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WebTitan has built a tool that has estimated that allowing your staff to use social media would cost the average company $65k a year, according to a report on Silicon Republic.

But is this really the case? And aren’t there plenty of benefits to be had from allowing your staff to use social media in the workplace?

The tool is based on the notion that staff might spend 20 minutes a day on social networking sites. It then looks at the average salary and performs a rudimentary calculation. Obviously it was created to help sell WebTitan’s filtering software, which will block access to the likes of Facebook. But as far as I’m concerned, that isn’t a wise thing to do for a number of reasons. 

The idea that social networking always costs businesses money is entirely wrong. Econsultancy has definitely benefited from allowing staff to freely access social media platforms, and we encourage new employees to develop their own presence on sites such as Twitter.

Here’s why I think firms need to adopt a laissez-faire approach to the use of social media in the workplace…

Build a culture of trust

Transforming organisational culture remains a hell of a challenge for many firms, especially the bigger ones. In a job ad I wrote recently I specifically stated that candidates should not want or need to be micromanaged. Forward-thinking companies don’t hire people to monitor their every move. They hire brainy people who are able to exceed expectations. Staff should be trusted to do their best for the company. If an employee spends hours using social media to comment on videos of kittens then surely that person isn’t right for the organisation? 

Cultivating trust is essential. What is the cost to businesses that do not trust their staff? I’d love to see some data on staff satisfaction and retention rates, with hands-off companies compared to those that impose lock-down rules. Restricting access to social media (and other) websites might actually cost you money due to a higher-than-it-might-be staff turnover rate. 

The work and social overlap

When I started to use Twitter my status updates were almost entirely related to my profession. But my Twitter account is very much a personal account and as time has elapsed I have broadened the scope of my tweets, to reflect a wider range of interests. 

This is good and bad, I guess, and is why I wanted Twitter to introduce the kind of filters that Google has created with Google+ (Circles). The point is, I’m not simply retweeting the @econsultancy Twitter feed, and because of this, my followers have also widened in scope. The reach I have is not purely linked to my role at Econsultancy. So when I share Econsultancy links they’re being pushed in front of new people who might not otherwise have been tuning in. This is one way in which we have raised awareness of our brand.

Aim for a collaborative approach to engagement

I’m not a big fan of outsourcing your social media tasks. There should be ownership and participation within the business, as I believe that your employees are pretty much your greatest asset when it comes to communicating with people (via social media platforms or any other channel). 

Questions directed at Econsultancy are answered by individuals, and not just from the @econsultancy Twitter account. This is a far more personal approach and helps people to build new connections.

Train staff to become au fait with social media 

What better way is there of training up your staff in the art of social media than to allow them to play around with their own Twitter account? Maybe you think it doesn’t matter, but if you’ve bought into the idea that social media might be beneficial to your business then why not encourage staff to jump in? 

Think about it: would you really want novice managing your brand’s Twitter account? Isn’t it better for them to mess around with a personal account first? When I joined Econsultancy I set up a blog, partly because I wanted to, but also because I wanted a platform for experimentation. It helped me to learn, and it ensured that I made no killer mistakes on the Econsultancy website!

I suggest that you undertake some social media training for employees. It may seem like common sense to you but not everybody is up to speed, and your brand may require different guidelines to ours. We're currently compiling a kind of house stylesheet for Twitter, much in the same way that we have one for our blog. It is intended for internal use but we may share it. We already have a very simple social media policy, and there's a more in-depth Twitter best practice guide to check out (the latter is subscriber access).

Quid pro quo

Who takes an hour for lunch these days? Who doesn’t come in early or work late when required? How many of us check and respond to work-related emails in our leisure time? Who charges their employer for this kind of thing?

Are you measuring the right thing?

I believe in a big picture approach to social media measurement, though you can also look at the detail if it helps. What’s missing is a framework for measuring the impact on the brand. This is something I’m keen to develop. Such a framework will be anchored around comparisons and correlations over time, using data from multiple channels (rather like measuring a TV ad campaign, only far more accurate!). 

Measurement approaches may be a curve ball. Rather than wondering about what social media might cost your business, you should be thinking about the costs of having a dictatorial organisational culture. I believe that your staff can play an important role in creating a bigger social media footprint, and as such you should encourage them to develop their own presence on platforms like Twitter. They will love you for it, and your brand should benefit in the long run. Staff that abuse the system were probably bad hires in the first place. Those that you can trust will become the best brand ambassadors that you can imagine.

What do you think? Is social media a cost, or an opportunity?

Chris Lake

Published 16 August, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (9)

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Chris Delahunty

Chris Delahunty, Director at MMK Media

Good article.

