Social media for internal communication, when compared to the proliferation of social media for other purposes, is a relatively unexplored business tool, according to a new survey from Towers Watson.

The “2013 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Survey” found 56 percent of employers surveyed currently use various social media tools as part of their internal communication initiatives. Furthermore, among those embracing social media for internal use, there is little consensus as to which networks are the most effective.

When asked how they would rate the effectiveness of social media tools, only 30 to 40 percent of respondents rated most of the tools as highly effective. And only four in 10 rated the use of social media technology as cost effective.

"We believe that social media can be a great tool for communicating with employees in the workplace," said Kathryn Yates, global leader of communication consulting at Towers Watson. "By its nature, social media is designed to build community and could help engage employees on key topics such as performance, collaboration, culture and values. As the need for global collaboration increases, we expect more companies will join those already leveraging social media to creatively communicate those messages."

The Towers Watson survey also found that while 41 percent of employers say they are effective at building a shared experience with their employees as a whole, the percentage drops by roughly half (23 percent) when it comes to building community with remote workers.

The rates of usage and effectiveness of social media tools among survey respondents is listed below, with the first number being the rate of usage and the second the percentage of those who found the tool effective:

  • Instant messaging - 73 percent; 48 percent
  • Streaming audio or video - 61 percent; 48 percent
  • HR or other function journal or blog - 55 percent; 35 percent
  • Enhanced online employee profiles - 54 percent; 37 percent
  • Social networks - 53 percent; 29 percent
  • Employee journals or blogs - 52 percent; 37 percent
  • SMS messaging - 51 percent; 39 percent
  • Leadership journal or blog - 48 percent; 36 percent
  • Collaboration sites - 45 percent; 33 percent
  • Video-sharing site - 44 percent; 36 percent
  • Apps or other mobile approaches - 44 percent; 39 percent

A total of 290 large and midsize organizations from across North America, Europe and Asia participated in the survey.

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