Are companies not supposed to be microcosms of societies where they operate? If yes (and I hope it is an emphatic one), why are they (companies) left behind the social media growth curve that is driven by the same communities they are part of? Better still, are company executives not part of professional social networks such as LinkedIn? If yes (and in my experience, a good number of the executives are, judging by the growth of communities such as National CEO Network), why do they not think it is just as important for the companies they run to embrace social networks?
First things first – social media 101
Wikipedia’s definition of social media is media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media supports the human need for social interaction, using Internet- and web-based technologies to transform broadcast media monologues (one to many) into social media dialogues (many to many).
Consumers register to become members of a social networking site, form communities along defined common interests and generate content that gets shared within their communities. Content themes and forms are determined by owners of the various sites. All blogging sites form part of social media. In addition, most well-known social networking sites in South Africa include Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube.
Some quick facts and figures
2/3 of the world’s Internet population visit social networks or blogging sites, and spend 10% of total online time on these sites.
The latest global stats show that Facebook has over 300 million members. That is 5% of the world’s population! We do know that not everyone of these members is an active social networker. Let’s assume 75 million (or 25%) of the members visit Facebook regularly, this is 1.25% of the world’s population. Any astute Marketer should know that some of these active Facebook networkers are their consumers, and part of the conversations include their brands.
Bringing it closer to home, Facebook is the largest Internet social networking site in South Africa. There are just under 2 million registered Facebook members, or 40% of the country’s Internet users. 2 key factors may explain the low social network membership in our country – on one hand a large number of users gain Internet access at work, and on anther hand some companies restrict access to the social networks.
Some companies do restrict employee access to social media
I ran a poll a week and half ago, and results show that more than 55% of the participants are restricted from accessing social networks. This percentage includes participants who opted to send me emails as they could not access my poll in the first place! Types of restrictions varied from only during office hours to total access black-out (example of this extreme measure is SARS).
Please note that sample size for my poll referred to above was below the statistically acceptable threshold. Thus the results must not be seen as conclusive, but only as indicative.
The 3 most common reasons that have been advanced in the blogosphere for why companies restrict employee access to social networks are:
- Employees waste valuable company time connecting with friends and family, and thus productivity is adversely affected. Some restriction proponents argue that at least 30% of company time is wasted on social networks.
- There are information security issues related to accessing the various social networks in this day and age of information hacking. When this happens, it leads to unnecessary downtime and a hug cost to companies.
- As has happened in some cases, employees bad-mouth their employers or clients on social networks.
A case for companies to hop on the social media band wagon
I am completely in favour of companies being part of the blogosphere. Here are my key reasons:
- Consumers are having conversations about their favourite (or most-hated) brands on social networks. What are they saying about yours? If companies do not participate in the conversations, they potentially open themselves up for increasing reputational risk. Companies like Ford are successfully using consumer conversations for trend-spotting and innovations.
- You will be amazed how many prospective employees are on the social networks. A recent US study showed that 45% of companies are using social networks as part of screening new recruits, and this number is increasing.
- Employees can become social network brand advocates. Assuming that companies do an awesome internal marketing job, associated with a healthy working environment dominated by an open and honest relationship between employer and employees, and the fact that a good number of the employees are already social networkers; it makes sense to get them to lead brand conservations on blogosphere.
- Social networks are great resources for business information. Some of your competitors are active on social networks. By being part of this ever-growing new communication platform, you can easily track what your competitors are doing for pre-emptive, pro-active and re-active strategies and plans.
- Social networks are replacing traditional forms of business communication such as email. A huge debate is raging over this point, with very passionate people on both sides of the argument. This is why it is the last in the list. I choose to be part of the doomsayers (or futurists, depending on how you see it) who are predicting the demise of the email kingdom. In my experience, instant messaging and live chats are becoming the norm for effective, mainly one-on-one communication. I use this service more and more with my own team and I love it. By implication, companies disallowing social network access are hampering new, faster business communication development opportunities.
While reasons against social networks are valid and can effectively scare companies from embracing these new media, the wave of social media is unstoppable and growing ever stronger. My advice to companies is that they should strive to find solutions to the challenges that impede their adoption of social media. Fortunately, there are many such technological solutions already available off the shelf; including software for tracking and monitory of employee usage of social media, and keeping tabs on what’s being said about companies and their brands in the blogosphere.