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by Lucy Griffiths on 14th January 2010
Social media has the Marmite effect; either you love it, or you hate it. General indifference seems hard to come by and as such this polarising effect has been reflected in the modern workplace.
Some businesses can’t get enough of social media. Employees are actively persuaded to get involved in online conversations and whole departments have been generated to work as a sort of sales/marketing/customer service/PR hybrid team of tweeters. Others though are quite the opposite. Employers are blocking access on office machines and handing down severe punishments for unauthorised usage.
Invariably, as you are reading this, you too will have your own opinion on the value of social media in the workplace. It is a seemingly very insignificant debate, but is one that has been thrust into significance due to the amount of coverage it receives. Again, this coverage tends to highlight the two extremes, one full of saccharine sweetness the other disdainfully sour; balance and neutrality are difficult to achieve in this debate, which is why it largely remains unresolved.
Social media has been the very epitome of the old divide and conquer approach. It has thrust a wedge through society, some remain ardently against its usage, others can’t get enough. As a result of its simplicity, effectiveness and even addictiveness it has spread to all corners of the earth and has attracted a following of millions (Facebook alone has over 350 million users). The division of society has done little to dampen its growth or popularity, if anything it has acted as a catalyst for further growth.
Split Opinions & Difficulties Measuring Success
In business terms, social media is still a bit of an unknown quantity. There are success stories aplenty, with leading brands like Ford, Starbucks and Dell reaping the rewards. Smaller companies too have used the marketing potential and huge user base to gain custom and target visitors to their site or blog.
The evidence, therefore, is there for all to see: social media can work. It can also be a PR disaster if you manage to let slip something hugely inappropriate whilst representing a business. There’s nowhere to hide and bad news can spread like wildfire thanks to the viral nature of this medium. But even the biggest disaster can soon be forgotten once the dust settles, for example have you boycotted Habitat goods due to their Iranian hashtag howler on Twitter? Probably not.
But the biggest issue that employers have with the likes of Twitter and Facebook is time. Measurable results are often difficult to find with social media, which can make it difficult for employers to really get to grips with the benefits of online communication. Why spend a few hours a day contributing to a conversation when you could be out actually selling? It’s a problem that continues to undermine social media as a business tool.
For journalists particularly, Twitter can be a great way to pick up stories as they happen. The real-time effect, along with the freedom of information and imagery, gives a fantastic opportunity for anybody to pick up a story, ask questions and then run with it. This is possibly why Sky News are now ensuring that all of their staff are on Twitter.
The Issue of Online Trust
The problem though is abuse of this system. If employers entrust staff with using their social media accounts, what happens if they start to get involved with non work-related conversations? Even those companies with a strong social media presence have to beware of this workers malaise, as invariably productivity could crash and the benefit would be limited to say the least. It’s easy to get lured into the endless discussions online, so how do you combat the inevitable distractions?
Well, it’s not easy, which is exactly why there are polar opposites at play here. Social media is just too social for some companies. Others have the capacity to allow their staff to be more free and to explore new avenues of marketing. It provides a distraction to some and opportunity for others. So in accordance with the theme of duality that runs though this post, the ultimate conclusion has to be that currently social media can be detrimental to some businesses and hugely beneficial to others.
Until such time that somebody finds a foolproof way to manage or even censor social media for workplace usage, then the polarity of opinion will always exist. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Well, you won’t need me to tell you that that is very much a subjective opinion. As always though, we’d love to hear your thoughts (especially any tinged with indifference).
Lucy is an Internet Search Specialist focusing and working with clients on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) strategies.