How Top Employers Leverage Social Media It's not just for recruiting anymore. Some firms use it to communicate and collaborate with employees.

By Marcus Erb

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It is clear social media is changing all parts of society, from sharing pictures with grandmothers to the making of celebrities and billionaires (or in the case of Mark Zuckerberg, both). And now, the wave is creating the next generation of workforce leadership. This evolution is well represented by the best employers, the standard setters in adopting new technologies to leverage and strengthen their workforces.

Already, tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have been widely adopted as recruitment tools. For example, Insomniac Games, a Burbank, Calif.-based video game developer, uses social media to post job openings and distribute podcasts with "I want your job" discussions that share what working at the studio is like and what candidates need to know when applying for jobs there.

Beyond recruiting, the great employers have evolved their communication mechanisms. Twitter, blogging and social networking sites have created expectations, particularly among Gen Y workers, that information should be real-time and transparent. Senior management at McMurry, a Phoenix-based marketing firm, responded to this need by establishing electronic, social media-based communication channels. The company's new intranet, Channel 8, provides a central location for company news, internal blogs, discussion boards, recognition, polls, and education. In order to draw staff into the communication, Channel 8 is customizable by the user. All McMurry staff members can select the widgets they prefer and the RSS feeds they want. An internal microblog similar to Twitter posts short notes of congratulations, thanks and random humor. All senior managers contribute regularly to this site, including CEO Chris McMurry, who regularly posts on his internal blog, Conversations with Chris. The topics that have included business trends, helping McMurry be the best place to work, how to spend company money, and what to do in the face of difficult decisions.

The exchange of ideas is also quickening at the best employers. Employees at Bridge Worldwide, a Cincinnati-based digital and relationship marketing company, can contribute ideas on improving the company through several avenues. People are invited to post suggestions on the company's internal sites, the Bridge Wiki and Bridge Forum, as well as the organization's Facebook group. These vehicles help people learn about the company and contribute immediately to the open, ongoing conversation.

In addition to exchanging ideas, the best workplaces are using social networking and blogging to reinforce personal connections between employees. Management at Atlassian, a San Francisco software developer, encourages staff to blog regularly and to participate in discussions of those blogs. These blogs cover a wide array of topics relevant to the business, like industry shifts and technical news, yet also often includes local, fun news such as births, weddings and other personal employee milestones.

A more fundamental change social media has introduced is the radically increased ability for individuals to speak to the world about their work experiences -- both positive and negative -- giving them unprecedented influence over an employer's reputation. Some organizations may recoil from this, but the best embrace it. As Arrow Strategies, a Detroit staffing firm, increased its online presence over the past year, its leaders have found an even more effective way to reach not only their employees, but also their friends, spreading the word about everything 'Arrow.' Believing in transparency, Arrow leaders allow free discussion on their online communities yet are quick to respond honestly and openly to any less-than-flattering remarks.

Underlying this openness is a foundation of trust. The best workplaces have a strong foundation of trust built with employees that enables leaders to feel confident about what gets posted while also feeling employees will be forgiving if they slip up. This trust is demonstrated by the leaders of Integrity Applications Incorporated, a Chantilly, Va.-based engineering and software systems developer. The company allows employees to post anonymous responses to leadership blogs on the company's intranet and also to edit the company's wiki, "Integripedia," a source for information regarding the company, training programs, current projects and various technical topics of interest.

Social media continues to transform the way people connect and share information. The leaders of the best workplaces have embraced these new opportunities to speed communication and collaboration, deepen connections with their employees, and build their employer brands. Following their examples, all organizations now have powerful tools to build a new world workforce.

Marcus Erb is a senior research partner and senior consultant with the Great Place to Work® Institute. He focuses on the financial services, manufacturing and health care industries.

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