In the 1950s, Betty Crocker introduced her ready–made cake mix to the US market. The idea was simple: you take the dried cake ingredients, add water and bake.  But despite the clear demand for convenience foods, the customer reaction was underwhelming. The company ran a series of focus groups with housewives (their target audience) and found some surprising results. 

While many housewives liked the product they also mentioned feelings of guilt and detachment from the product, as the cakes tasted homemade yet involved little effort on their part. Taking on board these views, the method for making the cakes was changed. As well as adding water to the cake mix, the recipe also required a beaten egg. This addition to the recipe brought significant benefits, as those buying the mix felt they now had a clear role in making the cake. Sales increased dramatically.  

Hearing this story made me think about the role of social media as an engagement tool in the workplace. As the IPA research shows, it's not just about senior staff using it as a convenient, top-down way of sending updates and messages to groups or teams, it requires adding a 'beaten egg' element so that all staff are involved in the process.  This means employers should move beyond seeing social media in the workplace as a passive way to engage with staff, and treat it as a genuine means of two-way engagement.   

In practise though, there is often much confusion about how social media platforms can be made to work effectively in a work setting. The new research from the IPA, commissioned by Acas, looks at the experience of employers using social media platforms (also known as enterprise social networks) that have been specifically designed for work purposes. Examples of these include 'Yammer''Jive' or more bespoke tools which are based online, collaborative and aim to foster transparent communications between colleagues and senior staff.  

The research shows that social media at work is most effective in terms of engaging with staff across different work sites or home workers, and keeping them in touch with the business aims and objectives. As an engagement tool, it also works best when it involves staff at all levels.  This can mean anything from encouraging all staff to post updates online, share ideas or simply take part in problem-solving using managed group conversations. And these activities work particularly well when complemented with other forms of engagement such as face-to-face meetings and staff surveys. This helps to give employees a genuine voice in the workplace, using a mix of communication channels.

But going back to the cake analogy, we all know that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It's not just about involving staff in the social media tools, it's equally important for senior staff to act on what they hear, and follow up on what staff have said to make sure social media tools have a clear purpose and are seen to work.  

The new report has a list of the ten ingredients you need to harness the full potential of social media platforms at work. You can find them in our report here:


Rachel Pinto and Adrian Wakeling, Acas

The full report and the case studies can be downloaded on our website: