Social media in the workplace

A friend of mine is looking for work in the accounting field. A few days ago he contacted me to see if I knew someone at a company where he was interviewing. In fact, I did. So, I reached out to the person I knew through Twitter, since that was the quickest way to make contact.

About an hour later, I received an e-mail from my Twitter buddy telling me she was using the “old-fashioned” way to communicate, since her company had barred personal use of Twitter and other forms of social media at work. Oddly, the home page of the company’s Web site has a Twitter widget encouraging followers of the company’s tweets.

This is not the first time I have encountered corporate leadership’s “do as I say; not as I do” approach to employees’ use of social media at work. And for a multitude of reasons it’s this kind of old-fashioned thinking that gets in the way of a company’s ability to gain market superiority and establish a leadership role in its industry.

For so many company leaders, there’s great excitement and curiosity about what social media has to offer. After all, when Facebook announced in September that this infant of a company is now turning a profit with 300 million subscribers and 3 million more joining every day, that turned a number of heads in corporate America.

Think of the potential of the audience a company can reach with a Facebook fan page. Consider how powerful and effective those tiny little Facebook ads are because they are shown to the exact market demographic a company desires and no others. No wonder company leaders are excited about what these tools have to offer them for marketing purposes.

Yet rampant fears of employees wasting valuable paid work time to check on friends’ status updates and randomly tweet to the world about what they’re doing are the topic of conversation in all too many management meetings. And what about the IT implications of opening firewalls to allow access to these Web sites?

Time to rethink

Certainly, lack of productivity and information systems security are worthy of great concern for any employer, but those are different issues than the fear of “what ifs” about employees using social media. What if employees spend time tweeting on Twitter? What if they play games on Facebook? What if they’re updating their profile on LinkedIn?

OK, what if? Seems that’s more of a management issue to be addressed individually with employees who don’t understand their job responsibilities. And security concerns are tackled every day as hackers find more and more creative ways to attack corporate infrastructures. Neither are acceptable reasons to forbid employees from social media Web sites.

Let’s approach this from a different vantage point. What if while perusing Twitter for five minutes during her workday, an employee discovers information about a new practice or technique that could vastly improve her ability to do her job and your company’s manufacturing efficiency?

What if within seconds of it happening, an employee on Twitter learns about an earthquake in China that will have an impact on your company’s supply chain, and it allows you to instantly put in place a contingency plan so as to minimally disrupt your business?

What if an employee answers a question on LinkedIn and in the process raves about what a great company he works for while all the world is reading?

What if an employee, perplexed with which software is the best to purchase, sets up a random poll on Facebook to gauge opinions of users and finds the right solution, while saving your company the expense of buying the wrong software?

I hear again and again from clients that they’re excited about the prospects of using social media to market their companies, but they’re scared about opening the door for their employees. My response is quite simple – your employees are already using social media, so use your employees as part of your social media strategy.

Engage your employees. Give them all the tools and the permission they need to market the company they work for. Let them know that they’re expected to use social media at work to help them in their jobs, connect to customers and help their company grow.

Show them that you believe in the power of social media, so train them in the best practices and time-saving tools that exist today for social media.

Some of the most innovative tools we use in our company were found on social media by our staff. We use social media to pitch story ideas to reporters, trend social interest topics for our clients and market their products and services.

Social media is a very, very valuable tool. Don’t miss its potential because of your fears.

<font size=1>Laurie J. Storey-Manseau, principal of Concord-based StoreyManseau LLC, can be reached at 603-229-0278 or </font size>