The straight calculation is akin to people saying that employees spend time on the phone, therefore money is being lost by spending time on the phone, even if they are drumming up business/building relationships

about 5 years ago

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Aimee Carmichael

Chris, you hit the nail on the head there. Agree completely. If forming relationships is any part of your business then you cannot afford to ignore SM.

about 5 years ago

michelle carvill

michelle carvill, director at carvill creative

Chris - good viewpoint. The days of a '9 to 5' mentality (even though they may still be the hours some sit at their desk) - are well and truly over. What we do 'professionally' has become integrated into everyday life. Mobile and smartphone uptake - devices we rarely 'turn off'- mean that we're connected one way or another pretty much all the time we're not sleeping. Trust is key. I'm happy for my team to be online, texting and tweeting and Facebooking - it's impossible to WORK solidly - we don't operate like that - the 'watercooler' discussions have simply gone online - and online, the audience reach is far greater - and so should the topic which started out social turn more 'work related' - then that's fine by me. Trust, common sense, and definitely 'training' on the social platforms - can really enhance brand awareness. I remember reading a case study about Porsche decorating a new model with the names of all of their Facebook fans. However, the article went on to say that Porsche employees are locked out of Facebook on a day to day basis! Feels like they're not REALLY buying into social.

about 5 years ago

Paul Fennemore

Paul Fennemore, Managing Partner at Viapoint

We should move on from the term social media and refer to it as 'social commerce'. It's about making social media and networks work for commercial purposes.

Looking at how much social commerce costs and it's ROI in isolation of the rest of an organisations marketing and customer management programs is placing 'social media' into a silo. The whole concept of 'social commerce' is that it de-silos organisations.

Integration is vital to the success of any social commerce strategy.

The question is now how does 'social commerce' improve the performance of our organisatiion when it is part of an integrated programmatical strategy.

More here http://viapointuk.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/social-commerce-roi-wrong-question/.

about 5 years ago

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ERS CRM

Great article. Trying to give social media a bad name in order to sell your product is hardly beneficial to anyone and any businesses enforcing this software as a policy clearly don't understand the benefits social media provides to businesses.

about 5 years ago

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Briony

Great piece and I agree on many levels. However, I think the wide spread adoption and use of social media and its success is dependent on the industry as well as how the office workplace already functions. As social media is such a subjective enterprise, it may not be suited to all workplaces and it ultimately depends on what the goals of the social media strategy are. But perhaps, as you say, working in dictatorial environment may ultimately be a hindrance (I know I'm certainly not a fan of them!)
Working in the digital marketing industry, social media is an inherent tool of our trade, so it is easy for us to distinguish its value from its possible pitfalls. Convincing others of its merits and the benefits of having social media "in house" is our challenge.
As Michelle comments, "Trust, common sense, and definitely 'training' on the social platforms - can really enhance brand awareness." and this is where social media really comes into its own.

about 5 years ago

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Nadeem | Azam Marketing

No matter how it's dressed up, taking time away from work to tweet about what you gave your hamster to eat that morning or what you think about rioting has absolutely zero benefit to your employer.

It's a pity that, just like the Roman's in their dying days, Britain is unable to come to terms with the reality that it's in a freefall and people need to start doing some focused work for more than just three or four hours a day rather than spending their time prancing about on Facebook and Twitter.

about 5 years ago

Chris Delahunty

Chris Delahunty, Director at MMK Media

@Nadeem - for the general working population, spending time talking about hamsters whether it's on twitter, next to the coffee machine, in the car park, on the phone can be seen as having zero benefit.

So, should we stop people from talking in the work place, and insist that they work 9-6pm every day, only speaking to colleagues in their break time? Possibly not.

Like Michelle says, it's about common sense. But to say SOCIAL MEDIA IS BAD GET BACK TO WORK is a bit naive really.

about 5 years ago

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Geraldine Hunt

Very interesting to see the reaction to our release. We at SpamTitan aren't in anyway saying that workers should stop using social media - or social commerce if you prefer, but that companies should be aware that it is something that they should think about monitoring. There have always been things that stop people from working, smoking breaks, personal phone calls, personal email etc.

You can't just review this as a financial ROI but you do need to ask yourself how much time employees spend on this relatively new 'pastime' of social networking. Also, to Briony's point, companies can't just make sweeping policies for this across all departments, factors need to be taken into consideration of the industry a company is in and how social media is used in each department and down to the granular level of each role.

To Jake's point you need to build trust and therefore self- monitoring of employees but we also need to make them aware that, like all non-related work activity, using social media at work is acceptable in moderation.

about 5 years ago

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