I'm both fascinated and baffled by stories and studies I come across regarding the use of social media within the workplace. There's still quite a bit of uncertainty, especially among neophyte organizations, as to whether or not to allow all employees or only workers in specific roles (i.e. marketing, customer service) to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social tools as part of their jobs.
It's understandable that some organizational decision-makers worry that staffers are going to spend most of the workday noodling around on Facebook and chatting with friends while productivity drops off a cliff. I recall similar concerns being voiced when instant messaging tools first came to the fore.
However, too many decision-makers appear to be myopic regarding potential opportunities that social media opens up to their companies. For instance, companies such as Ford, Starbucks and BT are using social media to engage with customers and learn more about their behaviors, attitudes and preferences to help shape product and service strategies. Meanwhile, other companies are leveraging Facebook and Twitter connections to collaborate with customers and business partners on new product ideas and suggestions for product design improvements.
Social media can also be used to help reduce operational costs. For instance, Intuit hosts customer support communities of its financial and tax products. According to a recent McKinsey column, Intuit's most experienced customers provide advice and support to other customers who need help. By McKinsey's estimates, when customer communities resolve a customer's issue, the cost per contact can be as low as 10 percent of the cost to resolve the same issue through traditional contact centers.
Social networking has surpassed e-mail in terms of the number of users and hours spent online each day, according to a recent study conducted by comScore Global and Morgan Stanley. Employees whose companies block social networking sites are going to find an end around, whether by using their smartphones at work or through other means.
Instead of fighting against the social media current, it makes more sense to go with the flow and take advantage of the business benefits that can be amassed.