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RISMEDIA, June 11, 2009-Employers faced with reduced communication budgets and resources are turning to social media to keep their workforce engaged, according to a survey released this week.

In its “Employee Engagement Survey,” the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Research Foundation teamed with Buck Consultants, an ACS company, to determine how organizations are communicating with employees to keep them engaged and productive. The survey includes responses from nearly 1,500 participants representing a broad industry and geographic base. The survey results are being released this week at the annual IABC World Conference in San Francisco.

“Communicating for optimal employee engagement is always a timely topic, but even more so during challenging economic times,” said Robin McCasland, a director in Buck Consultants’ communication practice and 2009-2010 chair of IABC Research Foundation. “Our results represent opportunities for communicators to have greater influence in delivering messages that encourage employees to remain productive, and to understand how their work contributes toward achieving business priorities.”

Almost four-fifths (79%) of the respondents report that they use social media frequently to engage employees and foster productivity, outranking even e-mail (75%). Company blogs are the most popular social media tool currently in use (47%), with discussion boards ranking the highest for future planned use (33%).

“It’s encouraging to see the rising popularity of social media in employee communication,” said Julie Freeman, ABC, APR, president of IABC. “Companies are moving away from the one-way communication model where they would send out information hoping people would read it. Using the various social media tools, companies can now engage employees in discussions and foster conversations between teams across geographic and other boundaries.”

Current use of social networking sites such as Twitter (21%), Yammer (20%), and Facebook (18%) is significant, but organizations are planning to use those tools even more in the future.

Other key survey findings include:

– More than half of the respondents (52%) report their communication budgets have decreased and 35% report their communication staff has been reduced over the past 12 months
– The most common reasons cited for communication budget and staff cuts are: the economic downturn (46%) and organizational mandates (42%)
– Forty-eight percent report their employee communication strategy has stayed the same despite the economic downturn
– The frequency of ongoing employee listening reflected an “all or nothing” approach, with 62% of respondents who regularly engage in employee listening activities such as surveys and focus groups, and 30% who rarely or never engage in these methods
– Fifty-six percent of top executives are not using social media at this time, and nearly half (46%) of organizations are not measuring social media’s effectiveness
– Almost six in 10 respondents (59%) think their company has a well-established internal or employer brand