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Online Media opinion

Social media for business: an aid not a hindrance

With more and more people Facebooking and tweeting from work, traditional businesses are desperate to understand how these platforms impact on the way people work.
Will they affect productivity? Should they be controlled? Or are they tools that should be embraced to enhance business communication to external and internal stakeholder audiences?

There are 850m active users on Facebook every month, while Twitter boasts over 465m accounts. According to a press release distributed by LinkedIn earlier this year, this business social network has over 150m members - with two more joining every second.

It shouldn't be a case of 'young vs old'

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. Prohibiting these employees from having a job and socialising at the same time could 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 idea of simultaneously working and socialising is hard to accept. So how do companies successfully address the expectations of both parties in a way that will maximise both employee productivity and retention?

It shouldn't be a case of 'young vs old'. Life is about mindset and not about into which generation you fit. 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's a communication tool

It wasn't too long ago that businesses and organisations faced tough challenges in inter- and intra-company communications - a result of the complexity and 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 is a handful of communication channels, including face-to-face meetings, phone calls and e-mails. But points from meetings and phone calls often get forgotten, and looking for information in a sea of emails can be challenging. By using social media tools, channels of communication are increased, allowing colleagues to send a tweet or instant message and get a response right away, resulting in increased efficiency.

• Increased collaboration. It's been said that two heads are better than one. So three heads would be even better, right? When a team is encouraged to collaborate on projects and share workloads, the outcome will be greater than an employee could achieve alone. Social media provides an easily accessible platform for collaboration, supporting immediate responses from team-mates based in different offices.

• Staying in touch with thought leaders. If social media enhances the overall effectiveness of communication and collaboration amongst colleagues, these platforms can surely increase the reach of professional communication and collaboration to increase the overall effectiveness of a business. If colleagues already have connections built within their 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, will benefit any business.

• Recruitment. HR can 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. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have over 500m combined users. That equals a lot of potential talent. These 'job-centric' social media platforms dramatically reduce the search time for potential candidates.

Social media is here to stay and to grow. Organisations that do not embrace these platforms will find themselves excluded from a world that is rapidly evolving due to constant technological innovation. It's crucial for businesses, and companies who provide services to businesses, to take advantage of the opportunities that these platforms present.

Integrating social media 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.

Sites 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 another way customers can find the service they're looking for. Most corporate Facebook pages lead viewers to the official company website, where more information and contact can be sourced.

Social media platforms are effective networking tools. They give potential clients and customers an opportunity to get to know the business and its people before coming to the office for a new customer experience. Several companies have gained new clients simply because of their Facebook page.

Develop a clear strategy - and commit to social media

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 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. This is why the implementation of social media so often falls short in its purpose or fails outright.

Companies should employ a good content manager for their social media platforms.
A key challenge that business owners will need to navigate, is striking a balance between traditional business management and the integration of social media. The correct management of these platforms lies in the ability to draw a line between professional and personal use of social media. If business owners are concerned about employees abusing the inclusion of social media in the workplace then poor business management is to blame.
    
 

About Wayne Levine

Since joining the company in 2007, Wayne Levine has been responsible for the complete restructuring of the NXT\ business and strategic direction. With the deployment of effective platforms and services in several industries, NXT\ has enjoyed phenomenal success, with Levine at the helm.
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Simon Roche
Simon Roche
Exceptions aside... cell-phones illustrate Ann Druce's point very fairly; nonetheless -

I am from the old-school and struggle to see the real ultimate business benefit, i.e. leveraged incremental sales, of social media. I have yet to hear anyone say "Thank goodness I opened that Twitter account, I almost made the mistake of buying Nikes rather than New Balance", and I am often astonished at the sheer waste of time of some people in offices on social media - generally, if I may say so, people who don't bring in much but who are usually, in my limited experience, the first to say "Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest... and what about something on Tumblr, everybody is using it nowadays" and so on.

Having said that, there can be no doubt that social media is here to stay. Fair enough.

My question is, is it ever - in sales terms, both directly and indirectly - really, really, really, profitable? It doesn't solve financial problems; it doesn't contribute to disciplinary solutions; it doesn't assist operational logistics; it has no management leadership and planning value; it doesn't benefit training and education of staff. That leaves sales. We'll get onto PR & HR. And my impression is that the amount of time spent bemoaning and repairing/setting-up "not-quite-good-enough websites" (the web not the subject of the article above, but illustrating ad maiore), lack of Twitter accounts, and the need for Facebook pages could be better spent getting on the phone or in the car to make a sale to a client. The results are markedly more real. To me, anyway.

I see the benefits in FMCG-retail, because that depends upon frivolous decisions, by definition. But is it worth the sheer trouble and pre-occupation elsewhere.... I dunno, man.

Not for one minute do I dispute that social media are huge, here to stay, and likely to grow further into our lives.

But to this day I have never chosen Caltex over BP because of a radio, TV, or newspaper advert, much less because of Facebook. I base my decision upon the anticipated (previously-experienced) service/layout and amenities/product range, price, and, mostly, the proximity of the petrol garage. The same applies to clothes, my home, and so on.

I am sorry to be the miserable old goat, but the more I think rationally about the subject, and observe closely, intently, how many customers choose my clients' services because my clients have a R250k website (the third investment in a world-class website in eleven years) or someone being paid R240k p.a. to Tweet and FB, the more social media seems to be mostly cosmetic glitz and baubles with little appeal to anyone making a serious decision. Admittedly, there are H.R. and P.R. exceptions... but they are loss-leading exceptions when viewed against the costs, and the PR only truly valuable only when a large brand has a reputational crisis.

Ironically, social media is persuading me that person-to-person sales based upon Presentation, Pedigree, Product, Price, and Persistence, remains the answer.

The analogy which I find inescapable on this topic is of a woman. I trust that it won't offend. In any case, it is definitively apposite on the subject of cosmetic:

The most charming woman in the room is going to remain just that. However, it's true that perhaps a bit of make-up can't do any harm. And the less-enchanting woman will warrant a second-glance if she makes an effort, too. But all-in-all it is cosmetic. It counts, but it doesn't make the critical difference being claimed. Cosmetic, cosmetic, cosmetic.

I have a feeling that I am in the minority here, and liable to be shouted-down, but - exceptions aside - this is my observed experience of the business benefits of FB, Tw. et al.
Posted on 5 Aug 2013 10:29
Ann Druce
Ann Druce
When cell phones were first introduced, many companies blocked calls to cell numbers as they were more expensive than traditional land line phone numbers. Needless to say, that didn't last long.

By the same token, social media will soon be an accepted channel for business.

But content strategy should drive corporate social media engagment, rather than just feed the beast.
Posted on 23 Jul 2013 09:43

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