Few companies in the United States are better-known for their corporate culture than Google. In addition to being one of the most innovative and successful technology firms in the world, it attracts top talent because of its perks, like free spa services, free on-site doctors, and a dozen free on-site gourmet restaurants—or at least it did. Even Google felt the crunch of the recession. The challenge to maintain the energy of a tech start-up multiplied after it made its first layoffs in company history in 2009 and eliminated some of those famous perks. Google remains healthier than most, but it shares a problem with many companies in the aftermath of the Great Recession: how to maintain employee engagement after a period of uncertainty?

According to a 2010 Nielsen report, 75% of global internet-users visit social networks and blogs, constituting 22% of all time spent online—and this figure is growing. Between 2009 and 2010 alone, users spent 66% more time on social networks and blogs than they did the year before. If you work in a consumer-facing industry, your company probably utilizes social media to encourage consumers to engage with your products and brands. But what about your employees? Have you asked them what they have to say?

Here at The History Factory, we have been busy helping a number of our clients develop programs that use the web to help them engage with, motivate, and learn from their employees. One of our clients, a telecommunications company with over 30,000 employees spread across the United States, partnered with us to create a cutting-edge social networking platform for their intranet. Struggling to foster a single corporate culture in a company with multiple regional identities, our client sought to unify employees around the company’s history.

By logging on with their unique user profile, answering “questions of the week” based on their personal history at the company, uploading photos and videos, and exploring what their colleagues post, employees have the opportunity to craft the company’s story through their experiences. It is also an opportunity for company leadership to connect on a more intimate level with employees and open new lines of communication. Social networking is democratic—each person can have their say.

Beyond creating a space for employees to engage with their shared history, the site benefits our client’s corporate communications in general. We incorporate materials uploaded to the site into a corporate history publication that we are also developing for this client. By creating a back-end database, the stories, photos, and videos that are collected will be accessible and available for communicators in the future.

History is a wonderful resource for engaging employees through social networking. Sharing stories about a company’s heritage grounds employee’s identities in the past while creating lasting connections for the future. New employees learn from company veterans, and everyone benefits from the sense of community that story-telling creates. By looking back at examples of the company overcoming other challenges, employees are reassured that their company has the tools to endure and even thrive in this period of economic turmoil. Establishing a positive mentality among employees is invaluable—even more than a trip to the spa.