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Benefits of Un-Banning Social Media at the Office

Taking away your employees' voiceAs anyone who has found themselves knees-deep in a friend’s tagged photos can tell you, social media sites can be addicting. So it’s no surprise that this newer medium scares the pants off of many companies, causing them to block sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at the office.

In fact, according to a 2010 survey by OpenDNS, Facebook was blocked by 23 percent of the provider’s business users, making it the most blocked website last year, beating out Playboy and Limewire.

This trend comes in stark contrast with the 2011’s projected $3.08 billion in social media advertising revenue from companies screaming, “I want to play, too!” And it’s making me think something here is amiss.

When stripped down, isn’t business simply all about communicating? Advertising the features of your latest product, talking to potential employees about job opportunities, fostering relationships with clients and vendors – it’s no wonder social media is the new forefront; it enables this communication to take place in a much more organic way. But companies need to harness its power internally just as much as they have begun to embrace it externally.

Is your company still weary of unblocking social media channels at the office? Consider the following:

  • Is social media really a time suck? Whether they’re visiting the kitchen 20 times, online shopping, or heading outside for a few smokes, employees will find one way or another to take a break from work. And they should – numerous studies have shown that short breaks actually improve productivity and allow workers to better focus on the task at hand. Employees who are able to use break time in a reasonable way (read: the ones you keep around) will be happier for their ability to connect with their friends at work.
  • Social media connects employees. The way people consume and share information is changing. Would your company ever dream of blocking informational sites like eMarketer or SHRM? Unlikely. Social networks have surpassed email as the number one online activity, and people are using the sites to learn about relevant information. Think your employees are just using Twitter to upload pictures of their latest meal? Think again. When used with a purpose, tools like Twitter lists can help to curate relevant industry content, allowing your employees to share updates with coworkers, and, overall, make your workforce smarter and more connected within the industry.
  • Help brand advocates show their love.  Where are your employees gaining momentum right now? What excites them? What articles are they reading?  While social media is often “owned” by a company’s Human Resources, Corporate Communications or Marketing department, the involvement should not end there. Many brand advocates are employees, and while many companies ask employees to wait until they get home to interact with the company’s social media sites, a much stronger connection can be felt when employees are able to jump into these accounts while at work and in a business-minded mode.
  • Fuel your social media launch. Imagine you’ve spent the last several months collaborating on the design, content and strategy of your brand’s new social media site. But in an email announcing the site to employees, you note that they must wait until they get home to join and interact because the site is blocked at the office. What awaits your employees after they leave? Kids, appointments, social engagements – any number of things can get in the way of them joining the site and, therefore, your newly launched page may only attract a handful of employees.

On the flip side, I’ve run several campaigns with large and small companies that do not block social media sites at the office. By promoting their new page through mediums like internal emails and their intranet – along with some extra encouragement via contests – pages can gain hundreds of fans within just a few weeks of launching. Now, these pages have strong fan bases as well as a wealth of testimonials that are coming from the employees – not from an official corporate voice.

If you’re still hesitant about allowing your employees to dive into social media at work, creating a defined social media policy can help ease the fears of naysayers. This will give employees the confidence and freedom to know that what they are talking about is approved and encouraged; it will also help give you piece of mind that your employees are using social media at the office to discuss appropriate issues.

Do you think the benefits of allowing employees to access social media sites outweigh the costs? Let me know your thoughts!

9 comments
Justin
Justin

Prasant,

And in your last sentence, you point out what everyone else knows - people are checking their phones all the time and logging into their social networks via their mobile device.

I agree with your point that some companies perhaps are afraid of what their own employees might have to say about them, much less outside audiences. But the point is that if they never truly hear what is being said, they'll hardly move forward and if they do, they can only ignore people for so long before the repercussions are evident.

To Amanda's point, once companies are ready to listen, they'll see that the potential good that can come from a fully-adopted social media page, both internally and externally, can far outweigh the 'what-ifs' of potential negativity.

Prasant
Prasant

Valid point but I am not sure if too many companies are going to do. Not at-least banks where access of personal emails and blogs are also band. For instance in my company you have a 60 min window period where you can browse some sites but forget fb and twitter. As you mentioned and people will come out with different options to spend time or break rules so companies should be brave enough to open up rather than giving excuses such as security and performance. But what I feel is that companies are not brave enough to give a platform to its employees to share and talk as that might lead to some bad mouth for the company. One example was in my previous company where we had a discussion forum which was closed cause people were pouring genuine comments about the bad quality of the food. So companies need to be more open and brave :)
Thanks for your views too and for me I have my phone to keep an eye on my twitter and posts like this :D

Amanda Cornish
Amanda Cornish

Thanks for your comment, Prasant! I absolutely agree that many companies use security and performance as excuses to block social sites. When it comes down to it, opening up these sites is about trusting your employees to use social media responsibly and with a business-minded purpose. Educating them on things like security settings, where they can find legitimate information on social media and how to build their professional network on social media may help to establish this trust.

Your point about employees badmouthing the company is a concern I see with many of our clients. In reality, while a negative backlash like this is possible, it's much more uncommon than companies think. (And if it does happen – maybe it’s time to use social media as a litmus test and re-evaluate your employee relations.) For the most part, people join a social page because they like working for and support your company. And, regardless of your openness to social media, wouldn't you prefer any negative conversations take place in an arena you can see? When a negative post appears, I think it presents an opportunity to not only help the disgruntled party connect with someone to help solve their problem, but demonstrates your brand's willingness to right a wrong in a public forum.

In any case, I'm glad you've found a way to access our blog while at work :-)

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