Why social media in the workplace is not the enemy: business benefits of staff usage

Facebook Twitter and YouTube may have been demonised by your company’s management (and locked down by your IT department) but research is indicating that Australian businesses are only just starting to come to grips with the potential benefits of enabling staff social media usage in the workplace according to Dr Rajesh Vasa software engineer and lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology’s Faculty of Information & Communication Technologies. (He also pens APC’s Android app-building Masterclass MeDroid.)

Dr Vasa who presented his paper “Toward a Social Media Usage Policy” (co-authored with Dr Felix Tan Ter Chian) today at the University of Sydney’s 2011 Enterprise 2.0 Exchange Symposium today says that while the value proposition of social media in a business context is still an amorphous concept the technology needs to be considered within the context of value co-creation for businesses and not just condemned outright.  

“Social media provides a platform whereby independent sides can share their knowledge and competencies so it becomes beneficial for another side becoming interdependent in the process that’s the essence of value co-creation. Some fantastic examples of value co-creation in the tech space are sites like Whirlpool where the users actually solve each others’ problems only lightly coordinated by paid administrators. Similarly we see product review sites doing it. Another great example is the Tourism Australia web site where tourists share pictures and help each other out (esp. about interior Australia). Here the administrators are not experts in all of Australian geography but recent tourists add value via social media.”

While more and more Australian businesses are turning towards social media for business promotional purposes with 25% of SMEs and 50% of larger companies this year taking advantage of the platform Dr Vasa maintains the majority of business are not generally getting significantly savvier at exploiting the opportunities offered by the technology.

“Not yet. Many businesses do not yet know how to use social media. There are instances when you want to purely inform the audience on social media (eg. announcements about a new product) but in some cases you want to interact (two-way) with potential customers. You may also want to engage and help customers solve problems in some instances. Currently many businesses do not have people allocated to monitor and interact with customers (current/future/past) on social media. As such we do not even have metrics on how to measure if people asked to do this role are doing a good job. All of this will slowly evolve over the next 5-10 years. However in social media there is a significant first-mover advantage.”

Dr Vasa’s research indicates that 80% of social media use in the workplace is still of a personal nature (as opposed to leveraging for business purposes) and while that may sound like a lot of potential work avoidance and time-wasting he argues personal Facebook and Twitter usage in itself doesn’t amount to a “substantive distraction” for staff.

“We collected data from ~20000 people using internet and social media sites. People spend time on these sites but not all of them are heavy users of social media (or even the internet in general). There is less than 20% of the people that can be considered heavy users of the internet and an even smaller number are heavy social media users. When they use social media they do it in short bursts. A good way to think of it is like looking out of the window for a short while to refresh your eyes… We do not have direct data around improvements in metal alertness but we can say that the usage in the majority of cases is not high enough to be a serious distraction to normal work duties.”