Unfortunately, there are very few conclusive studies of social media’s impact on employee productivity. Of the studies that do exist, they often find mixed results. The most frequently cited study, which was conducted by Nucleus Research in 2009, found a 1.47% loss in employee productivity. This study, which was based on a very small sample of employees (i.e., 237 randomly selected office employees) has led many managers and consultants to conclude that organizations should limit or ban access to social networking sites.
Twitter censorship, however, may not be the best-and it is certainly not the ONLY-alternative to managing social media use in the workplace. In fact, social media censorship may have a more adverse impact on employee engagement and productivity.
The Business Case for Permitting Access
Employees are motivated by doing meaningful work, having autonomy over their work, and having access to the supportive relationships and resources that they need to succeed. Social media censorship chips away at autonomy, which drives employee engagement. Limiting or banning access sends a clear message to employees: “You are not responsible enough to manage your work-life and your personal-life.”
What happens when employers send this message? Distrust, resentment, and resistance (e.g., sneaking outside with the smokers to update their profile status on their iPhone). These acts of resistance may be more costly than a mere 1.47% decrease in employee productivity.
By permitting responsible access, your organization can build trusting relationships with employees, keep morale positive, and leverage the strategic business opportunities.
Turning Social Media Use into a Strategic Business Opportunity
Here some ideas for helping you think about the strategic use of these communication channels.
1. Depending on your organizational culture, access could be an integral part of your employee communications strategy.
2. People are talking about your company whether you like it or not. Why not allow engaged employees to become advocates for your brand.
3. Leverage your employees’ personal networks by posting useful information on a corporate blog, Facebook updates, and/or contests to create public interest in your company.
4. Promote employee engagement by gathering feedback from employees or crowdsourcing complex problems out to employees.
10 Alternatives to Censorship
If the risks of censorship outweigh the potential gains, what should you do to manage employee use?
1. Measure the impact of use on employee engagement and productivity by working with a research Twitter condemnation.
2. Design a mission-driven ethical use policy using the metrics and data from #1.
3. Incorporate social media into your HR or communication strategy.
4. Monitor online conversations about your brand by searching platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Youtube, LinkedIn and Bebo.
5. Conduct stakeholder interviews and focus groups with employees to learn more about employee use.
6. Analyze employee performance and Facebook trends by correlating IT metrics and measures of employee engagement and productivity.
7. Leverage your company’s Facebook profile to start positive conversations about your employees, customers, products, and services.
8. Engage employees “where they are at” instead of trying to force them to “play your game.”
9. Learn more about the differences between “heavy” users and “average” users in your organization. What differences exist between these groups? How might you be able to leverage these differences?
10. Plan for more open access to information, not less. The world is flatter, more participative, and boundaries are more permeable than ever before. Those who accept this and learn how to work with these communication dynamics will be at the forefront of leveraging social media use at work.