I had written an article for the the Award Winning EKAAKSHARA’s April-June 2014 Edition of the the  Learning & Development group..

This edition’s theme is “Leveraging Social Media for Organization Development”. You can download this edition from:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/cop.learning.development/641681169243975/

Here is the article:

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Leveraging Social Media for Organizational Development

Overview

The world gets smaller day by day, thanks to the social media. A huge number of social media applications have boomeranged over the last few years like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, Yelp, Flickr, Second Life, Yahoo groups, WordPress and ZoomInfo. We managed to gain a link to a big number of old friends, building nostalgias, memories and they became a platform for sharing both our happiness and trouble moments.

Organizations have been challenging these components of social media, as they believe that this could distract their employees, give an edge for data leakage, time wastage, non-productive work etc.

But these applications present great opportunities for businesses in the areas of public relations, internal and external communications, recruiting, organizational learning and collaboration, and more. There are more and more areas, still unexplored by most of the organizations. These include recruiting, building employee engagement and communication, strategic real-time listening tools for business intelligence, and expanding learning opportunities among employees. Another vital application of social media by employers is as a knowledge-sharing platform, with employees at all levels using blogs, microblogs (similar to Twitter), centres of excellence and communities of practice. These tools and groups turn social media into collaborative tools to improve work product and workflow.

This does not mean there are no challenges. Potential issues are created when employees use their personal social media accounts while at the office, possibly affecting productivity, data security and network security. “Friending” and other contact among employees on social media can open the employer to possible legal issues. Even the social media use policies that employers write to help control use can present more legal questions. HR in many organizations is taking the lead in developing, communicating and enforcing social media policies and on keeping tabs on the changing legal landscape of social media. Each challenge surely is an opportunity.

Here, I would like to introduce a new term “Controlled Democracy”. My views are that we surely need to harness the power of social media, but in a controlled manner.

Organizations can make use of social media in a variety of ways. Departments can hold brainstorming sessions or maintain on going conversations with questions and answers on a blog; teams can use wikis to manage projects, share best practices and research case studies; the CEO can keep a blog or record a podcast and organizations can immediately deliver news to employees. The last organization that I worked for used a blogging platform to share the employee expressions, besides an instant messenger. These collaborative technologies became valuable in the workplace because of their effectiveness in improving understanding and teamwork, building relationships and developing lateral communication.

Because social media are a relatively new territory for both employers and employees, many questions still exist about how these tools should and should not operate in the workplace. For employers, the key questions are how to get business benefits out of these platforms and how to ensure that employee use of social media while at work is neither distracting nor potentially harmful to the organization.

Eventually, any individual spends almost 60-75% of his week in the office, so if he gets used to a certain way of working, which he enjoys, it should also become a part of his daily lifestyle. End of the day, social media is an expression, and it is important to understand that expression. It is a method of networking, so why should organizations keep their employees away from the same?

Social media is all about recognition, sharing, expressing  and being heard.

Data based justifications

In 2012 an SHRM survey reported that 55 % of organizations planned to increase their overall social media use within a year. Organizations are embracing social media for business use because the return on investment is getting clearer.

The McKinsey Quarterly from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company has been surveying executives about various tools for several years. Those surveys report measurable business benefits from these tools. The most common benefits include more innovative products and services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower costs of doing business, and increased revenues. In addition, several organizations report improved employee engagement scores and better customer satisfaction survey results since they launched their social business networks.

Pros and Cons of Using Social Media

There is no single right way for an organization to use social media applications. The benefits and drawbacks of social networking platforms vary based on platform type, features, industry, and the organization itself.

Pros

Some benefits of using social media for organizations are:

  • Targets a wide audience, making it a useful and effective communication tool.
  • It does act as a powerful recruitment tool.
  • It allows employees to discuss ideas, post news, ask questions and share links.
  • Facilitates open communication, leading to enhanced information discovery and delivery.
  • Provides an opportunity to widen business contacts.
  • Improves business reputation and client base with minimal use of advertising.
  • Promotes diversity and inclusion.
  • Lower costs of doing business
  • Expands market research, implements marketing campaigns, delivers communications and directs interested people to specific websites.

Cons

These sites and tools also create issues of security and legal liability for employers, and still relatively little case law exists for organizations to use, when failures happen. Use of social media at work—by employees for personal use or by the employer as an official tool—can open up organizations to the following risks:

  • Time wasted on unnecessary forwards
  • A potential outlet for negative comments from employees about the organization.
  • Legal challenges emanating from data leakage and confidentiality issues
  • Distributing confidential information
  • The risk of people falling prey to online scams that seem genuine, resulting in data or identity theft or a compromise of the company’s computer security.
  • Legal consequences if employees use these sites to view or distribute objectionable, illicit or offensive material.
  • The possibility for hackers to commit fraud and launch spam and virus attacks.

