Social Stats UPSersI talk with internal communications professionals each week, and the best and brightest are always looking for new ways to communicate more effectively with their employees. Naturally, these communicators are interested in how they can use social media to improve their employee messaging. Social media has marked a shift in communications – it has significantly changed the way employees communicate in social, mobile, and collaborative ways. Internal communications professionals must respond by applying these behavioral shifts to their communications strategies.

I am often asked about Enterprise Social Networks and using private Facebook groups for employee communications, but more recently I have seen an increased interest in using Twitter. Some communicators would gasp at the thought of using social media for employee communications, but others see the immediate benefit in the opportunity to capitalize on their employees’ existing social behaviors.

Regardless of your immediate reaction to the idea, using Twitter for comms is trendy, and you’re likely to hear about it at every internal comms conference this year. Several well-known companies with strong employee engagement have been employing this strategy for years including Starbucks (@starbucksprtnrs) and Zappos (@insidezappos).

Twitter can be a helpful part of your internal comms strategy, but before jumping on the bandwagon, it’s important to consider the limitations and nuances of the platform.

1. Audience … Are your employees active on Twitter?

Consider taking an internal poll to understand the percentage of your employees who are active on Twitter. According to a study published by the Pew Research Center earlier this year, only 23% of adult internet users are on Twitter. Usage is highest among people under the age of 50, higher income earners, and college graduates. Consider whether these numbers match your employee base, and gauge interest by interviewing groups of employees.

2. Message length … Can you get your point across in 140 characters or less?

Twitter is designed to communicate quick sound bytes of information, and the entire platform is built upon character limits. It’s a great place for quick shoutouts, short announcements, and sharing images, but it’s not a place to post several paragraphs of text explaining changes to employee policies, nor is it a place to disseminate scholarship applications for advanced education.

3. Timing … Is it ok if employees miss your messages?

If you need to reach employees in real-time for events like weather delays, shift cancellations, or emergencies, Twitter is not a recommended channel. While it may be more instant than a phone tree or employee call-in number, employees must subscribe to your tweets and enable push notifications to receive instant updates from your feed. Moreover, if your instant alerts apply only to smaller groups of employees, there is no way to limit your communications from broadcasting to your entire following.

4. Privacy … Do you want your internal conversations to be exposed externally?

It may be an obvious point, but it is critical to consider that everything posted on Twitter is viewable to the public. Employees, non-employees, competitors, and reporters will all be watching your posts, even if you state in your  profile that the stream is designed for your employees. You will still need to find a channel to communicate “internal only” messages to employees, and be cautious in posting, realizing that all information shared could come under scrutiny.

The public nature of Twitter can be considered one of its greatest risks and drawbacks, but many companies have found ways to capitalize on it.

When managed correctly, Twitter can be an excellent way to provide the outside world with an inside look at your company’s culture. Future employees can take a look at your Twitter stream and get a quick snapshot of daily life at your company. This can be incredibly helpful in recruiting, especially with millennials and other demographics that are more likely to be on Twitter.

At Red e App, we use Instagram for this same function – we take real moments happening at our offices and publish them for a fun look into our culture. We have had several applicants write to us and comment on how great our company culture looks based on our Instagram feed.

Public tweets also provide an opportunity for public employee recognition. The @UPSers Twitter account does a great job of recognizing employees across the globe and sharing stores of team members going above and beyond.

Can Twitter be an effective part of your internal communications strategy? Absolutely! Just be sure to consider audience, message length, timing, and privacy – and make sure it’s part of your overall strategy.

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