Funny to think back when Facebook first rolled out public access — I was sitting in my dorm room in 2004 and remember signing up without any anticipation of how momentous this new form of media would become.
Speculating in hindsight, what college student back then could have imagined that social media in the workplace would become central to digital business?
Of course, many students were thinking about this; admittedly I was not one of them however!
Social Media in the Workplace Today
A generous decade and then some later, social media has shifted away from any stigma as a distraction or “cyberslacking” and is now regarded as empowering for employees and their greater company.
With 98% of employees using social media for personal use and 50% of them already posting about their company, growing their individual networks by +10% per year, it’s no wonder many CEOs are taking note of the opportunities inherent to these trends. (Weber Shandwick)
When social media content from employees reach 561% further than official company channels and receives 800% more engagement, there’s no question as to whether social media in the workplace is valuable — it’s just a question of how. (MSL Group, Social Media Today)
So what’s the downside? The biggest risk of encouraging social media in the workplace is also its greatest boon: employer branding. There are other benefits discussed here, and a few minor stumbling blocks.
In short: word of mouth dynamics on social media can lower retention rates, but therein lies the advantage too: if leveraged properly employer branding can make your company a recruitment magnet, and your employees hot ticket leaders within their respective fields.
Related: Social media has been a core part of Dell’s marketing operations for years and getting employees active on social was a no-brainer. Learn how Dell got over 10,000 employees sharing and engaging on social media with employee advocacy software. Download the case study!
What’s the Consensus on Blocking Social Media at Work?
If you are a manager wondering how to block social media, are you certain that the primary question as to why it should be blocked has been sufficiently answered with certainty?
As any parent or aunt-uncle knows, as soon as you tell someone (like a child) that something in plain sight is off-limits, it becomes an obsessive distraction.
As the privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian says, “It’s like waving the proverbial red flag in front of your staff — it’s almost a challenge for them to find a way around it”.
Or as the attorney Bob Coffield describes blocking social media at work: “The truth is, we all lost the ability to ‘control’ what is said about us a long time ago”. (Monster)
Beyond the futility of trying to block social media, the reality is that as long as employees engage with social media in ways that are relevant to their work (sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly), benefits abound.
Various studies are cited throughout this piece that show how using social media can increase the overall quality of an employee’s time spent at work with many benefits to the company as well.
What about a social media policy?
A social media policy can help employees engage with their networks without any worrisome speculation as to whether they are crossing the line or not.
When in doubt, an explicit enumeration of agreed parameters is always best, and can actually encourage employees to advocate for their company.
A policy or strategy might be less effective however (and less engaging for employees) than implementing a social media advocacy platform.
What is Workplace Social Media Use Statistically Associated with?
The research and general consensus currently contends that social media is a double-edged sword, and as with any instrumental sharp object should be employed with care and purpose.
The two edges are: social media makes employees better across the board, but because of that, they might feel empowered to leave. (HBR)
Using social media in the workplace has been correlated with improved competencies in engagement, communications, innovation & entrepreneurship, and employer branding.
Of all the benefits of an internal social media usage, employer branding is perhaps the most crucial.
If managed well with either an internal social media policy or an employee advocacy program, employees can attract new talent, establish themselves as leaders within their field and feel less compelled to leave their company.
But without fostering employer branding, the double-edge sword of workplace social media might compromise retention.
Many CEOs and HR managers are taking on these risks however, knowing full well that it’s simply an evolution of the unavoidable requisite of investing in employees.
As the meme/quote goes that can be seen floating around LinkedIn:
Manager asks CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”
CEO responds: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”
Some CEOs such as Jeremy Burton of Observe actually require employees to spend at least an hour on social media every day, knowing full well that they are most likely going to surf their networks anyway. (Twitter)
This isn’t “cyberslacking” as some have condemned it, but multifaceted value for the company.
Company-wide social media mandates are a legitimate investment with tangible returns that are increasingly trackable through the use of advocacy platforms.
As described in greater detail below, here are the reasons and research that compels CEOs and managers to encourage social media in the workplace.
