The introduction of Facebook, Twitter and other digital media has opened up a whole new world of social interaction, and potential distraction in the office environment. With the development of these communication platforms, we can be connected to friends, family and colleagues at the click of a button. Consider that in South Africa alone there are over four million Facebook users and globally the tally is around 750 million. While in the Twitter universe, South Africa has become the 10th largest twitter user in the world; the Mobility 2011 study released in February this year, reports approximately 1-million twitter users in South Africa¹. There's no denying that social media has transformed the way in which we communicate in a world that is now permanently connected.
With the growth of social media rapidly increasing, so too are concerns about its application within the corporate territory. Every business that operates traditionally wants to understand how social media potentially impacts the way in which people work. Will it affect productivity? Should it be controlled? Or, is it a tool that should be embraced to enhance business communication - to external and internal stakeholder audiences?
Before these questions can be debated, it's important to understand exactly what social media is. Wayne Levine, managing director of NXT\ Digital Innovation, an award winning full service digital agency, defines social media as an 'online' destination or 'meeting' place where an audience is able to share and communicate with one another around a common interest. These "places" include established websites like Facebook, communications applications like Mxit and company websites and intranets.
"There are hundreds of different social media destinations and applications in the world today," says Levine. "In addition to the 'social' destinations like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, there are also the specialised 'networking' destinations like LinkedIn, where the sole purpose is to connect on a professional level and share resources and knowledge."
Like it or not, social media is here to stay and its impact on the office environment is without doubt dramatic. "What businesses need to understand is that the majority of 'younger generation' employees are accustomed to connecting with friends and family via platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore, they expect to be able to do so during working hours," says Levine. "Prohibiting younger generation employees from having a job and socialising at the same time could very possibly result in a lost employee!"
On the other hand, there are the older generations who did not grow up with Facebook and other digital real-time communication tools. For them, the behaviour of working and socialising at the same time is at the very least - controversial. The question that demands answering is how do companies successfully address the expectations of both parties in a way that will simultaneously maximise employee productivity and retention? According to Levine, it shouldn't be a case of 'young vs old'. "Life is about mindset and not about which generation you fit into," says Levine. "Social media has introduced several new channels and dimensions to communication and interaction which can only be a good thing. Provided the tools are used sensibly."
It wasn't too long ago that businesses and organisations faced tough challenges in inter- and intra-company communications - this as a direct result of the complexity and tremendous cost of information sharing. Then, along came the World Wide Web, enabling the adaptation of Internet technology within an intra-organisational space. Soon, intranet technology was introduced - opening up a wealth of communication possibilities. Today, as an extension of what intranets have to offer, social media supports and even enhances inter- and intra-company communication. The benefits of social media within an office:
- Increased Channels of Communication - In business, there are a handful of communication channels, including face-to-face meetings, phone calls and emails. But often points from meetings and phone calls get forgotten, and looking for information in a sea of emails can be a bit challenging after a while. By using social media tools, channels of communication are increased, allowing colleagues to simply send each other a tweet or instant message and get a response right away. The result - increased efficiency
- Increased Collaboration - It's been said that two heads are better than one. So then three heads would be even better, right? When a team is encouraged to collaborate on projects and their workload together, the outcome will be even greater than what an employee could have created on their own. Social media provides an easily accessible platform for collaboration - supporting immediate responses from teammates based in different offices
- Staying in Touch With Thought Leaders - If social media enhances the overall effectiveness of communication and collaboration amongst colleagues, then these platforms can surely increase the reach of professional communication and collaboration to increase the overall effectiveness of a business. If a colleague already has connections built within their own social profiles, allow them to leverage their networks for the professional gain of the business. Encouraging employees to communicate and collaborate with thought leaders in the industry, staying up to date on the latest news and connecting with knowledgeable people with whom to bounce ideas off, will without doubt benefit any business
- Recruiting new Staff - Recruiters want to be where the most qualified and talented applicants are. HR can therefore leverage off social media by tapping into potential recruits. This type of headhunting is about engaging with social media users and using social media tools to learn about candidates to evaluate whether or not they're a good fit for the company. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have over 500 million combined users. That equals a lot of potential talent. These 'job-centric' social media platforms dramatically reduce the search time for potential candidates - saving companies time and loads of potential money
"Social media is here to stay and to grow", says Levine. "Organisations that don't embrace these platforms will find themselves excluded from a world that is rapidly evolving due to constant technological innovation. It's therefore crucial for businesses, and companies who provide services to businesses, to take advantage of the opportunities that these platforms present."
For companies that don't want employees using social media on company time or equipment - make a policy against it. For companies who support the inclusion of social media as a way of enhancing productivity - make a policy for it.
Adding to this, Levine offers a few practical tips on how social media can be integrated into the workplace:
- An important benefit of social media for businesses is that it lets customers and potential clients know about the company on a personal level. Clients expect a relationship with their supplier. Being accessible on social media sites helps clients and customers feel connected
- Sights like Facebook help bring people to company websites. When searching for a new supplier or service provider, potential clients and customers will look for a company presence on the Internet first. Facebook is therefore just another way in which customers can find the service they're looking for. Most corporate Facebook pages leading viewers to the official company website, where more information and contact can be sourced
- Social Media platforms are tremendously effective networking tools. They give potential clients and customers an opportunity to get to know the business and its people before coming to the actual office for a new customer experience. Several companies have gained new clients simply because of their Facebook page
- If a company is going to deploy social media platforms like a Facebook fan page for example, the business needs to be committed to it and understand that the page needs constant attention. When a member of the public interacts with a company Facebook page, they expect a response
- Companies need to embrace technology as an enabler in the business. They therefore need to develop a clear strategy as to what the objects are. Companies rarely develop a clear social media and online strategy, which requires a change in thought, action and deeds right across the company, and this is why the implementation of social media so often falls short in its purpose or outright fails
- Companies should employ a good content manager for their social media platforms. Technology companies like NXT\ understand change management and deploy strategies not just technology that will enhance the objectives of any business
"Finding a balance between traditional business management and the inclusion of social media is a challenge many business owners will have to navigate. If the question focuses on where to draw the line between personal and professional use of social media, then the answer lies within the management of these platforms. If the concern is about employees 'messing' around at work and not working, social media is not to blame but rather poor business management," concludes Levine.