By Kristy Bonner
, Digital Strategist, Foster Marketing
Human beings are hardwired to be social — both culturally and physiologically. We Tweet and text. We Like and link up. We blog and banter. Researchers have proven that craving attachment is written into our DNA. So, it is no wonder more people are reaching out to others online.
Just this week, SmartBrief on Social Media noted that Facebook now has 800 million members. Twitter boasts 1 billion Tweets per week. As of August, LinkedIn had more than 120 million registered users in more than 200 locales worldwide.
Of all these connections, not all of them are purely social. According to a study by BtoB Magazine, 93 percent of business-to-business marketers are engaged in social media marketing. (Most of us support "The Big 3" strategy of targeting LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.)
Many companies are becoming more open to the idea of using social media at work, according to a study by PRNewswire. As social media invades the business world, the energy industry is rallying its troops.
Two recent events focusing on social media, a Business Marketing Association forum on social media and World Oil's Marketing in the Oilfield Conference, offered a fleet of energy industry professionals to share their social marketing experiences. Many in attendance were on fact-finding missions on how to get started or build their networks.
However, there was another hot topic on the minds of many. Although social media bans in the workplace weren't discussed center stage, it was definitely the buzz in the back of the room.
A recent Robert Half Technology survey found that 51 percent of companies surveyed said they permit employees to use social media for business purposes (up from 19 percent in 2009), more than 1-in-3 companies still prohibit social media at the office.
Put your manager's hat on and consider the possible arguments for such bans:
Safeguarding company computers and servers. Maybe.
Social media decreases productivity. Maybe not.
Fear of unprofessional online interactions and leaking company secrets. Admittedly, it has happened to a few.
If we ignore it, this social media craze will just go away. Not a chance. Not even if you hold your breath until you turn Facebook blue. (But if you try this, I can almost guarantee someone will post a video or picture of you online before you regain consciousness).
Let's look at the individual concerns:
Although there are many offenders out there looking to do damage wherever possible, email seems to be a more likely target for these attacks … and no one is banning that.
Sadly, there will always be employees who abuse such privileges at work, but these are likely the same people you are talking to about taking too many breaks, not showing up for work and spending all day on personal phone calls — so just add spending hours on YouTube to your list.
On the other hand, according to an AT&T study on social networking technologies, access to social networking sites at work actually increases productivity and efficiency. In the study, employees said access to the rich sources of information on social networks often provided them solutions to problems and inspired them creatively.
Other noteworthy benefits to allowing social media access include:
Sharing knowledge and information between employees, suppliers and customers.
Better team building and internal structure in the workplace.
Here's another issue to consider: A Nielsen survey shows that some younger workers said they were willing to quit their jobs if they were not allowed to access Facebook at work. (Surprising for some of us, but if you are hoping to hire the hottest tech-savvy young graduates, this may be something you will eventually have to consider.)
Still another school of thought says employees allowed to occasionally relax a bit at work will be even more focused and refreshed when they do get back to the job at hand.
Admittedly, trust is required when it comes to social media. You must trust your staff to act like adults and use social media at work for business purposes instead of just catching up with friends. You must also be sure employees understand what content is acceptable to be shared and appropriate for your company's culture.
Having a social media policy — in writing — sets the standard for employees to follow and ensures management and employees are on the same page. A social media policy should include:
The company's policy on accessing social media — and other web surfing — at work. Is it only allowed for business use
What's the policy on using the company's name and information in social posts?
How often are employees expected to contribute to company social media networks?
If a negative post does pop up, who will respond? Who will decide IF you respond at all?
Here's another crazy idea: One energy company presenting at the Marketing in the Oilfield Conference said they actually asked its customers how they should be using social media. Based on customer feedback, the company is planning to use Twitter to send updates when usual forms of communication are down. That's a powerful social media impact.
The bottom line is that social media usage will continue to expand (you can even get a degree in social media now). And as social media marketing becomes a more vital way to reach customers and prospects, companies will need to consider if they can afford to ban social media in the workplace. At many companies, there are people ready to promote their products and services online, interact with customers, seek out public relations opportunities through industry media and be thought leaders in their fields … if only they had access.
It's time to banish the bans, embrace social media and start managing it.
Foster Marketing can help you launch and create a plan to maintain your social media presence. We'll help you determine what content is right for your organization and work with you to create social media policies for your organization.