Companies are shifting to digital platforms and media to interact and collaborate with customers and employees
As businesses become increasingly global and competitive, social media is playing a major role because of its ability to bridge distances and enable the development of relationships, a key component for any business.
”It is totally reshaping the way organizations communicate,” says Andrea Goldberg, the president and founder of Digital Culture Consulting, LLC in Bedford, NY, and an industrial and organizational psychologist with a background in marketing, communications and human resources.
“Increased openness and collaboration are greatly impacting the workplace and leading to the creation of internal and external networks and communities. Driving much of this is the relatively new phenomenon of social media, which is also contributing to organizational effectiveness, branding and customer support,” Goldberg said.
A 2010 Burson Marsteller study of Fortune 100 companies found that 66 percent used Twitter; 54 percent had a Facebook page and half managed a corporate YouTube channel. And, according to another survey, 73 percent of businesses plan to increase their social media presence, while 90 percent of marketers have adopted social media as a valuable tool.
Savvy companies, both large and small, have recognized the value social media can bring to their organizations; something that employees and customers are expecting more and more.
This is due in large part to the increased use of social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn by people of all ages as well as the numbers of technically oriented people entering the workforce who have grown up with social media. For these people, social media is an integral part of their lives and they expect it to be part of their work environment as well.
“A new business environment is emerging as many employees have the ability and the desire to use these tools to interact with their colleagues, managers and customers and to accomplish work differently than by traditional methods,” said Goldberg.
On the customer or external side this has been demonstrated by the growth of sites such as Yelp and Angie’s list that allow customers to evaluate vendors. Twitter is being used to respond to customer concerns and Facebook enables customers to become fans.
On the internal side, Goldberg sees organizations transforming and shifting strategies because of the way social media is impacting recruiting and selection, communications, rewards and incentives, defining job roles and leadership and training and development.
The fact is that social media has already become a common part of the workplace, so companies need to accommodate the new realities, said Goldberg.
She said some of the positive outcomes stemming from these realities include new marketing and public relations channels; better customer acquisition, service and loyalty; new approaches for branding and communications; collaborative innovations for product development; opportunities for thought leadership; recruitment of hard-to-find skilled candidates and increased employee engagement.
This trend does come with some risks. Employees posting unacceptable comments about colleagues and/or their company on Twitter and other social media outlets have occurred.
To mitigate misuse, companies need to develop policies governing use of social media that restricts certain content including personnel matters, contract negotiations and corporate policies.
Forward thinking companies are leveraging employees’ social media skills and training them to become brand stewards to help promote loyalty and support for the organization. Positive postings on employees’ social networks can boost an organization’s employment brand. “They can help position the company as an employer of choice,” said Goldberg.
She also pointed out that organizations actively involved in social media often have employees more engaged with their companies. “The value is they get people talking and interacting across boundaries, borders and silos,” she said.
Benefits include greater transparency, trust, responsibility, innovation and improved customer service, she added.
But some things have to be in place before social media use can be effective, says Goldberg. Realistic expectations and guidelines must be established and clearly communicated to all employees while allowing opportunity for dialog and commentary. Also, employees should be aware of not only the benefits but also the limitations of social media. “Employees need to be careful how they use company information on social media networks,” she said.
Another way to enhance satisfaction is to encourage employees to offer ideas and suggestions and incorporate them into both company programs and products. “They need to know management is listening to them and they are important to the company’s success. And that helps build trust,” she said.
However, despite the proven benefits not all organizations have jumped on the social media bandwagon. Others are slow to see its value.
Goldberg pointed to Accenture as an organization that had made social media part of its culture. The global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company provides avenues for employees to connect through an internal Twitter Network, a company blog and a YouTube site.
Kevin Kramer, Accenture’s director of human capital, said “We are very wired. People here are excited about social media and have been using it for years. We are hooked on our mobile devices.”
Goldberg said that social media is not just the domain of young people. “The fastest growing segment of social media users is over 40. In part, that’s because so many young people are active users and there is not much room to grow. Nevertheless, older people are learning just how effective a tool social media can be and that’s why they are the fastest growing group.”