Judging by what I’m seeing and reading, an increasing number of companies are considering how they should leverage social media to communicate with their customers,  influential journalists or even critics. Many are engaged in outreach programs using some of the available applications and tools. But surprisingly fewer companies seem to be applying the same diligence and effort to their internal audiences beyond ensuring their employees are somehow informed or involved – in some capacity – with their external programs.

A cursory look at the available research and some case studies provides some hints on the reasons for this ambivalence.  A Watson Wyatt report suggests social media can improve internal communication and employee engagement…but also confirms many companies focus on potential risks and inhibit access to tools. A survey by Avanade (a global IT consulting firm) found more than half of the 500 top executives surveyed resist the adoption of social media out of fear it would sap worker productivity. A survey by IABC/Buck found 4/5 of respondents use social media frequently to drive productivity & engage employees – but 56% of executives are not using social media.

There is ample anecdotal and empirical evidence, however, that supports the premise that providing a robust forum for internal dialogue and collaboration should pay rich dividends for organizations and drive employee engagement. MIT research shows 40% of creative teams’ productivity is directly explained by the amount of communication they have with others to discover, gather, and internalize information. Other MIT research shows employees with the most extensive digital networks are 7% more productive than their colleagues, and those with the most cohesive face-to-face networks are 30% more productive.

With this background, I would make the following arguments:

1.The best social media strategy is proactively integrated across audiences, objectives and platforms

2.Your internal audience should not be an add-on – your employees are potentially your biggest fans & best advocates…or biggest critics

3.Every company should provide a robust forum for employee conversation & collaboration

I would further advocate that all companies should strive to develop their own Workforce 2.0 culture – defined as an organization shares information/content freely – allowing employees to help create and share content – and provides employees with platforms/tools to engage in candid conversation, work together, solve problems and contribute to the evolution and success of the organization. This 2.0 culture entails four key attributes – transparency, trust, empowerment and innovation. Perhaps it is these philosophical and cultural requirements that are the stumbling block for many companies, rather than technology or myopia.

I’m certainly not suggesting that all companies should follow the same social media strategy or dive in without careful diligence and planning. The formula need not be complex or expensive, but it should be smart and driven by business objectives. But organizations that don’t address this issue are missing a huge opportunity…and risk becoming increasingly irrelevant in the marketplace.