With the aim of bettering communication with their employees, two-thirds of companies plan on increasing their use of social media next year, according to employment consultancy Watson Wyatt. Sixty-five percent of the 328 global companies polled by Watson Wyatt plan on increasing their social media usage in 2010. The benefits of using social media to improve workplace communications are obvious, especially when one considers the values of real time over email and the potential savings fostered by things like VoIP. There is also a sense of community that can be established with social media, as well as an ability to increase employee engagement.

"Companies continue to explore using social media as the next communication frontier," said Kathryn Yates, global practice director of communications at Watson Wyatt.

"Today's workers are looking for authentic, timely messages that address how business changes affect them personally. Social media engages employees in real time and on a variety of topics," Yates said.

The biggest thing holding employers back from implementing social media is lack of resources and support. Thirty-six percent said that they lacked the IT support or adequate technical capability; 40 percent lacked sufficient knowledge and 45 percent lacked the staff or resources.

While there are still many hurdles to implementing these still rather non-traditional communications practices into place, the study’s authors suggest that the recession has in some ways accelerated the corporate adoption of social-media based communications.

"While traditional communication channels are still preferred in some instances, the downturn has put a premium on effective, innovative communication," said John Finney, senior communication consultant at Watson Wyatt.

Some of the critical barriers to adopting social media for corporate communications are cultural rather than technological. There still isn’t a standard set of best practices for the use of digital communications in the workplace (as in the world).

"It is important for companies to take full advantage of these new, exciting forms of communication by developing strategies before making any sudden leaps and then continually measuring the programs' effectiveness," Wyatt said.

Most people know at least the fundamentals of workplace etiquette when it comes to face-to-face communications, but we are far from having a true consensus on electronic etiquette, though the growing number of netiquette advice columns, like Jenna Wortham’s Internet Protocol blog at the NY Times, are addressing these issues.

By Mark Alvarez