Social Media in the Workplace: Are We Nearly There?

By Tarik Taman Mar 5, 2015
Today, hundreds of millions of people use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Compounded by record IPO valuations well into the billions, social media is here to stay.

A few years ago, the role of social media in a business environment was viewed as, at best, confused and, at worst, extremely negative. The business software industry merely fanned the flames of these perceptions, adding social networking applications alongside systems with no real agenda or purpose. Business embraced the applications as marketing tools—incorporating blogging, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube into marketing programs in order to capitalize on the huge audiences these platforms attracted. Campaigns were often focused on exploiting them as additional outlets to reach audiences.

Social media use in business suddenly resonated as valid—but its role had been monopolized almost entirely by the chief marketing officer. Other functions within a business—including human resources—remained largely immune to the charms of social media. Negative connotations of Facebook as a workplace distraction prevailed, and many managers were unable to make the mental shift from consumer use to corporate use.

That is, until very recently.

Revelations for a Revolution

For social media to be valuable for business, it has to be used collaboratively. Instead of social conversations persisting in parallel with the task in hand, they must be an integral part of that task or of the business application in use. And while marketing programs previously used social media successfully, the majority of the campaigns were focused on platforms as channels and few exploited the capabilities of social media to support multiway conversations. In light of these lessons, it soon became apparent that social media, in the hands of other departments, could be used to engage and empower employees to make more-informed decisions, which, in turn, can address problems, reduce procurement costs, boost productivity, facilitate better customer relationships and drive high performance. The lines between emerging technologies and ones that have become so firmly entrenched that they are now thought of as “traditional” (like e-mail or even instant messaging) are blurring, expanding and continually changing.

This evolution has brought the social media conversation to a pivotal point: What role, if any, does social media have to play in the way employees interact with each other in a business environment? Dubious is probably the best word to describe the reactions of many executives when the subject comes up. Many are concerned that productivity will be lost. While it’s easy to understand why companies want to approach social media with caution, there’s also considerable risk in dismissing it altogether. Misperceptions about what these technologies mean could cause businesses to miss out on a major opportunity to reinvent the way their employees collaborate. The key is to apply the concepts of social media in ways that have inherent value in a business environment.

How Does It Work?

To develop the concept of social business technologies, it’s helpful to build a picture of how those technologies are being used by employees to simplify processes. One of the most critical points to understand is that with social business technology, a collaborative platform is embedded within critical organizational systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) or supply chain management systems. Instead of being limited to individuals who typically interact with those systems, access is extended across the enterprise, making the platform a company’s primary vehicle for all employee interaction.

Documents, videos, photos, plans and, most importantly, conversations are all captured, organized, searchable and auditable. Employees can easily share and find information and also have information delivered to them, through both automatic notifications and business intelligence that is displayed directly on desktops or mobile devices and is based on their specific roles or responsibilities.

Social business lets many people touch the same project and stay informed, and it keeps the right people apprised of movement.

Companies are now looking at social business initiatives because of their potential to drive bottom-line benefits such as:

  • Increasing employee productivity. Helping people work more efficiently is one of the major promises of social business technology. Reducing the amount of e-mail people receive, putting information where people can easily access it and allowing employees to collaborate in context (of data, conversation trails, project plans, etc.) should increase productivity and improve performance.
  • Retaining vital corporate knowledge. Social business allows companies to take advantage of information that is currently lost through e-mail and instant messaging. This information represents the “why” and the “how” of the qualities that make a company what it is and can hold the key to uncovering game-changing opportunities.
  • Attracting and retaining top talent. Expectations for technology have changed, most markedly for employees just entering the workforce, but also for those with decades of work experience. People have come to take for granted the technology they use in their personal lives, and they now expect business software to deliver the same fun, intuitive, easy-to-use experience. Social business and other technologies like mobility, analytics and the overall user experience allow companies to meet these higher expectations. Metrics in this area, which most often falls under the rather broad umbrella of “employee satisfaction,” are starting to show hard evidence of the benefits. 
  • Improving decision-making. Social business technologies make collaboration among employees easy, but they also deliver information that aids in decision-making in ways that e-mail or instant messaging simply cannot. 
  • Maximizing social onboarding and the new-hire process. It’s no surprise that effective onboarding is critical to the success of a new hire. According to the Human Capital Institute, 46 percent of new hires don’t last 18 months and 39 percent didn’t complete their first milestone on time. These stats can be attributed to an unorganized process to get employees up to speed—from a lack of clear direction, to inadequate tools, to an absent manager. Now, with tools for social business being implemented throughout the enterprise, organizations can quickly link employees by shortening the time it takes to assimilate new hires into the new culture, give new hires a platform where they can get questions answered quickly, and allow them to easily access documents. In addition, internal social networks can allow employees to meet other new hires and team members through online communities.

To truly generate value, social technologies must integrate seamlessly with business processes to make working within a collaborative platform as common as sending an e-mail—eventually replacing it altogether. The results can be transformative.

Although the future of social business technology is still being written, there is little doubt that it is poised to change the way people work.

Tarik Taman is general manager of Human Capital Management (HCM) and Cloud Enterprise Resource Management at Infor. He can be reached at Tarik.taman@infor.com.

©2015. International Association for Human Resource Information Management. Used with permission.

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