In 2017, more than 75% of Americans owned a smartphone, 73% had home internet access, and 69% were active social media users. Once you take a minute to digest those figures–which are a staggering increase from the previous decade–you’re likely to have the same reaction as us: Wow.
The ways we communicate are changing–rapidly. Smartphones and social media are omnipresent in our lives, and as a result, they’ve permeated the workplace. Today, it’s entirely common (if not expected) for companies to be active on social media, and platforms like LinkedIn are the go-to place for professional networking. It’s also popular to use internal social media platforms for private company matters, like sharing news and events, sending instant messages, and recognizing coworkers.
Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay, but does it belong in the workplace? The brand engagement experts at E Group set out to settle the social media at work debate. Using our own experience, our clients’ testimonials, and some industry research, we bring you our unbiased take on the pros and cons of social media in the workplace.
Spoiler alert: We’re on the pro side.
PROS of Using Social Media at Work
In a 2017 AdWeek article about social media at work, the author listed American employees’ grievances with workplace communication: “…a lack of clear direction, no face-to-face or phone time and no interest in workers as individuals”. In other words, employees feel that their voices aren’t being heard. And, as a result, the article states so poignantly, “there’s a distance that need to be bridged”.
When you launch an internal social media platform, you decrease corporate hierarchy and empower otherwise unheard workers. Suddenly, they have a voice, and everyone at the company can hear it. Need to chat with senior leadership? Send them an instant message. Want to congratulate your teammate for a job well done? Send them a “Cheers!”, share a photo, post it to the company social feed, etc. Regardless of the scenario, social media facilitates and personalizes communication at work, and it empowers employees to speak up.
34% of workers use social media to “take a mental break from work”, according to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center. If that figure scares you, don’t let it. Taking a true mental break from work, as long as it’s not too long or distracting, is actually a catalyst for productivity. Everyone needs a break sometimes.
Social media also facilitates streamlined idea sharing, collaboration, and the ability to get instant answers to quick questions. This doesn’t just save time and effort, it boosts productivity.
Looking to hire Millennials or Gen. Z? Social media is your answer. Reaching out to potential recruits on popular social platforms, such as Instagram or Snapchat, is an extremely effective way to reel in the best talent. Younger generations love seeing companies that are tech-savvy, present on social media, and that present themselves as modern and transparent. Recruiting via social media is a great way to do so.
Want to know more about harnessing social media for recruitment? Download our free eBook: “Creating Magnetic Employee Connections through Social Media: Lessons from the Hospitality Industry“.
On internal social media platforms, employees have a “profile” of sorts (similar to a Facebook or LinkedIn). This allows employers to efficiently and effectively identify employees with a certain skill set or experience, it notifies them of important dates (work anniversaries, birthdays, etc.), and more. It also allows employers to analyze internal company trends and collect survey data to help shape internal programs and goals, ensuring that every employee’s voice is heard. These platforms, although mainly for social use, are also effective data consolidation and analysis tools.
24% of workers surveyed by Pew say that social media helps them secure and develop professional connections at work. External social media platforms, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, are trusted vehicles for growing your business or brand, and it’s even more effective when employees take part. When employees are empowered to become brand ambassadors–who share news, pictures, videos, etc. related to your company–your potential customers/clients take note.
According to Monster.com’s article “Social Media In The Workplace: Make Brand Advocates”, employees’ posts about your company on social media “represent the new front line of public relations, marketing and customer service”. In other words, happy employees can make for the very best brand advocates.
What the experts are saying:
The pros of using social media at work don’t end there. The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently published its take on the pros and cons of social media in the workplace, and many of their points align with ours: aiding in recruitment, streamlining internal communications, giving employees a voice, external networking, and more.
One of our favorite excerpts from their article: “ Internal social networking platforms can be more engaging and can better inspire participation than regular e-mail communications. Employees may feel they have more of a voice when their postings and comments are actively encouraged.”
AdWeek also noted that social media makes including remote workers much easier, which is so important in the age of remote working: “Interactive video and live feeds through social media are also great tools. These can be used to include remote workers as well as for training purposes.”
CONS of Social Media at Work
In light of many recent hacking scandals, we’re all aware of how important it is to protect your personal information online. The same goes for your company’s social media platforms. When launching an internal social platform, it’s imperative that you take steps to protect your company’s information. In the end, preventing fraud, spam, and company-wide viruses is well worth the investment, but it might be a burden for some companies to undertake.
In SHRM’s pros and cons article, they also list cybersecurity as a prominent downside of using social media at work: “Using social media platforms on company networks opens the door to hacks, viruses and privacy breaches.”
Unfortunately, it’s possible that some employees will abuse or misuse their work-related social media privileges. So, it’s important for companies to clearly define usage guidelines for social media activity related to the brand, which could also be a burdensome task to undertake. Here are some examples of guidelines you should lay out:
- How many hours per work day can an employee spend on social media?
- What company-related information is/is not allowed to be shared publicly?
- Will employees be reprimanded for venting about work on social media?
- Can employees use their personal accounts for work-related social media activity or should they create separate professional accounts?
Every company’s needs are different, so be sure to collaborate with leadership before laying out your social media guidelines.
What the experts are saying:
In E Group’s initial assessment of the pros and cons of social media at work, we didn’t include productivity loss under potential cons. In our experience, both social media hasn’t had a negative impact on either our or our clients’ productivity, but we do understand that it’s a challenge for some companies.
In Pew’s previously mentioned research, they found that 27% of workers use social media while at work to connect with their friends and family–which implies a loss of productivity while doing so. SHRM agrees: “Some employees may spend an inordinate amount of time on social media for personal reasons while at work.”
Here’s another potential con we didn’t think of: oversharing. When coworkers have unlimited access to one another’s social media posts, it opens the door to potential oversharing. According to Pew’s same research, 29% of Millennial employees have seen social media posts that damaged their opinion of coworkers. This carries the risk of such opinions negatively affecting their working relationships.