Social media use at work is not a technology problem; it’s a management problem. And it’s also a management opportunity.
Smart companies like IBM and the Mayo Clinic acknowledge social media and embrace it. In fact, there’s growing evidence that socially-empowered employees outperform their peers. Connected employees use social tools to get things done.
Sure, you need to make sure employees aren’t wasting time online. Social sites are likely the most popular destinations for non-work online activity. According to Alexa.com, Facebook is the second most popular site in the United States, YouTube is fourth and Twitter, ninth. The top 20 sites are mostly social sites, or portals like Yahoo that feature social elements.
But think twice before blocking them, which sends an explicit message that management doesn’t trust employees. More importantly, blocking doesn’t work. With a smart phone, you’ve got the Internet in your pocket, out of reach of the IT staff. According to ComScore, between January 2009 and January 2010, mobile Twitter use soared 347 percent, while mobile Facebook use increased 112 percent. The mobile Internet is growing more quickly than any other technology rollout in history.
A policy will help employees understand what constitutes appropriate social media use. IBM’s social media policy reads: “Don’t forget your day job. You should make sure that your online activities do not interfere with your job or commitments to customers.” Other policies acknowledge “incidental” non-work social use. Under this model, it’s OK to use Facebook to check in with your kids after school. After all, you’re a better employee if you’re not worrying about your children.
The real benefits of social media are apparent when these tools are used in support of business activities. You can use social media to connect with your customers, put managers in touch with thought leaders, and solve problems at every level. You can:
- Connect with customers: JetBlue has almost 1.6 million followers on Twitter, using the account to provide lightning-fast customer service, arranging wheelchairs for passengers, broadcasting weather delays and sharing service enhancements.
- Find talented employees: “Social networking technology is absolutely the best thing to happen to recruiting — ever,” said Maureen Crawford-Hentz, a recruiter for Osram Sylvania, a lighting company. Through LinkedIn, 1,000 contacts can lead you to the profiles of 100,000 possible new hires. Instead of waiting for the right resume to come to you, you can use social networks to locate and recruit the best candidate.
- Learn from the best: If you want to learn the best practices for search engine optimization, follow the top search blogs. If you’re a solar energy engineer, follow those blogs. Whatever your field, there are experts writing about it, literally giving away current, high-quality content you can’t find anywhere else. Alternately, if you’re the expert, you can establish your own leadership position and reach new customers through your blog.
John Dunne famously wrote, “No man is an island.” Any business leader will tell you that relationships power success. So don’t lose sight: amid the “LOLs,” the snarky Twitter posts and the Roomba-riding cats, there are millions of smart people, connecting and sharing information as never before.
New knowledge. New relationships. Available at the click of a mouse. It would be dumb to miss out on the business opportunities afforded by social media.
A version of this article ran in the Wichita Eagle business section on June 17, 2010.