Are You Letting Your Employees Out on the Green in Social Media?

Written on July 21, 2008 – 2:25 pm | by Brian Wallace |

Social media on the green

(Image credit:allspice1)

IBM was well known for having golf course privileges for its employees. Quite a perk, right? Well it paid off for IBM, as it kept employees going on talking shop on the golf course.

Enter social media. Corporations and draconian IT departments out there often block many or all social media sites from employee consumption. Question is, is this really the right way to approach this? Or rather, should companies embrace their employees natural want for social media.

Zappos is one such company that comes to mind for me when thinking about someone doing it right. Twitter.zappos.com shows over 400 of their employees and what they are doing. I’m a big fan of this approach:

Zappos employees on Twitter

Does it make sense to turn off social media on your employees? Perhaps its a trust factor. My opinion: if you trust them enough to run your business, they should be able to have a social media outlet. And if you are proactive and support it as part of your business culture, then viola! – you now have a social media team in house (at least part of the way there).

Infoworld just had a great perspective on this issue:

The primary value of a social network is the aggregation of people on it. Block your employees from getting on a network, and you block their access to developing a far-flung group of people who can act as free advisers, leads for new businesses, or prospective new hires.

“If you’re isolated, you’re of no value to a manager,” says Tom Hayes, author of “Jump Point: How Network Culture Is Revolutionizing Business.” He adds, “And if you’re management, ask yourself: What walled garden has ever prospered over time?”

Hayes says that social networks effectively disseminate information about industry trends, product announcements, and new talents. He adds, “Your best employees are the ones who are the most connected and most current.”

Block says that social networks’ real value rests in making an added connection that previously was not present, especially if those connections lead to offline partnerships.

Other companies are starting to embrace what would have previously been considered unconventional freedoms. Take Google’s 20-percent time, for example:

We offer our engineers “20-percent time” so that they’re free to work on what they’re really passionate about. Google Suggest, AdSense for Content and Orkut are among the many products of this perk.

Last but not least, I had a chance to reach out to Melanie Nathan from Canada Internet Video company, Statusfirm:

Melanie Nathan “Although I work for an organization that not only understands, but fully supports Social Media participation among its employees, there are still some challenges to overcome. Finding a good balance between daily duties while still being attentive to social media profiles is often difficult. Proper time management skills and an ability to focus are therefore essential. Without them, your employer may consider it all a waste of time.”

So, my friends – of course there are legal and HR implications, but if you are going to give your employees access to the Internet, you’ve got to be prepared of the consequences, and welcome them!

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  1. 14 Responses to “Are You Letting Your Employees Out on the Green in Social Media?”

  2. By Pierre Far on Jul 21, 2008 | Reply

    I fear that companies that limit access have the wrong mentality to begin with and your post will fall on deaf ears. Those companies that don’t limit access don’t need your post to tell them why it’s important.

    Cynical? Yes. But life has taught me well.

    Pierre

  3. By Steve Nimmons on Jul 21, 2008 | Reply

    Harnessing Enterprise 2.0 and getting some of the interaction behind the firewall neutralises some of the potential dangers. Staff should simply be trained about ‘risky’ activity (e.g. avoiding social engineers). Social media ‘blocking’ is a very short sighted answer that I would steer companies away from.

    Is it not an indictment that we hire and trust people to work for us, and then worry about how they will use social media. Um, if you don’t trust them that much, you need new hiring policies. Appraisals and targets are there for preventing people wasting business time (by and large), and people tend to like having a job and are not that reckless to do anything that would damage their future.

    Nervousness has led to a ‘nanny state’, but also don’t be taken in too readily by the absolute libertines as they need to be challenged as well.

    Extended thoughts in this podcast

  4. By Brian Wallace on Jul 22, 2008 | Reply

    @Pierre
    as long as we can still blog about it, there is hope. The more we write things of good quality and they get put in front of the business community, the more that they have to be addressed. Think of anything you see in the likes of NYT, BusinessWeek, CNN, etc. Social media is still an immature field, give it time – life will continue to teach you well :)

    @Steve
    blocking social media is very short sighted, considering the number of people that have handhelds that can still hit the net. And yes, distrust may exist, but companies just need to get their policies and procedures in place. Will definitely listen to your podcast, thanks for the link :)

  5. By Hobo on Jul 22, 2008 | Reply

    How ironic – we had a social media day today – got everybody, even the secretary (OK my mum) on Bebo, Last FM, Stumbleupon, Digg etc encouraging them to participate.

    “Does it make sense to turn off social media on your employees? Perhaps its a trust factor. My opinion: if you trust them enough to run your business, they should be able to have a social media outlet.”

    Exactly. And it’s not always about bottom line. I want my team to understand social media – and you do that by joining in and forgetting about the work for a while and get some networking done.

  6. By Brian Wallace on Jul 22, 2008 | Reply

    @Hobo
    Nicely put Shaun. Social media could be seen as a creative distraction, collective knowledge source, and recruiting. People need to keep an open mind.

  7. By billso on Jul 22, 2008 | Reply

    Great article. As I note in my article – see the link – IBM has Beehive, its in-house social media system, to keep employees connected in ad hoc teams. Give IBM time and they will sell this as a value-added service to Global Services customers.

  8. By Stephen Cronin on Jul 22, 2008 | Reply

    Great Article.

    I head up the web team for a government agency and we’re looking at how we can utilize social media at present. There are a lot of doubters out there, but I’m firmly convinced it can be a great thing. I think we’ll have to build our own though, rather than using public sites…

  9. By Ari Herzog on Jul 25, 2008 | Reply

    Brian: If you rephrase your question to not identify whether businesses should allow employees to use social media at the workplace but whether businesses want to increase collaboration and productivity by enabling employees to network both in-house and around the world with like-minded professionals, then you’re talking.

    Traditional firms and social media don’t mix well other than Facebook applications and LinkedIn groups. But if you don’t view it as social media but quote-unquote professional networking or a wiki-centric collaborative approach, who’s going to say no?

    Stated differently, if a company allows its employees to keep in touch with friends and family on cellphones and/or by email, then why not accept the roundness of the Web and embrace the new Web 2.0 technologies? The key is I.T. departments should not take the lead; marketing and HR should.

  10. By Jeff Flowers on Aug 5, 2008 | Reply

    FTA – “If you trust them enough to run your business, they should be able to have a social media outlet. And if you are proactive and support it as part of your business culture, then viola! – you now have a social media team in house”

    I couldn’t agree more! Let your employee’s run wild, you never know what they might be able to accomplish… and how it could benefit the company.

  11. By Manchester Chris on May 18, 2011 | Reply

    I let all my guys constantly talk online (particularly on aim and trillion) as it puts a whole host of related developers and like minded individuals as a kind of outsourced workforce that can troubleshoot live when we hit any snags

    We get more done, emplyess are happy as they are connected to the outside world, so to speak and we create a bigger community of probelm solvers in the long run

    We also have music on which helps (and its chosen on a random basis by spotify so no one is to blame for a crummy song)

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