Social and digital channels have come under the spotlight for consumers this week – for very much the wrong reasons.  With such vast numbers of people potentially affected by the Facebook data breach, it is only right that questions will be asked about the security and privacy of social channels.

But while fundamental changes need to take place, we know that social media is here to stay. And we know that its ever-evolving nature, combined with the ubiquity of smartphones and internet-abled devices, will make it even more appealing to wider groups of people – despite the apparent risks.

But if we look beyond the consumer, we see a slightly different story. it’s easy to assume that all employees in the workplace will happily engage with their teams and managers through digital-only methods, since as consumers they engage readily through these channels.

For us, this is a dangerous, even alienating, assumption. A recent client survey ENGAGE conducted revealed that, around 20% of their workforce could be classified as reluctant adopters of new technology – which means 1 in every 5 employees could miss out on vital communications if digital-only engagement is used.

Of course, at the other end of the spectrum around 20% of employees are tech ‘addicts’, with remaining percentage somewhere in the middle. These groups are probably more likely to engage easily with digital channels – but even then, engaging for workplace communications may be a very different proposition than engaging socially, and must never just be assumed.

We’ve seen this in practice during a focus group at a technology company, where, despite being regular users of digital and social media, most participants hated collaborating via tools such as Yammer or other internal comms platforms.

Interestingly, the newest members of the group actively embraced these tools – having been properly trained in their use during their induction process. It quickly became clear that those who had received specific training were more confident in using these platforms and, more importantly, knew how to get the best out of them. Those team members who had ‘learnt along the way’ weren’t able to take full advantage of the features available, or didn’t have time to work out how to use them, and therefore perceived little value in using them.

It’s critical, then, that employers don’t implement digital communication or engagement tools without first understanding the varying needs of their entire employee population.  To do this, organisations need to treat their employees in exactly the same way as they do their customers – segmenting them according to needs and preferences, and then honing down the best and most appropriate ways to communicate with different groups.

It’s also important to have a very clear objective, or set of objectives, about what any new tool is aiming to achieve, rather than jumping on the bandwagon of the latest and greatest messaging app.

Does it need to act as an internal comms mechanism, or as a way to connect people together, or as a means of creating dialogue between leaders and employees, or as a tool for gathering employee data and insight? Does it need to deliver more than one or even all of these functions?

How the tool is going to be used, what employee groups are going to gain, and how the organisation as a whole is going to benefit, will all affect the choice of engagement mechanism. Even when a best-fit selection is made, work is needed to ensure all employees are trained to get the most out of the new tool – and critically that they understand why it’s being used and how it will help them.

The final – and now more prominent piece of the jigsaw – is data protection and privacy. Employers will need to have clear messaging and processes that outline the ways in which any information shared via digital tools will be used. While individuals are often happy to share the minutiae of their daily lives from a social perspective, their professional boundaries may be very different. This requires careful, objective consideration.

So, if you’re looking to engage all your employees, remember: one size doesn’t fit all. And why would you want it to? Employees are individuals who can all contribute to the organisation in multiple different ways – you need to give them the choice of engagement tools that allows them to do exactly that.

By Nick Thompson
Practice Head: ENGAGE