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The Benefits and Drawbacks of Social Media in the Workplace

November 21, 2019 • History Factory

It’s nearly 2020, and social media is everywhere. It’s on the news—and for some people, it is the news. Even banking and payment services like Venmo have found a way to integrate social media into previously private aspects of life such as repaying a private debt.

As of today, an estimated 2.77 billion people worldwide are on social media, a number expected to grow to more than 3 billion by 2021. Additionally, the average time spent on social media has ballooned over the last five years, from just over 101 minutes per day in 2014 to 153 minutes this year. Think about that for a minute. If people are awake for 15 hours per day, that’s a sixth of their waking hours spent on social networks.

Many businesses have traditionally shied away from encouraging social media use by employees at work—it has been viewed as a distraction and a time suck. However, a growing number of businesses are harnessing the power of social media to increase employee engagement. This shift in mindset regarding social media has both benefits and drawbacks.

Amplifying company messages

The easiest and most cost-effective way for employees to use social media for business purposes is for them to use the accounts they already have. It’s free and easy.

When world-renowned paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams celebrated its 150th anniversary, it launched a social campaign called “Hang with Henry,” in which employees printed out a cutout of company founder Henry Sherwin and captured selfies with him wherever they were around the world. They posted the snapshots to social media channels with the hashtag #hangwithhenry.

This campaign not only got employees to interact and connect with the company’s heritage but also spread word of mouth externally about Sherwin-Williams’ 150th anniversary.

According to Nielsen, messages shared by employees went 561 percent further than the same message shared on a brand-owned channel. As such, employees’ personal channels can be a great way to get the word out about new products, initiatives or a company anniversary. Studies have shown that consumers are more likely to trust peers and influencers than branded advertising. When you engage your work force, you can turn them into grassroots brand ambassadors.

On another level, social media groups offer a great way to connect employees around the world. On LinkedIn, many Fortune 500 companies have employee and alumni groups, which help build a common culture in a moderated environment.

Encouraging Collaboration

Several years ago, Facebook released its Workplace platform, effectively a free version of Salesforce’s Chatter. The platform acts as a hub for employees to communicate, collaborate and streamline workflow. The platform has been adopted by brands such as Campbell Soup Company, World Wildlife Foundation, Virgin Atlantic, Columbia Sportswear and Volkswagen, to name a few.

The numerous case studies on the Facebook platform’s site generally point to the usual suspects when it comes to results: greater collaboration and efficiency, increased communication between team members, and a more singular company culture and identity, which is especially important if it’s a multinational with employees spread around the world.

The Workplace platform allows users to create user groups and send messages to one another. In some cases, this has completely replaced company email, as Air Asia founder Tony Fernandes stated:

Pictured: A Facebook post from AirAsia's Tony Fernandez. He mentions that he will be closing his email account at the end of the month, stating he can be contacted using the company chat.

In addition, Workplace allows employees to earn badges, which are displayed next to their names for everyone to see and offer the chance for peers to say “thanks” for their work. Positive reinforcement and peer recognition can go a long way towards motivating employees.

Retaining employees—maybe

Use of social media at work has been tied to increased retention, particularly among Gen Y employees. On the other hand, a study by business scholar Lorenzo Bizzi suggests that while employees who use social media are more productive, they’re also more likely to leave their jobs.

This is a graph titled 'The Downsides of Employees Using Social Media for Work'. It shows four data points from a survey, which suggests employees are more likely to use social media on the job to find a new job.

Bizzi’s survey results illustrate a strong correlation between individuals who are using social media at work and also using it to explore their career options.

The bottom line

Social media is complex and multifaceted. It’s not only a procrastination tool, or only a way to drive business traffic. It’s one way for companies to boost employee engagement and enhance communication. It can amplify customer-facing messages. But it’s a double-edged sword—one that employers need to handle with care in deciding how much social media activity it wants to encourage on the clock.

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