple: “Yammer” added no value and was a time-burden. The intention was good and people got on board initially, but ultimately, in order to increase participation, there needs to be measurable benefit. Westlund is already a company with strong cultural openness and trust with a core component being the virtue of responsibility. People, even new hires, already feel comfortable communicating up-and-down communication channels with questions or issues. Since people already have access to leadership if they so choose through personal contact and email, and as “Yammer” never went past being a Question and Answer tool, it has added little value to exchanges between teammates.

Lubin:                    Do you think Westlund will use other forms of ESN at another time?

Needham:            Leadership is more interested in increasing our IT systems’ sophistication and implementing CRM software. We run as lean as possible to maximize ROI and profit-sharing. Unless social media can improve our service, products or profits, and save us time, it will be well down on everyone’s priority list.

Lubin:                      How has the company performed this past year in the hard-hit oil and gas industry marketplace?

Needham:            Great! We have not only survived, but have grown in this present challenging market. Our competition across the board has not. The good news is they can discuss that amongst themselves using “Yammer”.

I called David the next day to ask him for a final comment about the latest cyber attacks before posting my blog.

… and Canada has not been spared.

David’s comments:

Lubin:                  What are your thoughts on viruses, for example, the “Wannacry” virus that is crippling organizations globally right now, being spread using social media as a catalyst?

Needham:            I believe using social media as a mechanism to spread viruses is inevitable. First, innovation and ingenuity with cybersecurity will always be met with the same force as those aiming to bypass said security. So while viruses today may not be sophisticated enough to be transferred via social media platforms, I believe it is fair to say it’s a matter of when, not if. Second, when considering the adoption of social media usage by people in all societies and cultures, the motivation to use these networks to pass along viruses will be profound. For example, imagination tying viruses to viral images and videos with protocols on when they will be activated and unleashed. If one were to have the launch of said virus begin one month after circulation of the video image with said virus attached, we could literally be looking at hundreds of millions of computers being affected. The impact in this regard would dwarf anything produced by “Wanncry” and without coordination, as the parties using social media will be doing it themselves. It will be a ticking time bomb like Stuxnet.

Lubin:             And, how do you think this affects Westlund?

Needham:            It’s ironic in this respect that Westlund is behind the times in its use of social media to engage its employees. That may be the very thing that protects us when other organizations could be vulnerable to an attack.

Having interviewed David Needham with respect to Westlund’s (and Emco’s – NB: David refers to both companies interchangeably) position to bring Enterprise Social Networking to Westlund’s employees, I am impressed with David’s loyalty and admiration for Westlund’s leadership. He quotes without hesitation the Core Values of the Company and clearly they are fundamental to his business practices. He will be a Westlund “lifer”.

His assessment of “Yammer’s” success internally seems accurate as it is mirrored on the company email review section online.

He is grateful Westlund’s leadership encouraged him to create the “Knowledge Network”. It has added enormous value company-wide. The employees need fast company expertise from across the country. Customers need it. It solves problems. For David, that is all the evidence he needs regarding Westlund’s commitment to employee involvement. He has no indication yet if Westlund’s executives are going to invest in ESN in the near future. Does this detract from David’s admiration, respect and loyalty to Westlund? No, not one bit, because Westlund does the basics of employee involvement//employee engagement superbly. The leaders walk the talk… although the talk is more or less still analogue at the moment.

Their Code, “everyone will do the right thing whether someone is looking or not…” is a vibrant core value David says everyone can recite with passion. The leaders exude integrity and trust, and isn’t that the core of corporate success? Ask any marine… would you get into the foxhole with the guy to the left or right of you? And their answer is, “Damn right. We’re a team and our leader will keep us safe. We trust in him, and we trust in every member of our platoon to look out for each and every one of us”.

David feels the same way about Westlund; hence, I can only conclude for the moment, the executives have it right: get the basics down-pat first: employee involvement “the old-fashioned way” – emails and picking up the phone to talk one-to-one is just fine for now, and employee ESN involvement will be a work-in-progress.

 

Lessons for Others

Lessons Learned:

Maybe leadership which nurtures and cultivates employee involvement is still a Boomer belief at Westlund: patience, trust, do the right thing and money will follow. However, their employee communication systems seem to be working very well even in a very difficult and challenging market. The proof is in the pudding: David says his location is already ahead of 2017 projections. Employee morale seems excellent!

That being said, I suspect new hires out of university, Generation Y – Millenials by another name, may come to expect more from Westlund’s executives along social media engagement. I suspect Westlund’s youthful HR department may have that on their radar as they prepare for the future.

It will be interesting to follow Westlund during the term of this case study to see if it is a competitive impetus to embrace employee involvement via social media for business performance that becomes the force behind Westlund making more of an investment in it. I’ll keep you (blog) posted!

Organization: Westlund (Industrial Division of Emco)
Industry: Wholesale PVF (Pipe, Valves, Fittings) for Industrial Market - Oil and Gas, Mining
Name of Organization Contact: David Needham, MT (Manager-in-Training)

Authored by: Katie Lubin

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


References

(“The Top 20 Valuable Facebook Statistics” 2017, May). Retrieved from https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/

(“Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 1st quarter 2017 (in millions)” 2017, April). Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/

Papineau, C. (May 7, 2017). WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE TEAM-BUILDING MORE SERIOUSLY. Retrieved from https://www.tinypulse.com/blog/why-you-should-take-team-building-more-seriously

Musso, A. (March 3, 2017). Why Internal Communicators Need Enterprise Social Networks. Retrieved from http://bananatag.com/hub/internal-comms/why-internal-communicatiors-need-enterprise-social-networks/

Srinivasan. B. (March 20, 2011). Enterprise Social Networking: The next Competitive Advantage. Retrieved from http://mackinstitute.wharton.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Srinivasan_BhuvanEnterprise-Social-Networking-V6-Mack-Center-Ford-Fellowship.pdf

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