7 Tips for Using Social Platforms to Improve Your Internal Communications

This post originally appeared on Social Media Week.

How are your company’s internal communications? I’m not just talking about the monthly hoo-rah emails from your CEO or the ability of HR to ensure everyone understands your vacation policies. Think about all the back-and-forth that goes on between departments, managers and employees, and co-workers and friends. Setting up successful internal communications is always difficult as organizations grow.

In a startup, comms can be simple. All five of you sit in the same room and spend exorbitant amounts of time with each other. You may email non-important things, but mostly you talk face to face and text each other on your personal numbers for the five hours a day that you’re not in the same room. As your company evolves, you still spend copious amounts of time together, but you may group text, use longer email lists, and talk on instant messaging systems like Slack or Gchat. You may bring on a remote teammate halfway across the world, but with a handful of people, conventional conversation methods work.

The real challenges with internal communications begin when you scale and can’t really be considered a startup anymore.

When you start creating individual teams with managers and direct reports, and expand to multiple states and countries, you need to take a serious look at how information travels within your company. You use old processes until they break and you’re forced to find new solutions.

The issue with multiple platforms

Since many of us already feel overwhelmed by email, an unfortunate side effect of growth occurs when teams find their own solutions, which results in disjointed companies that collaborate inefficiently.

You recall a conversation from the previous week, but can’t find the record. Is it in your email? The instant messaging app? Or is it in the project management platform? It might actually be in your text messages? You try to keep certain conversations within certain platforms, but it’s rarely a smooth process.

I used to work for a company that had a project management platform that supported related conversations. We used the Google Suite, so we had Hangouts and Gmail, as well as comments hanging within Google Docs and Sheets. The executives instituted the company-wide use of Google+ for official and non-official communications at the corporate level and for cross-departmental chat. Then, as a department, we started using Yammer for conversations within individual teams.

I was maxed out. I didn’t have the time and energy to visit every platform to get involved in discussions. I checked in the bare minimum amount to make sure I wasn’t missing information about the company party or changes in the corporate handbook and that was it. Sometimes I forgot to check in and missed details, simply because it was too much to remember what was posted where and why.

So what’s the solution? I’m not going to give you a list of the best messaging and company communications platforms–plenty of others have compiled those lists before me. I’m going to help you figure out what it is you even need to address about your company communications.

1. Do what’s best for your company

The top choice on “The Top 10 Best Communications Platforms for 2017″ isn’t necessarily ideal for your company.

If you don’t use Gmail or a similar email platform with an instant messaging system, you may prioritize that functionality to keep employees off other networks like Facebook.

If all of your employees communicate on your project management platform, you may simply want to stick with that. I worked for a company that only had virtual teams and remote contractors, so we used Basecamp for everything and never touched email.

2. Give the platform an honest chance

If employees don’t adopt a new platform right away, give it time.

I was skeptical of Google+ as a communications platform and I’ve criticized it over the years. But as I learned the ins and outs, and management continued to support it, I warmed up to it for internal communications.

Remember, people won’t take to switching platforms frequently. Jumping around from tool to tool will just give employees more reason to do their own thing.

3. Less is more

Try to find a platform that will cater to as many functions as possible: project management, department updates, company-wide updates, water-cooler conversations, etc. You don’t need bells and whistles, and you don’t need separate platforms for every type of communication. The simpler the process, the more engaging and effective it will be.

4. Don’t force casual conversation

On a related note, don’t force “casual” conversation right away. As people warm up to the new internal communications tool, they’ll settle into a natural routine with the platform and with each other. The result will be much better than if you try to force personal discussions.

5. Get buy-in from management

If you’re the CEO, make sure the VPs on down use the platform. If you’re in HR, make sure the C suite is on board. Upper management needs to push the idea of the platform as a method of ground-level communication; otherwise the ground level probably won’t adopt it. With management buy-in, the platform is much more likely to take off.

6. Don’t repeat yourself

If you use the new platform to push your next company event and then email everyone to remind them to check the new update (or worse–repeat the same information in an email “just to make sure everyone sees it”), you may as well have just emailed everyone and saved yourself the time of posting it elsewhere.

While you can and should send reminder emails during the adoption phase, don’t continually rely on email or you’ll undermine your efforts of any new comms platform.

7. Set boundaries for email

Just because you have an internal communications platform doesn’t mean employees have to stop using email entirely. For example, you may want to use Slack for 95 percent of updates and conversations but keep email as the preferred channel for CEO updates or weekly reports from managers. Just set a precedent and stick to it.

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