MAD Perspectives Blog

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 Corporate Employees - Get Social or Get Out!

Peggy Dau - Monday, July 16, 2012

I love talking to my friends in corporate america. They keep me attuned to the fears surrounding the use of social media within the company and outside the company. I'm such a fan of communication tools that I may overlook these very valid concerns. My job is to help companies communicate effectively.  Their goals are to get their jobs done, be that product development, channel management, sales, marketing, etc.  Because they are so heads down in achieving their defined goals and metrics, they often only use social networks at home, while relaxing, to connect with family and friends.

However, more and more companies are implementing social media strategies to attain and retain customers, but also to encourage and simplify employee collaboration. The tools they use to enable these strategies are similar, yet different. These microblogging platforms (e.g., Yammer, NewsGator, SocialText) all consist of a simple user interface that allows users to login, make connections and post comments. The primary challenge for employees, in using these networks, is fear.

Fear, you say! What are they afraid of?  They are afraid of the time it will take away from other activities. They are afraid to be perceived as unavailable, too available, wasting time, distracting others or sharing inappropriate information. Depending on the demographics, they may think that they are "too old" to use social media - this is something their kids do. Or they may be afraid that if they don't use social tools that they will be considered obsolete and subsequently passed over for positions with greater responsibility. And the greatest fear mentioned to me is the "big brother" factor. Some employees are afraid that their every move will be monitored for negative purposes. Fear is a powerful inhibitor!

How can employees and their employers take fear out of the equation? It's simple.  It's all about communication. Employees are afraid to engage or not engage because they don't understand the guidelines or goals for using social networks. Social media is changing how companies communicate internally and externally. It empowers employees to have a voice. But, if they have not had a voice prior to the use of social networks, they may be uncomfortable. Companies can help by encouraging communication, by setting expectations for professionalism, by setting an example at the executive level or by rewarding social collaborations that benefit the company.

Like email and instant messaging before it, enterprise social networking (aka enterprise 2.0) has a learning curve. Employers should help employees understand the nuances of the tools through online training and best practices. Employees can start small and, depending on their role and their needs, determine how enterprise social media can best help them in their day to day activities. There are pros and cons to any new technology. 

One benefit, of corporate microblogging tied to existing enterprise applications, is the ability to store and retrieve activity streams along with any of the documents related to those discussions. However, some will feel this is evidence of the corporate monitoring of individual performance and behavior. This perception reflects a cultural concern and if based in fact, why would anyone want to work for a company that they didn't trust. 

The advantages of instantaneous communication can lead to new perspectives, reduced cycle times, rapid decision making and great innovation. The opportunity to expand networks beyond existing business silos to access thought leaders, decision makers and experienced peers will benefit the organization. Employees may need help overcoming their fear of new technologies, but they must adopt these new communication tools or they will be obsolete. Studies show that those university students just entering the workforce, no longer consider email a primary communication platform.  Their influence cannot be underestimated as they are the future managers, directors and CEOs.

What's your perspective?