Do social media sites waste time, distract from work and drain a company’s resources?
While some business leaders and journalists have answered those questions in the affirmative, others have asserted that social media has become absolutely essential to conducting business in the digital age.
The debate and discussions on this topic naturally grabbed the attention of people at Google, so they commissioned a study with the London-based marketing and research group Millward Brown to examine just how social media is used in business today. For the study, Millward Brown researchers interviewed 2,700 business professionals who work in Western Europe about their social media habits in the workplace.
The study found that while nearly a third (32 percent) of the respondents reported that they used social media every day for job-related purposes, nearly half (46 percent) said that they hoped to increase their on-the-job use of social media tools.
“Businesses and their leaders are getting over the initial fears about using social tools in the workplace and are recognizing that they have strategic value,” Sebastien Marotte, Google’s vice president of enterprise for Europe, Middle East and Africa stated in written remarks about the study’s results. “Research shows that senior managers are recognizing that social tools allow people to transcend business silos, to connect and to share in a way that just wasn’t possible before.”
Three-quarters of the senior-level managers surveyed for the study said that social tools are altering business strategies, with many stating that social media had helped to improve their organization’s productivity and to reduce the time it takes to find information.
According to Marotte, the emphasis on sharing and speeding the flow of information is significant. The study found that a large proportion (81 percent) of respondents who reported they worked for high-growth businesses (10 percent growth or higher in 2011) are using social media tools to spur business expansion. In addition, social media is eliminating silos within organizations and is making the workforce more collaborative. Approximately 80 percent of the respondents from the high-growth companies reported that social media had improved collaboration and knowledge-sharing within their organizations.
“The more ways that businesses can share knowledge, the faster they can innovate and the more productive they can be,” Marotte asserted. “What is particularly useful about social tools for driving collaboration is that we all get a better understanding of how others work.”
Written comments from the survey respondents support Marotte’s assertions. For example, a junior executive in content management for a U.K-based firm stated: “I can communicate quickly with colleagues in other countries and get immediate answers.” While a team leader for a design company in Spain commented: “Social media tools greatly improve the contribution and development of ideas. In my case, as an architect and section manager, social media allows my team to put ideas forward and brainstorm at any time and in any place.”
A surprising result of the study was the positive effect that social media can have on job satisfaction and career advancement. Among respondents who used social media for their job “frequently” (at least once a week), 86 percent reported that they had been recently promoted and 72 percent said they are likely to be promoted, compared to 62 percent and 39 percent respectively of respondents who don’t use social media in their job.
Almost three-quarters (71 percent) of the senior-level managers surveyed said businesses that embrace social media tools in the workplace will find it easier to attract and keep the best talent. Among senior-level respondents, 76 percent stated that organizations which embrace social media will grow faster than those that “ignore” the technology. In addition, 53 percent of the senior managers said businesses that do not embrace social media will ultimately fail.
“Of course social tools are not a panacea for all business challenges and in themselves cannot transform business performance,” Marotte stated. “The social trend is not just about technology. It's about a new way of working, a cultural transformation. Eventually, organizations that succeed will be those that adopt social tools to break down barriers vs. those that stay stuck in silos.”
Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.