The financial downturn has predictably led to some hesitation in upfront communication between employers and employees, but the tide of accountability is turning, and executives are innovatively tackling the problem.
Sixty-five percent of companies plan to increase their use of social media in 2010 according to the 2009/2010 Watson Wyatt Communication ROI Study, which surveyed 328 companies around the world.
"The companies that are most effective in their total communications programs are the ones that are looking at how to successfully integrate social media," says Kathryn Yates, global director of communication consulting at Watson Wyatt. "There is a very strong correlation between companies that have effective communication and those that meet their financial targets."
Among those organizations that did not expand their use of social media, 36 percent indicated the reason as being a lack of IT support or inadequate technical capability. Another 40 percent cited a lack of knowledge, and 45 percent reported a lack of staff or resources.
"After hearing people talk about social media at conferences, I would have guessed the legal department restrictions were the main reason restricting its use," notes Yates. "But that's actually at the bottom of the list of reasons (at 19 percent)."
She adds that, despite the economy and lack of hiring among businesses, it's important for companies to upgrade their capabilities and make sure they have the right people to stay competitive. Even if resources are limited, people can be groomed depending on their own desire for career development.
"You don't necessarily need to add new talent," says Yates. "You can build up skills from interest that is already there toward a new media direction."
Another reason for lack of social media use was lack of CEO or senior management support (33 percent).
"We get trapped in history and habit as executives get comfortable with the types of media they've used over the years," says Yates. "But social media is a collaborative process. You can't control a message all the time, but you can manage it to the appropriate targeted audience."
The survey additionally showed that 78 percent of respondents have increased the volume of their electronic communications within the past two years; 55 percent have increased face-to-face communications; and 48 percent have decreased the use of print communications.
Yates mainly attributes the cut in print media to cost but also offers the caveat that a great deal of print media is online these days, and this is a "new" format that companies have been embracing.
In terms of the increases in face-to-face and electronic communication methods, companies often rely on the type of message to decide how to deliver it, according to Yates. For example, a print document for annual benefits enrollment might be best placed on the web for employees to access anytime during work hours, but if there is a significant whole-scale change to benefits, this message would be best communicated face-to-face. When audiences are more globally dispersed, live webcasts are a reasonable social media option.
And the world continues to find ways to make its different ends meet.