Evidence has shown that self-reported usage of social media on the job results in greater employee engagement, but what does this mean? (Research Gate)
Emotional focus, intellectual rigor, energetic commitment — these are all ways in which engagement has been described and measured by.
While the term has a myriad of meanings, they all speak to a central theme of how engrossed an employee is with their work.
“Engagement ultimately comes down to people’s desire and willingness to give discretionary effort” to their jobs (TalentKeepers)
While all the benefits of internal social media use described here are closely related to each other (i.e. engagement can spur innovation), in many ways engagement is the foundation of any successful day on the job.
It’s no wonder then that every Fortune 500 company has adopted multiple social media platforms for internal use, and it is predicated that the majority of large organizations will utilize an employee advocacy platform. (Gartner)
Allowing for internal social media use or implementing an employee advocacy platform increases a workforce’s collective social capital, sense of brand navigation, and overall motivation.
These benefits are most prominent when employees use social media with each other within their company, before sharing their content outward and engaging with external networks. (Harvard)
While these are very different mediums or channels and difficult to compare directly, qualitative investigations and quantitative studies have positively supported this hypothesis that social media use on the job clarifies information and boosts communications in general. (Buettner)
Allowing employees to access social media and literally engage with an internal network or advocacy platform creates a readily accessible knowledge base, encourages collaborative relationships and builds positive morale.
When communications are bolstered by social media use, issues, insights and solutions are arrived at with greater efficiency, which in turn leads us to the next benefit: enabling employees to come up with new ideas. (Cornell)
Innovation & Entrepreneurship
Just as communications follows from engagement, fostering innovation and entrepreneurial zeal in employees all begins with communications.
“Every meaningful element of human progress has happened only because humans have shared ideas with each other and then collaborated to turn those ideas into reality.” – Chris Anderson, TED.
Fostering communication between teams that might not otherwise interact can facilitate an intellectual diversity that is essential to innovation and maintaining a competitive edge.
Companies that holistically encourage diversity are 35% more likely to outperform those that stay within their respective domains and established siloed protocols. (McKinsey)
Not all innovative conversations are characterized by vigorous discourse and emphatic gesticulations however — sometimes the lurker is the one to synthesize the new insight that could prove central to a future initiative within the company.
Giving employees time on social media to mull over their cohort’s thoughts and even just personal passions can in turn spark innovation.
As Dr. Peter Drucker famously said, “To improve communications, work not on the utter, but the recipient.” Whether vocal or reticent, personal interests are always the most genuine “why” (meaningful impetus) to spearhead any endeavor.
Upwards of 82% of companies now use social media as a central process in their innovation process, integrating internal ideas with external feedback, and bringing customers-stakeholders-suppliers closer to the design process.
Threadless and Starbucks have benefited greatly by leveraging social media and user generated content as tools for product and campaign innovation. (ScienceDirect)
While many of the success stories of how social media can accelerate innovation are largely anecdotal and lack a standardized systematic approach, what is clear is that embracing social media for the purpose of ideation is a good place to start.
The best defense is an offense when it comes to retention and social media in the workplace.
Put differently, empowering employees with social media on the job can threaten retention, but only if managers neglect to curb their company’s social media use toward employer branding.
Focusing on attracting talent online through word of mouth is the best brand reputation safeguard against losing employees to greener pastures found on social media.
69% of unemployed candidates won’t even apply to a company if the company’s social media presence is unattractive. (Linkedin)
Not giving your employees an opportunity to make a brand splash on social media may not be unattractive, but it’s not going to be a pull to say the least.
With the goal of attracting top talent, social media or employee advocacy engagement should focus on the development and promotion of each employee’s personal brand.
Marriott is a prime exemplar of employer branding by encouraging employees to share their personal stories on Instagram. Any company’s brand will only benefit from putting the worker first.
Instead of risking lower retention rates, employees will be recognized for their social media participation and serve as beacons for new hires, inadvertently operating as a recruitment proxy.
As of now the biggest risk of social media in the workplace is retention, but the same fundamental reason employees would want to leave are why others could be attracted to your company — a social media presence!
Instead of fearing this risk, embracing the many benefits of social media at work will ensure your brand is fully utilizing its employees’ personal passions, extraprofessional networks, and latent ideas.