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?