Some Business areas where deployment of social media can add value

  • Recruitment – Social media can give a strong background of the prospect’s professional and personnel preferences
  • Human Resource interactions – HR will find this a strong two way communication tool for interacting with the employees, for policy roll out, communications and clarifications.
  • Employee engagement – Employees can express themselves, meet remote personnel who share similar personal and professional traits, will increase bonding  and engagement.
  • External communications – including the client’s personnel and network bodies, will assist in marketing and understanding the nature of business done by clients, the type of opportunities available, best practice sharing and much more.
  • Learning applications – Social media is a great learning tool. You have conferencing tools, which are now being leveraged for remote training sessions.
  • Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration – Repositories are easier to upload and share. These tools help create virtual conferences and support environments. Blogging under this category also helps enhancing the knowledge sharing and communication. Expert inputs can be accessed freely within the organization and permitted sphere, which will be much larger than just the local and telephonic communication.
  • Centre of excellence – Organizations can build centres of excellence spheres around social media, which an employee will feel comfortable to use and share.
  • Visual procedures – Trainings and sessions can be planned using digital video recordings, which enhance the speed of learning.

So, what can organizations do to leverage Social Media

  • Develop A Plan – Develop a plan that starts with the end result in mind.  Ask questions such as: Are we trying to create engagement, awareness, share promotions, share industry news, be relevant, provide a conversations hub for customers…?  Developing a plan takes time, energy and research.  Develop a plan or hire someone to help you with the plan before you get started.  Abraham Lincoln says it this way, “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend 6 hours sharpening my axe.” Figure out how you will co-brand your social media brand with existing open products?
  • Corporate vision and goals – This is an important rule that needs to apply to the social media as well. Your platform needs to speak the voice of the organization, and imbed its values. Businesses tend to confuse or overlap the voice of their personal brand with the voice of their business brand.  But then, don’t take away the human and personal interaction element, simply be mindful of this factor.
  • Be Social – The most important thing about social media is the social part and not the media. This is one element which will make the employees and all those on the network feel at home. So the mantra is be social, be accessible, be relevant, be Authentic, be Real, be about your organization, its mission, vision and values, be entertaining.
  • Recognition – Like I had said earlier, social media is all about recognition, but this needs to apply for both the employee and the company. The principles apply in a manner corporates use emails. Identity, professionalism and relevance needs to be driven though a “controlled democracy
  • Identify the right application – This is a big task in implementation. In one of the organizations that I served used a chat software only. This was the first step towards social media. You may end up identifying multiple platforms and there are many applications that automate the connection of all of these platforms.  I think it’s helpful to focus on one platform as your primary, but, based on practicality and handling of the challenges of social media, it may make sense to use multiple platforms.  External personal connects can be permitted in a limited manner.
  • Define the right policy – The policy needs to establishes a clear and defined purpose for the policy, communicate benefits of social networking and of having a policy, provide a clear platform for educating employees, take into consideration any legal consequences of not following laws, refer to proprietary and confidential information at risk, talk about productivity in terms of social networking, establishes expected behavioural norms in the use of social networking and provides guidance regarding social networking that could be associated with the organization, employees or customers. Some employers may prohibit posting of company information on social networking sites without the employer’s explicit consent. It should also outline disciplinary measures the employer will take if employees violate social media policy.
  • Make It Fun – No matter the strategy you choose, make it fun, engaging, enlightening  for your employees, customers and all the users.   This isn’t necessarily “crack jokes” fun, but it’s definitely not the boring kind.

A sustainable social media strategy requires both a culture that encourages knowledge sharing and a team with a wide array of competencies dedicated to managing and promoting these potentially powerful social media initiatives. Without this focus, organizations can quickly lose traction as busy employees find little time or reason to use these collaborative tools amid the demands of daily work.

Remember, social media is all about recognition, sharing, expressing  and being heard. So make it’s use right.

A word about the author:

  • Mohit Gupta is currently working as a serial entrepreneur, and has started diversified businesses.
  • He has been studying social media usage for over three years now, especially its use for furthering business, both established and start ups (like his own)
  • Mohit Gupta is a Master Black Belt in Six Sigma and had constituted a company for trainings (http://sigmatrail.com)
  • He won a national award for his quality delivery in 2012 from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, delivering a signed off benefit of $10 million on a revenue base of $85 million to his organization and its clients.
  • He has trained over 1000 people in the last two years in various levels of quality and six sigma.
  • He is a strong “Finance and Accounts Outsourcing” subject matter expert, and authors a blog on this – http://faoblog.com
  • He is a Chartered Accountant, a law graduate with extensive ITeS experience
  • He holds a certification from Microsoft, Oracle, besides being an Internal Quality Auditor and Internal Information Security Auditor, certified by the STQC Directorate.
  • On his personal side he is an artist – http://canvaslane.com and is starting an online portal for upcoming and established artists.
  • He can be reached on