By: Shel Holtz
Many companies are questioning the appropriateness of giving their employees access to social media at work. But the debate is getting to be a grey area. The fact is, much of the social networking that occupies employees’ online time can bring competitive advantages to the company.
Organizations have long asked their employees to be brand evangelists, promoting the company and its products and services to friends and family. Those friends and family are now as easily engaged -- if not more so -- online than face-to-face. Your employees online represent the new front line of public relations, marketing and customer service. Just ask Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos who encourages his employees to spend time on Twitter to the extent that he offers classes in the micro-blogging platform.
Employees can surface complaints or issues raised by members of the online communities in which they participate. They can hear ideas and gather intelligence that will enable the company to solve problems, improve customer satisfaction and adapt nimbly to changing customer needs and desires.
Or talk to Jeremy Burton, CEO of Serena Software, who requires his employees to spend at least an hour a week on Facebook. Or the leaders of Siemens who have established a Facebook group for employees worldwide so employees can network with one another and retrieve important company messages wherever and whenever the mood (or the need) strikes.
In the networked world, social media recruiting is undergoing a dramatic change. After all, birds of a feather flock together, and your engineers most likely network with other engineers. When an engineering position opens in the company, your employees already know the right people to recruit through their regular interactions with their peers in other companies.
The Networked Company
The oldest members of the networked generation -- also known as Gen Y or the Net Generation -- are in their early 30s. They’re assuming management roles. They’re making increasingly consequential business decisions. And they’re networked 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Being connected to their networks is as natural to this demographic as using the telephone is to older generations. Taking it away makes no sense to them.
But it’s not merely a matter of acquiescing to the employee expectations. Smart companies recognize that perpetually networked employees are symptomatic of a larger change taking place in business. These companies will figure out how to turn this new workplace reality to their advantage. Doing so requires that leaders take several actions:
- Ensure policies are in place and well communicated, spelling out employee obligations and accountabilities when they’re engaging in social media at work. Nobody should ever be surprised when someone is disciplined for violating guidelines.
- Improve business literacy in your organization so employees are well-equipped to talk about the company. They may not be official spokespersons issuing statements of record, but they can still represent the organization well and drive sales and customer loyalty through their normal, day-to-day interactions.
- Offer training on social media so employees know the right way to use it. That’s what The Mayo Clinic does with its employees, resulting in even better returns on employee engagement in social networks.
Ultimately, providing employees with access to social media at work -- and in the process becoming a more networked organization -- will increasingly become a success factor for organizations. Better to figure it out now than to be left in the dust of your competitors who already have.
Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, consulting with organizations on the effective use of online platforms for communication. He has written or co-written six books, most recently co-authoring Tactical Transparency with John C. Havens. He is a long-time blogger and podcaster and he speaks to audiences around the world on social media and communications. To promote the benefits of open access, he launched the website, StopBlocking.org. You can find Shel online at www.holtz.com.