by super man | December 4, 2014

Are you thinking about implementing a mobile or social strategy to connect with your organization’s employees “anytime, anywhere?” If not, consider it a big missed opportunity.

Your employees — just like your customers — are active on their mobile devices, engaging in valuable conversations via social media, with or without your participation.

Today, with so many organizations challenged to capture their employees’ attention, mobile technology and social media present a unique and powerful opportunity for communicators, particularly with the growing millennial workforce. We can look to several brands that are leading the way in engaging employees real-time using social media, and leveraging mobile apps and text message platforms to connect with front-line workers. Companies such as Starbucks, UPS, HSBC Bank, and MGM Grand Hotels have lively platforms for connecting with employees and are active in promoting employee interests, success stories and even discounts using authentic, bite-sized content.

At North Shore-LIJ — one of the country’s leading healthcare organizations and New York’s largest private employer with more than 50,000 employees — we are testing the waters on social media and plan to launch a mobile app in 2015. With a frontline workforce caring for patients around the clock, we simply can’t afford to continue relying on traditional communications for connecting with employees. Statistically, more than 80 percent of our incoming workforce is comprised of millennials (i.e., those born between 1980 and 2000) and the majority bring their smart phones to work. On average, North Shore-LIJ hires 100 employees a week – nearly 5,000 a year – which equates to 10% of our total workforce. What this means is that in roughly 10 years, the organization will be dominated by millennials and Gen-Xers and by then, mobile and cloud usage will become the business norm.

While our SharePoint-based Intranet tucked behind a firewall serves a purpose, it is not yet accessible via mobile and it can’t compete with the conversational appeal of social media (I say this even though we recently invested in a SharePoint upgrade and are debuting a redesigned Intranet in the first quarter of 2015). However, what this reflects is the need for a diversified communications platform customized to the target audiences you serve. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach and that’s why we are trying new tools and leveraging technology with which our employees are already accustomed in their personal lives.

After surviving Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and more recently, handling Ebola preparedness communications, my team has gleaned some valuable lessons about how to reach our employees. Case in point: After Hurricane Sandy our organization set up an emergency resource hotline and website to help hundreds of employees displaced by the storm. We sent dozens of emails and posted video messages from our CEO offering help. But with technology gaps and intermittent Internet accessibility, what we learned was that we were essentially talking to ourselves. We were not using social media to reach our staff, and that’s when we realized there’s a legitimate business need to connect with our workforce real-time.

Without a mobile-accessible Intranet or an easy access email platform in place, it only makes sense that we have turned to social media to start and join employee conversations. Not surprisingly, we have seen some early successes. Recently our team took to Twitter to alert employees about the new Ebola preparedness guidelines and training being offered. By giving our employees genuine and useful content– and by having leaders engage on the new channels, we’re embracing the much-needed culture change to communicate with our workforce. And this is just the beginning. With the power of a mobile app, I believe we’ll be able to drive even more connectivity among our 50,000 employees who crave instant access to content on their smart phones.

The firewall that communicators have been stuck behind is about to burn down. Better get your hose out.

Strong communication improves employee connection and engagement.

Ally Bunin is AVP of internal communications for North Shore-LIJ Health System, and the 2016 chair-elect of the PRSA Employee Communications Section. In her role, she leads internal communications for the organization and also oversees the Careers social media platform. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow on Twitter: @AllisonBunin and @PRSAEmpComms

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