Two worlds have collided: the personal and the professional. The widespread use of social media by the general public is on a permanent trajectory, and it has streamed into the professional workplace. Use of social media across an individual’s personal networks is now competing with formal, business-oriented social communications on company-branded properties. Not only is there concern for the proper use of employees’ time while at work, but also for their possible conflicting and competing messaging within the same channels. Simply put, within the social space, informal conversations are bumping into formal ones.
The emerging generation of workers, Generation Y (born between 1982 and 1995), has grown up with browsers and portable technology accessible day and night. From internet forums and blogs to social networks of every stripe, the latest wave of workers sees no need to leave tools or communication habits at home. Not surprisingly, the established cadre of workers, Generation X (born between 1964 and 1981) and the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1963), are slower to accept the personal use of social media at work. That said, this more mature demographic is now showing the most rapid growth rate.
Many companies began pushing their messages to customers through social mechanisms around 2005. Now they realize that social communication is a way of life in charting employee-related strategies and protocols.
They have also come to recognize that broadcast communication can be supported by or even replaced with social tools, internally or externally. Even advertising has become a two-way street, if not a multi-lane, social highway.
After we asked the opinions of nearly 170,000 survey participants in 30 countries, it’s clear that the presence of social media is something to manage or direct, not to fear.Social media started as a primary impetus behind describing and sharing, online, the details of daily life. Now social media is sparking new ways of thinking about work, doing work, and taking care of customers. For corporate organizations, the potential of social media could be viewed as one of the most useful phenomenon of online innovations.
This brings us to the two obvious risks in the social–professional mix: worker distraction and corporate over-reaction.
Users of social media see it as a personal tool for sharing and communicating. If you try to remove these tools, many feel their rights are being infringed upon. Nearly a third of survey participants believe it’s acceptable to use social media for personal reasons at work. On the geographical dimension, 48 percent of Asia-Pacific participants find it acceptable to do personal socializing via technology during working hours. Yet despite the social media rights viewpoint, 47 percent of all participants, across generations and geography, worry that the social–professional boundary crossing might cause problems at work. And it goes both ways; 56 percent of all participants believe that access to their social pages is not their employers’ right.
Many companies continue to view social media as something they must regulate. A more pragmatic viewpoint suggests another path: the use of social media in the workplace is best considered in terms of responsibility – neither a right nor a cause for restriction.
Corporate leaders have three options. They can let the collision follow an unguided course. They can look at it as a problem and implement aggressive blockades to tackle it. Or there’s the third alternative, our preference. Says Kelly CEO Carl Camden, “By establishing basic guard-rails around social media, companies can dramatically accelerate the speed at which their teams can safely operate … helping them respond to the market faster than ever before.”
Embracing the concept of a social business and constructing it requires strategic attention. The process is a matter of degree – the difference between setting direction and resorting to command and control, the process of converging personal rights and management responsibility.
Smart companies are putting social media to use, not fighting it – because it’s a powerful way to connect with people inside the company and to connect with external stakeholders. Besides, even if you prevent social media use on company equipment, your employees will connect through their own tools like personal smartphones. However, to counter social media’s strong power to distract, companies must set the tone by proactively developing and implementing social policies, strategies and their supporting tactics. Also, to stand any chance of success, these initiatives must directly relate to the organization’s business strategies and must be fully supported and funded by the executive leadership team.