Social Media in Business? Sounds too.. fun.

26 01 2011

By now almost everyone is at least aware of social media – the Facebooks, the Twitters, getting Linkedin (link-a-din?) – and in too many cases those who aren’t getting involved with technology are abandoning it entirely.  As it’s the start of a new semester, those of us still in school are meeting a slew of new faces and learning a ton of ‘new’ classroom policies.  Most classrooms have the same rules, as is the case with many businesses, but like businesses each classroom has certain policies unique to their purpose, or the leader’s vision.  Usually such rules or policies are logistical, how many absences are you allowed, or if participation in discussion factor into the grade; in some cases policies are more extreme, such as one professor who has taken a staunch opposition towards everything technological.  In a scene right out of the ’90s my classmates and I are stuck copying from an overhead projector and writing notes rather than suffering through an animated power-point presentation typing notes, and simultaneously browsing the web on our laptops.  There are of course grumblings and those who don’t show up to class, but in the end the professor is the boss.  He likes things his way, and he doesn’t want us wasting time on Facebook, or instant messaging our neighbor a question, it’s his realm.

In this case, the professor can play the boss, but only because he’s not one, after all he’s not depending on these grades for profit.  In the corporate world executives rely on employees for production.  This inadvertently gives employees a great deal of responsibility and power, considering that without supply, demand can not be met.  It’s widely agreed upon that unhappy workers are the most troublesome, and slightly lesser accepted is the thought that happy workers are more productive.  With this understanding, and in our world where employee satisfaction is increasingly meaningful, it’s important to evaluate the most effective/efficient way to please your employees while aslo encouraging dialogue to be sure that such satisfaction truly exists.

Some businesses block or prohibit the use of certain websites or internet tools, believing their use to be distracting, time-consuming, and counterproductive.  However, a study done in England reports that 8 in 10 workers believe that being trusted to manage their own time and internet usage is more important than pay.  Similarly, almost a fifth of employees would turn down a job if that job didn’t allow them personal e-mail access during work.  The study shows this trend is most evident with people under the age of 35, the multi-taskers, a generation that has never had to truly search for an answer thanks to the good graces of google.  It’s not the case that people today are lazier or feel the need to be constantly entertained, the office day has simply grown longer due to increased pressures, and so individuals seek to bring more of themselves to the office.

Companies are becoming more and more involved using social media with the customer, but companies continue to hesitate when that social media involves their employees – admittedly, things can get messy.  There could be inappropriate pictures or posts, someone could post some type of confidential information resulting in legal trouble, and water-cooler gossip is no longer contained to the water-cooler; it’s pretty much management’s worst nightmare.  But all of these problems, are problems that are already happening.  The only thing that’s changing is the space where the problems are occurring.  Many companies think before developing any sort of social media program or initiative they need to create and define some sort of social media policy. In actuality, the majority of problems you might encounter on the internet are probably already covered in your companies policy book; this doesn’t mean you won’t have to develop some sort of media policy, but you at least have a skeletal frame, covering harassment among other things. Most importantly employees need to be made aware that their online identity is linked to their identity as an employee of your corporation, and inappropriate actions will be met with consequences.

Stephen Bard, the compliance communications manager at Wells Fargo, believes the services social media have to offer can benefit companies but companies need to be watchful as well.  He says companies should show good faith and trust their employees, but recognizes mistakes are made without malicious intent; it’s necessary to monitor employees and verify there aren’t any slip-ups, in order to properly protect the company.  More dangerous than internal gossip or bad press, the posting of confidential or protected information could land the company in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission – or other industry authorities – possibly resulting in a painfully large fine.  It’s not too difficult to keep employees in check though, new software tracking employees on social media sites is becoming more prevalent and reliable every day.  Leaving little room for error, Bard additionally encourages companies to connect with their employees through social media; following them on twitter, friending them on Facebook, or connecting with them on Linkedin.  (leading by example, Bard’s made 321 connections).  It’s not wise to abandon these new technologies, but many companies aren’t educating employees in a comprehensive manner, touching only on a few restrictions and leaving the rest to chance.

One of the best opportunities for growth when discussing social media and employee relations, is the use of social media to generate feedback.  It’s already being utilized in a plethora of customer programs, but companies aren’t lining up the same way for insight into the minds of their employees. Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll examine how companies are using social media to communicate with employees, encourage learning, find talent, and how the use of this social media is changing or impacting corporate culture – while providing examples of specific companies and the tools they’re utilizing.

Hopefully, my attempt at feigned technological ignorance in the first sentence of this post didn’t confuse you, it is pronounced “Linked-in.”  Want some other reasons to think about using social media internally: team-building, collaboration, recruiting, talent acquisition, not to mention it’s extremely cost effective if not free!

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