In order to communicate messages to workers in a complex business environment, a majority of companies plan to increase their use of social media in the coming year, according to a survey by Watson Wyatt, a leading global consulting firm.

Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of companies plan to increase their use of social media in 2010, according to the Watson Wyatt 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study, which surveyed 328 companies from various regions around the world. Overall, 78 percent of global respondents have increased their electronic communication in the last 24 months, and 55 percent have increased face-to-face communication. However, nearly half (48 percent) have decreased their print communication over the past 24 months.

“Companies continue to explore using social media as the next communication frontier,” said Kathryn Yates, global leader of communication consulting 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.”

While interest is growing, many employers report common hurdles to implementing social media. Among employers that did not expand their use of social media, more than one-third (36 percent) cited the lack of information technology support or inadequate technical capability. Forty percent indicate limited knowledge of the topic, and nearly half (45 percent) of companies cite the lack of staff or resources.

For now, the traditional communication channels remain the most popular for many of employers’ messages to their workers. According to the report, most employers prefer to communicate changes to business performance via staff meetings (73 percent). Employers view financial education as best delivered through their intranet (43 percent). And employers still prefer communicating changes to pay and job security face-to-face (58 percent and 48 percent respectively).

“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. “However, 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.”